Last Call

The Quest For a Good Gin and Tonic

See Also: Last Call's Gin Primer, How to Drink It and Like It

There I was behind the stick a few days ago. A guest ordered a gin and tonic. I whipped up one for him, he tasted it, and pronounced that it was a darn fine one. I shrugged my shoulders, and told him there's nothing to it. But that got me to thinking... I've had some really bad ones. Maybe there actually is something to it. What is it about such a simple mixed drink that it can go horribly wrong?

The simple answer to it is that both tonic water and gin are liquids generally not enjoyed on their own. Badly prepared gin tastes like licking a pine tree. The quinine in tonic water is bitter and medicinal. In both cases, a quality product matters. Gins vary widely (a topic I've expounded upon already). What I find to be pleasant, you may find harsh. Likewise, something you enjoy, I might think is too soft, closer to vodka than gin. Find a brand you enjoy, and stick with it. Simple enough. Given a choice, I go for good ol' Tanqueray.

Then there's the tonic water. Countless booze writers have expounded upon the importance of high quality tonic, often (much like my LA Weekly counterpart) recommending Fever-Tree, Q, or a similar artisan brand. There is a kernel of truth here; better quality ingredients do help make a better quality drink. But, by and large, anyone who says you have to use expensive tonic to make a good G&T is full of it. I use Canada Dry from a soda gun at work, and people praise my handiwork.

With both the gin and the tonic, as long as you avoid Old El Cheapo store brand stuff you'll be fine. So, you might be scratching your head wondering: If it's OK to use mass-market products, what's the difference between a crummy G&T and a great one?

The secret, like so much of life, is in the technique. There are but a few steps you need to do in order to achieve G&T mastery. Thankfully, they're simple. First, a little lime juice is mandatory; it's a natural partner to both the gin and the tonic, and helps bridge the gap between the two. Just a wedge of lime is fine; squeeze it in, then drop the wedge in the glass so you get the aromatics of the lime zest.

Then, make sure the drink is properly mixed. If you pour the ingredients in and take a swig, you'll get the ingredients separately, and none of the three are all that great on their own. Take your straw and swizzle the drink around, pushing the lime wedge down into the drink.

Last, find a tonic-to-gin ratio that suits you. 3 parts tonic to 2 parts gin is pretty standard, making it a good starting place. If you find it too bitter, cut the tonic next time (or better, add more gin now). Likewise, if the gin's juniper notes come through too much, add a splash more tonic. Personally, I like mine a little on the tall side; I find 2 parts tonic to 1 part gin is most pleasant. But, if your mileage varies, that's just fine.

JK's Ideal G&T Lime wedge 1½ ounces Tanqueray gin 3 ounces Schweppes tonic water

Fill a Collins glass with ice cubes. Squeeze lime wedge over ice, dropping spent wedge into glass. Add remaining ingredients. Stir briefly, but not too briefly.

That was Last Call, in which JK Grence, bartender at Shady's, serves up booze advice. Have a question for JK? Leave it in the comments below.

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JK Grence
Contact: JK Grence