When it comes to classic drinks, the gin and tonic is firmly ensconced in the pantheon.
Given its simplicity – ice, gin, tonic, plus garnish – it would seem that the formula for the G&T is by now set in stone, without any room for change or adulteration. Right?
Wrong. Though the gin and tonic’s reputation for being a timeless, truly British tipple still stands, the humble drink is also undergoing a striking metamorphosis. Spain is leading the charge when it comes to G&T innovation, with the US and South America also taking up the cause. Whether you like your gin and tonic classic or contemporary (or both, as we do!), it’s impossible to deny that there are some interesting adaptations afoot.
Dominic Gibson, the founder of Santiago, Chile’s recently opened cocktail bar, Doma, credits Spain with being the first to imagine new things for the humble G&T. He says, “The explosion of the cocktail culture in Spain can only be described as extraordinary. Madrid and Barcelona have gone from having maybe a couple of classic cocktail bars each to a profusion of high-end drinking spots with an extremely high level of quality and creativity. The G&T has turned into a sort of national passion, and everywhere, “gin clubs” are popping up, some with over 100 different references.”
What the Spaniards saw in the G&T – its simplicity, balance of bitter tonic with aromatic gin and fresh citrus, and beautiful refreshment – they also worked to expand, and making a proper “gin tonic” has become nothing less than an art form. Collins glasses have been swapped for voluptuous balloons, packed with enough ice to keep the drink cold until the last drop. Craft tonics are favoured, and the garnishes are carefully selected to pair with each gin’s own characteristics. Beyond simple lemon or lime, Spanish bartenders use whole spices, fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables – all in the name of creating that ideal, delicate balance of flavours.
Doma is one of many South American bars that are busy transplanting Spain’s iteration of the gin and tonic internationally. Up above the equator, the US is also a newly flourishing home for the gin and tonic, with G&T bars starting to spread across the major cities and craft tonic producers supplying an American passion for all things DIY.
And yet, as much as innovation underlies the 21st century gin and tonic, it’s important never to stray too far from what made the drink great in the first place. Martin Cate, owner of San Francisco tiki bar Smuggler’s Cove, says: “A few key things that I look for in a good G&T: I think it should be bracingly cold, I think the sweet and bitter balance must be perfect and that the mouthfeel mustn’t be syrupy. It should have very bright carbonation, and the gin should speak up proudly and not be buried under tonic.”
That sounds like just the kind of gin and tonic we prefer (do consult our recipe for the perfect gin and tonic if you’re now inspired to make one yourself). But we can’t argue: old or new, contemporary or classic, nothing feels quite as satisfying or refreshing as a well-made gin and tonic – no matter the locale.