It’s been a short while since we participated with Mixology Monday, the largest online monthly cocktail party. But we wanted to participate in this month’s theme, Highballs, which is hosted by Southern Ash, Joel DiPippa’s great blog on “Cigars and Hospitality, for Gentlemen and Ladyfriends.” Joel explains that he selected this month’s highball theme since “most cocktails are at least three ingredients with the highball relegated to emergency or last resort status, but in those highballs we will seek refuge. The end of the day is sometimes better served by a simple liquor plus mixer combination.” A proper highball typically has a larger amount of non-alcoholic mixer added to an alcoholic base. The Gin & Tonic is perhaps the best known highball, but our post hopes to show that not all of them are the same.
The Gin & Tonic has a very storied history, starting off as a drink with medicinal qualities. Sometime in the 17th Century, the Spanish Jesuits discovered that the indigenous early Peruvians were using the bark of the chinchona tree, a natural form of quinine, to cure various “fevers,” including malaria. Quinine became the preferred treatment to ward off and cure malaria throughout Europe and tropical regions shortly thereafter. Initially available in the form of bark powder, it was mixed in with water and sugars to offset the bitterness of quinine, forming the early version of tonic. Around the mid-1800s, army officers of the British East India Company (stationed in India where malaria was a persistent problem) started mixing the tonic with their gin rations along with lime, originating the classic highball we all know today.
Over the years, the natural chinchona bark form of quinine was replaced with chemical versions which are used in most bottled tonic waters available today. In the early 2000s, a British duo (responsible for Plymouth Gin and luxury food marketing) found that most tonic waters used artificial flavors and preservatives, so they set out to create an all natural mixer featuring high quality ingredients. These efforts resulted in the introduction of Fever-Tree Indian Tonic in 2005. Made with chinchona bark from the Congo that is mixed into spring water with other herbs and spices, Fever-Tree tonics are truly delicious and form the basis of the perfect Gin & Tonic.
Spain is the Gin & Tonic capital, drinking more of it per capita than anywhere else in the world. Gin Tónica bars let customers choose their preferred gin, tonic and garnish from the menu. Perhaps popularized by Ferran Adrià at the now-defunct El Bulli, the Gin Tónica is served in a balloon glass with plenty of ice. Additional herbs, botanicals and fruit are added as garnish to enhance the flavor and experience of the highball. You can find a great Gin Tónica at any one of José Andrés’ restaurants here in the United States, including the excellent Jaleo in Las Vegas (where we have experienced it at the premium cost of $20). Here in San Francisco, Coqueta’s Bar Manager Joe Cleveland, who previously worked for José Andrés, makes a beautiful version, changing the aromatics with the seasons. It is this version (front) that inspired this post:
The real secret of a great Gin Tónica is to use Fever-Tree Tonics: it really makes for a sublime, easy and elegant highball with champagne-like fizz; any other tonic water really can’t compare to it. Use of the balloon glass, such as Burgundy or Pinot Noir wine glass, is essential for the aromatics to become part of the overall drinking experience.
The basic ingredients for the Gin Tónica are gin and Fever-Tree Tonic, but we collected a garnish selection comprised of various items that can enhance the herbal and bitter flavors of the gin and tonic water. For example, cucumber and grapefruit have natural affinities with gin, and lime is a natural accompaniment to the classic highball; but we also like the tartness of blood oranges, expecially at this time of the year. Gin is made with Juniper berries, and addition of the seeds (available at Whole Foods stores in the bulk spice section) enhances the piney or resinous flavor of the gin:
Note: Fever-Tree tonics are available in four-packs of 200ml/6.7 oz bottles, which retails around $7. It’s the perfect portion to add to a shot of gin; but, depending on the gin, it can be ounce-for-ounce more expensive than it’s alcohol base. We economize a bit by buying the larger bottle of their tonic and measure out the portion.
2 oz. Gin (we like Beefeater)
6.5 oz Fever-Tree Indian Tonic Water
5-6 lightly crushed Juniper Berries
Citrus wheel and/or rind (we used a blood orange wheel and Rio grapefruit rind)
Add gin, juniper berries and citrus to a stemmed or stemless balloon glass with ice (we like to use a large ice sphere). Top with tonic water. Optional: add other herbs or flower as an additional aromatic (we used a Meyer lemon blossom).
A Gin & Tonic is usually imbibed during warmer weather, but we drink this version year-round here in the City, especially since we’ve been having another great warm winter. It is extremely flexible regarding the garnish and aromatics you add to it. Just make sure to use Fever-Tree Tonic; any other tonic water will just not do. We’ll probably experiment with other Fever-Tree mixers such as bitter lemon in the future, but if you have ever dismissed Gin & Tonic as a highball of choice, now is the time to reconsider.