The Sipsmith Blog

The New American Gin and Tonic

in Articles November 17, 2014

In the summer, you can’t move for al fresco tables filled with Londoners soaking up as much sun as possible while sipping on refreshing gin and tonics.

But how about overseas? While our American comrades in gin are helping to pioneer a number of creative new distilleries, just how are they serving their spirits?

While the gin and tonic is that most quintessential of English drinks, in recent years it’s migrated across the world, with preferred serves changing in each locale to adapt to local tastes. In Spain and South America, the “gin tonic” is served in a balloon glass instead of a highball, with garnishes extending far beyond the traditional lemon or lime to include a slew of unusual ingredients, including whole spices, savoury ingredients, and fresh herbs.

And in the US? It’s fair to say that, while stateside gin and tonic drinking is still nascent, the American obsession with all things DIY and artisanal is having an interesting new impact on the classic G&T.

While many American drinkers still relegate the gin and tonic to a list of college cocktails (sickly sweet when made with low-quality tonic, cheap, and easy to drink on a night out), a new batch of artisanal tonic makers are starting to reawaken interest in the drink, among everyone from industry professionals to at-home bartenders.

One of the leading voices in the new, artisanal tonic space is C&B, based out of San Francisco. Sold in bottles that look like they could be at home in an 100 year-old apothecary, the syrup’s old-timey look references the fact that it’s a classic product – free of additives like high-fructose corn syrup and featuring real quinine extract from Peruvian cinchona tree bark, as well as blue agave nectar, citrus, lemongrass, and spices.

Erin Cochran, co-founder of C&B, has this to say about the reawakened interest in the G&T: “I think it’s exciting. I think probably a lot of people are like me, and have only thought of gin and tonics as a cheap college well drink. But now that there are bartenders out there who are focusing on the tonic as well as the gin, people are realizing what an awesome drink it can be – just as complex as a fancy cocktail, but easier for an inexperienced bartender to make well.”

The simplicity of the gin and tonic makes it a favourite of home bartenders teaching themselves about cocktail making – and the drink is fast becoming a staple of house parties and nights in for those with a bit of a creative streak (for those looking for an especially in-depth project: you can even make your own tonic water, as per this recipe from legendary barman Jeffrey Morganthaler).

Beyond all things DIY, though, the new American gin and tonic is as inspired by Spain’s prolific gin scene as it is the historic British associations. At restaurants and bars like Coqueta in San Francisco and Cata in New York, extensive gin and tonic menus serve up as many bespoke options as bars back in Spain.

Jonny Raglin, acclaimed bartender and owner of California bar Comstock Saloon, is also at the forefront of the new American gin and tonic movement. Now in the midst of opening an as-yet-to-be-named Spanish venue in San Francisco, due to launch in spring 2015, he’ll be making in-house tonic to draw attention back to the humble G&T. Once his favourite refreshment after a long shift behind the bar, the drink has now earned its place on cocktail menus. With his G&T, Raglin is seeking to perfect its technique and craft a drink as balanced, chilled, effervescent, and crisp as can be.

It’s exciting to see the US on the cusp of a new gin and tonic love affair – and as connoisseurs of the drink, us Brits can only commend the growing interest in our beloved serve.

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