The G&T is a straightforward tipple. Two primary ingredients, and a name that tells you exactly what’s inside. Any gin & tonic guide should be simple enough, then.
But is it really? For all of its status as a summertime (or, well, anytime) classic, a drink that’s as enjoyable at garden parties and barbecues as it is down the pub, a true crowd-pleaser, there’s one aspect of the G&T that’s been overlooked for far too long…and it’s right there in the name.
Perhaps because “gin” comes first – or because punters are pretty passionate about their gin (we can sympathise) – tonic is often treated as an afterthought, a source of bubbles and sweetness and little else.
But now, it’s time to elevate the status of tonic. As Iain Griffiths, one of the founders of London’s award-winning Dandelyan and White Lyan, points out, “Our approach to pairing is frequently led by the tonic, not the gin. It’s a much larger portion of the liquid in your glass, after all.”
He’s right, of course. In a perfectly made G&T, tonic far outmeasures the amount of gin that you use and, for the same reason that you shouldn’t cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink, you shouldn’t make a gin and tonic with tonic that isn’t palatable on its own – you won’t be doing the gin any services by mixing it with something second-rate.
Christina Schneider, head bartender at Happiness Forgets in London, has seen the G&T become a favourite of creative bartenders looking to experiment: “In [my native] Berlin, the gin and tonic is THE bartender’s drink, and has been for a few years. Most good bars carry not only a big variety of gins, but also two-five different tonic waters. Which gin with which tonic (and which garnish) is a proper science over there.”
How, then, to choose which tonic matches well with your gin? Schneider posits that there are two main schools of thought for those after a gin & tonic guide: “There are the fresh, lemonadey, drinkable ones, or the old-school, juniper-heavy ones,” she says. For the former, she recommends pairing gins like Brecon, Bloom, and Tanqueray Ten with a light tonic water like 6 O’clock. But “I actually prefer the second type, the proper, old-school, juniper-in-your-face” variety, and for those with similar tastes, she recommends a dry, juniper-forward gin like Sipsmith with a tonic that’s equally big in flavour, with more sugar and bitterness. “My favourite tonic would be a German brand, Thomas Henry, but Schweppes would also be a great choice, since it is by far the fizziest of them all,” she advises.
Our own Leilani Vella also notes that tonic has more nuance than many give it credit for – including geographical variety. “Tonic has more variation in flavour profile than is often appreciated. As the cinchona tree was the saving grace of the Royal Navy in its struggle with malaria, they decimated the population of trees in South America and so began transplanting the tree around the world. As a result, there are myriad of flavour profiles expressed through the terroir of these varieties across the globe from its native Peru and Ecuador to Italy, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.”
Whether or not the terroir of tonic is something you’ve experienced, if you’re looking for a good, go-to tonic water, it’s hard to go wrong with Fever-Tree. Bar professionals like Declan McGurk at the American Bar cite it as a favourite, and an especially good pairing partner for Sipsmith. For those after something a bit different, Fred Tartas at Skylon advises that Fever-Tree’s Elderflower Tonic “works beautifully with the elegance of Sipsmith,” while Leilani likes her G&T with Sipsmith VJOP and Fever-Tree Indian Tonic for a boldly junipery final product.
But if there’s one main take-away from this gin & tonic guide? Be sure to taste your tonic first – and to start giving it the attention it so richly deserves.