4 years ago

Gin and tonic: The drink that beats the heat

Jason
Newell, our manager of Wines & Spirits at
our Chanhassen store, shares his top picks for the perfect gin &
tonic.

When the temperature outside climbs over 80 degrees it’s
time for gin and tonic season. While some lovers of this libation enjoy this
simple and classic cocktail year round, I am most fond of it sitting on a patio
when the sun is out and the heat is on. The infusions of botanicals that create
gin, enhanced by the bitterness of the quinine in the sparkling tonic, combine
to make one of the world’s most distinctive cocktails.

The development of gin in the 1800s was driven by a desire
to make the spirits that were being distilled at that time more palatable. By
infusing the spirit with a range of botanicals, the distiller could mask the
harsh flavors of what technically was unrefined vodka. Every gin producer has
their own secret recipe of botanicals. Bombay Sapphire boasts the use of ten
exotic botanicals in its recipe, created in 1761. Juniper berries, which give
gin its distinctive evergreen pine flavors, are the predominant botanical in
most traditional gins. Citrus peels and coriander also seem to be very popular
in many distillers’ recipes; from there, the variety of combinations is
endless.

Add this to tonic, which was developed by the British, who
were empire-building in the Malaria-ridden countries of India and Africa. The
extremely bitter main ingredient quinine needed to be mixed with sugar and
water to be taken daily as a defense against the deadly disease that is carried
by mosquitoes. Mixing quinine with gin not only created this classic
combination, but made for a much more willing group of participants in the
anti-malaria campaign.

Today you will find many types of gin on the shelves of our Wines
& Spirits locations
. The two traditional styles are London Dry, which
has a predominant juniper quality and slightly higher alcohol content, and the
Old Tom style, which is slightly sweeter.

There has also been an increase in the number of craft or
boutique styles of gin. These distillers are using specialty stills and
innovative techniques to blend ingredients into the gin to create exciting new
flavors that have never been tried before. Hendricks, a gin produced in
Scotland, uses the traditional juniper, citrus peel and coriander, but then
finishes it off with a large amount of cucumber.

If you want to keep it local, Minnesota distillers are
developing some fantastic gins. My current favorite comes from the J. Carver
distillery, located in Waconia, Minnesota. This distillery is a must-see for
anyone with an interest in Minnesota craft spirits. They are developing many
excellent spirits at J. Carver. Their Premium Gin is the one I use for making a
great gin and tonic.

With the gin ready to go, it’s time to pick the tonic. The
three ingredients in tonic are sparkling water, quinine and sugar. There are
large producers like Schweppes that can be found in almost every grocery or
liquor store in the world. There are also small unique producers like Q Tonic and
Fever-Tree, who travel the world to find the highest quality quinine and use
only real sugar or agave nectar instead of high-fructose corn syrup.

Instantly noticeable between the large and small producers
is the size and intensity of the bubbles. Tonic water must have lively bubbles
that sparkle and snap. The bubbles from Fever-Tree crackle like a million tiny
fireworks. If your tonic is flat tell your friend to pick up a fresh supply on
their way over to join you on the deck. The dramatic action of the bubbles
welds the gin and the tonic together, creating one of the world’s greatest
flavor combinations. Garnish with a slice of lemon if you’re from the U.K. or
lime if you’re from the United States.

My friends and I will be drinking gin and tonics well into
the hot and humid days of the Minnesota summer. Even though I haven’t heard of
a case of malaria in Minnesota we do have a lot of mosquitoes, so it never
hurts to be cautious.