How to Make the Perfect Gin and Tonic
Apart from the heavily contested Martini, few drinks are as simple but as fought-over as the gin and tonic. The English staple is utter perfection when done right. And yet, it seems that no two bartenders or punters can agree on how to make the perfect gin and tonic. How much ice should you use? What’s the best gin-to-tonic ratio? For a garnish, is lemon or lime better? Which glass is best to serve it in?
Though these may seem like petty quibbles, they’re of no small importance – the gin and tonic done well is nothing short of alchemic perfection. We’ll share our favourite recipe below, but first, we’re tackling some of the more stubborn issues surrounding the classic drink.
By now we’re well familiar with the history of the gin and tonic: first a product of necessity, the G&T made bitter and quinine-rich tonic water (and its anti-malarial effects) palatable with the addition of gin, ice, and citrus. Despite its initial medicinal use, the G&T has since become a favourite of drinkers around the globe, prized for its freshness and subtle complexity.
It’s no wonder that, given its international popularity, the G&T has a number of different guises. When it comes to the eternal question of lemon versus lime, there are a few different takes on the matter. Those who argue for lime say the fruit, with its bright, punchy flavour, offers a boldness that lemon can’t match. However, many purists argue that the lemon is the only choice: as a more delicate fruit, it is less likely to overwhelm the bounty of a gin’s botanicals. Either way, Max Venning from 69 Colebrooke Row advises bartenders to use a light hand: “There’s no need to squeeze the citrus over the drink. If you’re using a quality gin like Sipsmith, there’s no harshness that needs covering up.”
Others move further away from lemons and limes. Julia Forte from the London Gin Club advises: “Match your garnish to the specific or highlighting botanicals in the gin. Lime, rhubarb, or an olive work well with dry gins, while grapefruit, citrus peel, cucumber, and rose petals work with floral gins. For a savoury gin, try rosemary, thyme, or basil with a cherry tomato.”
High-quality ice is also essential. The frostier the G&T, the better: to accomplish that, glasses should be chilled in the freezer before use. When making the drink, ice should be rock-hard and absolutely frozen, and packed all the way up to the brim – that ensures that it will melt more slowly. Declan McGurk from the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel also cautions: “The type of ice is critical – it needs to be good quality to avoid bad-tasting dilution.”
And don’t just gloss over the tonic. Says Rachael Naylor from Hawksmoor Air Street: “My first concern when making a gin and tonic is to taste the tonic water by itself. Tonic is often bought as an afterthought but comprises the majority of the drink. Personally, I find sweet tonic waters a little overpowering.” So, while striving for a bitter-leaning tonic, it’s also best to use an individual bottle for each cocktail to ensure carbonation.
Even glass shape is a sticking point: though a highball is the conventional choice, gin and tonics are delicious when served in cabernet glasses. Because of its delicate botanicals, gin does best when provided with some good swirling space.
The Perfect Gin and Tonic
50ml Sipsmith gin
Fever Tree Indian Tonic is the best
Fill a pre-chilled cabernet (or thin-rimmed highball, if you’re a traditionalist) glass up to the top with very cold ice cubes. Pour in 50ml of Sipsmith gin. Top off with tonic water to taste. Garnish with a lemon twist: make sure all of the pith of the citrus has been removed, and run quickly along the lip of the glass before garnishing.