The Perfect Gin & Tonic
Award-winning mixologist, bar operator, writer and chef, Tristan Stephenson, explores the Gin & Tonic and reveals innovative ways to add your own signature twist to the well-loved classic.
Authors: Tristan Stephenson
Estimated reading time: 4 Minutes
A Match Made in Heaven
For me, a gin and tonic works thanks to its perfect balance of bitter and sweet. Many of the botanicals found in gin are inherently bitter and some, namely the juniper and liquorice, are also naturally sweet, but the distillation process removes a lot of these flavour compounds from the final product.
So, when bittersweet tonic is mixed with gin, it reintroduces these essential flavour components and the effect is almost like a rediscovery of old values. Spices are restored, roots rekindled, and fruits and herbs reanimated to their original form.
Creating the perfect G&T serve
The humble G&T might seem like a walk in the park to make, but don’t be fooled by its simplicity! With only a handful of ingredients, every flavour is exposed and must be balanced and combined to perfection.
The potential for customisation makes the G&T so attractive. As bartenders we can experiment to suit the needs of our guests or create bespoke variations of the classic drink which link in with our food offerings. The only limitation is your imagination!
NAILING THE BUILDING BLOCKS
It might sound obvious but my top tip is to opt for a gin that actually tastes like gin (juniper). It shouldn’t be overpowered by the other ingredients in the drink – Tanqueray and Gordon’s are failsafe. If you’d like to add an interesting twist try the zingy and fresh Tanqueray Rangpur with a citrus tonic water and lime garnish.
This should be bittersweet, fresh and fizzy. Keep it chilled as this will limit dilution when you make the drink. Personally, I prefer citrus-based tonic waters (Mediterranean variants, for example) as these pair well with classic, juniper-forward gins like Tanqueray, but there is a huge variety out there to get creative with.
If you’re only adding it for aesthetic appeal, it’s not doing its job. A garnish should either directly contrast or accentuate the flavours of your G&T, and don’t feel limited to traditional food garnishes – herbs, spices and even flowers can also be used to great effect. Vanilla pods work well with sumptuous, buttery gins; lemongrass beautifully complements delicate, floral gins like Tanqueray No. TEN
The key is cubed ice and plenty of it. You can never over-chill a good G&T. The best examples also require at least a minute of stirring for perfect dilution and temperature.
This is down to personal preference, but I would avoid highballs that ‘stack’ ice cubes as these drinks are seldom cold enough. I like to use an extra-large rocks glass as it chills the drink faster and preserves some of the fizz.
Classic and simple is hard to beat. You really can’t go wrong with Tanqueray London Dry Gin mixed with a premium tonic and garnished with a wedge of lime. The lime adds a spark of acidity to the drink, lifting both the juniper and coriander botanicals in the gin.
A favourite of British forces in India and West Indian workers digging the Panama Canal. This citrus blush tonic is a little sweeter than your classic G&T - but delicious nonetheless. Grapefruit zest, or even a slice of grapefruit, works well with this drink as it bolsters the bitterness that is lost by adding sweet lemonade.
If you’ve got access to a carbonation rig or you’re handy with a soda stream or soda siphon, this is a great way to recycle tonic water that’s gone flat. You can even add your own herbal infusions in to the mix if you please (top tip: try a tea bag). Best of all, this method carbonates the gin too, so depending on the pressure you carbonate to, this could be the fizziest G&T you’ve ever tasted! With strong juniper-forward flavours, Gordon’s or Tanqueray will both work equally well here.
From G&T to Cocktails
Some would argue that the G&T isn’t a cocktail, however I say it’s the very definition of a cocktail: a "bittered sling", where sling refers to spirits plus water.
When you think of a G&T in this way, customisation becomes easy. Pick a few classic modifiers and start experimenting with your next G&T! In this serve I’ve chosen absinthe and herbal liqueur - the absinthe contributes more anise flavour while the herb liqueur gives sweetness with a green herbal note. Give it a try and enjoy.
- G&T is the perfect balance of bitter and sweet, and the potential for customisation makes it a bartender’s favourite
- With only a handful of ingredients, every flavour is exposed and must be balanced and combined to perfection.
- Go for a gin that actually tastes like gin, tonic should be bittersweet, fresh and fizzy, served with plenty of cubed ice.
Find more cocktail inspiration!