When I was a kid, most of the people who drank gin and tonics were the same ones who derived massive amounts of pleasure from the musical oeuvre of Lawrence Welk. Also, they often smelled of mothballs or potpourri.
Oh, how times have changed: Recent years have seen a massive upsurge in the popularity of gin and tonics, especially among young, in-the-know cocktail lovers. There are, it seems to me, two reasons for this: A wider range of gin, and infinitely better tonics.
For everyday tippling, the old standbys on the liquor-store shelves are perfectly fine: Beefeater, Tanqueray, Bombay and the rest. I’ve become a big fan of Plymouth over the years, and often love Boodle’s in my cocktail. But if you’re serious about exploring the range of G&T’s this summer, check out some of the better Scottish gins, too—I love The Botanist, from Islay, and distilled by the same geniuses who produce Bruichladdich Scotch. Caorunn, from Speyside distiller Balmenach, takes brilliantly to an apple-slice garnish. Hendrick’s, of course, is also distilled in Scotland, and its rose and cucumber notes have won over legions of fans over the years.
Domestic distillers are also changing what we think of gin and tonic. Local standout Philadelphia Distilling has a hit on its hands with Bluecoat; California-based St. George Spirits makes a number of beautiful ones—called Botanivore, Dry Rye and Terroir—and, from the moment I first tasted both Hayman’s Old Tom and Hayman’s Royal Dock Navy Strength Gin, I was hooked: They make some of the best G&T’s I’ve had recently, and serious martinis, too. (The Old Tom is sold in PLCB stores, and both are available at Oyster House and Southwark, among others.)
I’d also recommend drinking gin and tonics from large red-wine glasses, a practice that I first experienced in Spain last year (G&T’s are huge there right now). Odd as it sounds, it makes perfect sense in the glass: With all of the drink’s complexity, a bowl-shaped vessel really concentrates and amplifies the aromatics.
Better tonics, too, have lifted the classic warm-weather cocktail to a whole new level. And while there’s nothing wrong with topping up your gin with Schweppes or Canada Dry, high-quality tonics like Fever-Tree and Q raise the bar significantly: They have no high fructose corn syrup and are therefore less overtly sweet, and the presence of quinine is more pronounced, which not only lends a delicious bitterness, but also helps stave off malaria. It’s just one more reason to drink more of them this summer. Not that you really needed one.
PW's Year of Beer: Carton of Milk