Talking Tonic with Rancho Pinot's Travis Nass

When it comes to classic cocktail perfection, it's hard to beat the Gin and Tonic. Crisp, well-balanced and crystal clear, drop in a few ice cubes and a slice of lime, and you've got the ultimate summer cooler.

That said, you really haven't tried a true "G & T," as they call it over in jolly ol' England, until you've sidled up to the bar at Rancho Pinot in Scottsdale. Here, the mustachioed master mixologist, Travis Nass, serves up a version that looks like nothing you've ever seen before. Crafted with homemade tonic that gives each cocktail a distinctly rust-colored tinge, it's a tasty throwback to the time when this classic sipper could literally save your life.

In The Beginning
Invented hundreds of years ago in England, the gin and tonic was a solution to a vexing problem plaguing the far-flung British Empire. Over in India, soldiers were dropping like flies from repeated outbreaks of malaria. And at the time, the only effective prescription to help prevent this deadly disease was a medicinal water, or tonic, infused with quinine, a very bitter-tasting brew made from the bark of the South American cinchona tree (pictured).

So, to help make this healthful elixir more palatable, the Brits started blending it with gin, which features strong herbal notes to cut through the bitterness of the tonic water. Plus, it gets you pleasantly plastered, which always makes taking your medicine a little easier.

Fast forward a few centuries, and today's tonic has little in common with these early medicinal brews. Sure, it may have a minute amount of quinine, but these mass-produced carbonated waters are also brimming with added sugars and artificial flavors that mask the original bitterness of traditional tonic.

Enter Travis Nass, the bolo tie-wearing bartender over at Rancho Pinot who's built quite a reputation for his obsessive dedication to hand-crafted ingredients. Forget squeezing his own fruit juices, Nash actually brews up his own bitters, liqueurs and syrups. Which is how he makes his own tonic water, by blending carbonated water with syrup and natural sweeteners. Starting with a base of cinchona tree, Nash makes this syrup in small batches by steeping the tree bark it in hot water, along with various other herbs and spices such as lemongrass, cinnamon, cloves, allspice and anise.

The final result is a bold, reddish-colored tonic water that makes music inside your mouth music when paired with a floral, fruit-forward gin such as Nolet's. In fact, the flavor is so well-balanced that Nash doesn't even add a lime, preferring to garnish the drink with a single sprig of fresh rosemary.

Where to Drink
Rancho Pinot
6208 North Scottsdale Road

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Dawson Fearnow
Contact: Dawson Fearnow