Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – July 2015
Super Cool G&T’sJuly 13, 2015
by Margaret Swaine
Last column I promised to write more about the gin and tonic bar craze. Well summer is here and it’s time to mix up a long cool one with tips from the experts on how to make it perfect.
While the G&T seems a simple two ingredient highball, today there are a multitude of variations and ways to “perfect” the drink. In his 2014 book The Spirit of Gin: A Stirring Miscellany of the New Gin Revival, Matt Teacher writes about the London Gin Club in England: “Members can rejoice at the large selection of garnishes that have been specifically paired with each of the gins. The variable one has to choose from when selecting the perfect combination include the gin label, the brand of tonic, the accoutrements or garnishes, the form of ice and sometimes the addition of other flavors such as bitters.”
Toronto’s Nota Bene restaurant has a special G&T menu that enables customers to build their own by selecting first from the rotating choice of a dozen or so gins, then picking a tonic and the type of ice from the list. Two of my favourites were Botanist Gin on cubed ice with the house tonic garnished with lime wheels, cardamom and rosemary and Dillon’s Gin 22 on a single large cube of ice with Fever Tree tonic garnished with lemongrass, cucumber and dried hibiscus flowers.
Nota Bene’s owner Chef David Lee was inspired to do a G&T bar after his travels to Spain. On a recent trip to Spain, I too noticed Gin-Tonic bars were all the rage and have been told that “Gin Tonicá” is practically Spain’s national cocktail.
Matt Goulding in his article in time.com, wrote about Spain’s obsession with gin and tonics. “When I tell people that Spain is the best place in the world to drink a gin tonic, a drink created by the British army in India as a defense system against malaria, I’m invariably met with skepticism…. But “gin tonics” (in Spain, they use the English name, but drop the “and” so that it comes out cleaner) have captured the attention of Spain’s chefs, bartenders and alcoholics alike,” he wrote.
Apparently the country is now the world’s biggest gin consumer per capita, with demand increasing at an average of 18 percent over the past five years. I’ve not found anyone who can say why a niche taste became a mainstream mania in Spain, except perhaps that it suits the climate and Mediterranean lifestyle of the country.
The Gin-Tonic bar I went to in the historic centre of Aranda de Duero, north of Madrid, matched brands of gin with different flavours of Schweppes Tonic such as Pink Peppercorn, Orange Blossom & Lavender, and Cardamom & Ginger. I haven’t seen that range of Schweppes tonics in Canada yet but there are a growing number of artisanal tonics available both made here and abroad.
Fever-Tree premium Indian tonic water from the UK is a great brand that blends natural botanical and quinine flavours. Q Tonic from New York claims hand-picked quinine from the Peruvian Andes. In the Atwater market in Montreal, I found Jack’s Tonique, an artisan tonic water concentrate that’s made in Gatineau from cinchona bark (the source for quinine), honey instead of sugar, fresh lemon grass, Sicilian lemon juice, ginger and lavender.
Mathieu Guillemette and Joël Beaupré launched Jack’s Tonique in the spring of 2014 to make the best G&T’s ever. They say their tonic goes particularly well with Tanqueray, Dillon’s gin from Niagara, North of 7 gin from Ottawa and Piger Henricus gin from Quebec. You can find stores that carry Jack’s via their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JacksTonique
This brings us to the question of what gin to use in a G&T. Beyond the obvious – aka your favourite – I’d say switch around depending upon what flavours you’re in the mood for.
In Canada, more and more delightful gins are being made by artisan producers. Ungava made by Domaine Pinnacle in Quebec is flavoured with indigenous Canadian botanicals of our far north such as Nordic juniper, Labrador tea leaf, crowberry, cloudberry and wild rose hips. Piger Henricus gin from Quebec features parsnips as its secret ingredient along with juniper, coriander, angelica, lemon peel and cardamom.
Dillon’s in Beamsville, makes their Unfiltered Gin 22, by passing vapour through 22 botanicals. Georgian Bay Gin vapour infused with wild juniper, earthy angelica, lavender and more is bright with juniper and clean fresh botanical notes.
Alberta’s aromatic and well spiced Parlour Gin from Eau Claire distillery has the traditional juniper notes along with hints of rosehip, Saskatoon berry, mint, coriander and citrus that finish with cinnamon and ginger spice.
Victoria Gin, hand produced in small batches on Vancouver Island and distilled from ten botanicals (natural and wild gathered) is packed with personality. With Vancouver’s triple distilled Yaletown Gin, juniper and coriander jump forward in the bouquet.
London is the home of gin – so naturally there are many lovely ones to recommend from the mother country. The London Gin #1 is instantly recognizable by its distinct azure blue colour and sophisticated palate. Sipsmith London Dry Gin is a relative newcomer that’s beautifully crafted. Broker’s Premium London Dry delivers a delightful well-balanced style that’s value priced.
New to Canada from Wisconsin is Death’s Door Gin, with a focus on just three botanicals: juniper, coriander and fennel seeds.
The final step to a great G&T is the glass itself. Regarding that, bartenders are increasingly recommending serving G&T in a balloon shaped glass with plenty of ice and a garnish tailored to the flavours of the gin to best enhance the experience. (The balloon shape gathers the aromas of the drink at its opening.)
The gin and tonic has been raised to an art form. One that delights and refreshes the palate, far removed from its medicinal past.
To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits
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