Gin and Tonic Variations

DM G and TProposed and Realized By: David

Also Realized By: Jonathan

“The gin and tonic,” Winston Churchill once said, “has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.” He was alluding to the British East Indian Company’s invention of the concoction as a way of delivering quinine, which was believed to be an anti-malarial medicine. However, knowing Churchill, it’s possible he was talking about the self-medicating properties of gin.

I prefer the explanation of the drink’s prominence offered by Douglas Adams, the author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Every planet has its own version of gin and tonic, all developed independently from one another and pronounced essentially the same. There’s something about the “G and T” (or “Gin Tonic” as it’s called in some countries) that demands invention. The drink was simply meant to be.

And, to support Adams’ theory, it turns out tonic doesn’t cure or prevent malaria because you’d have to drink too much of it (and keep drinking too much of it) to reach even the minimal level of quinine necessary to suppress the disease. Science has taught us something important about gin and tonic, however—rather than doubling the bitterness by combining its three main ingredients, the similarly shaped molecules glom onto each other to mitigate their bitterness. I take that discovery as further proof of Adam’s belief in the inevitability of gin and tonic.

So why would someone want to adulterate it, and why would we use this space (again) to encourage such an abomination?

I thought of a post devoted to the drink by itself debating the proper tonic water (I like Fever Tree or Q, by the way), the proper gin (more later), and the proper proportion of gin to tonic, but all that sounded fussy. Let me be that rare voice of political tolerance in our contentious age and state that all the people, Republicans and Democrats, should compose gin and tonics as they wish, according to their tastes.

As you’ll see, Jonathan was much subtler, thorough, and scientific in his pursuit of proper ingredients. For me, adulteration felt like a different sort of test—not can you mess-up a Gin and Tonic, but can you actually stay true to the Neo-platonic ideal of gin-and-tonic-ness while also introducing a variation that might actually enhance its essential nature?

My first experiment was to follow a basic formula:

1.5 ounces Gin

.5 ounces something else

3 ounces tonic water

the squeezed juice of one-eighth of a lime

Over the last three weeks, I’ve tried all sorts of things for that something else—Lillet Rose, St. Germaine, Pimm’s #1, Grand Marnier, Chambord, Maraschino Liqueur, and Benedictine—and most of the results were passable, but no gin and tonic. The best were the ones with a certain je ne sais quoi, the ones that elicited the comment, “What’s different about this?” Of the ingredients above, Pimm’s #1 and Lillet were the most successful that way. Maraschino was also subtle. The worst? Benedictine.

Like Jonathan, I also bought dried juniper berries and other spices (though not in a nifty kit) and steeped them in vodka to create my own gin… and added sumac to regular gin… and used varieties of gin available in my liquor cabinet… and foisted all these varieties on various people. Jonathan’s testers are clearly better than mine. Everyone around me is sick of gin and tonics, so sick that their most thoughtful comments were “That’s nice,” or “Yuck.”

But not me. I’ll just say one thing about my experimentation. Nothing really ruins a gin and tonic… until it makes it something else.

Here’s Jonathan’s Approach:

JBM GTAlternatives of the classic gin and tonic? How hard could it be – change the gin and change the tonic. Heck, go crazy and change the garnish. One look at my liquor cabinet illustrates the true challenge, though. I have Old Tom gin, London dry gin, Rangpur gin, botanical gin, barrel rested gin and, after a quick search for tonic syrups that resulted in the purchase of a pre-measured spice mix, my own homemade gin.

You don’t need to go beyond tonic to understand the variations available. Quinine water, as we used to call it, ranges from classics like Seagrams, Canada Dry and Schweppes to a long list of high end and small batch sodas that grows each year. These include nationally available brands like Fever-Tree, Q and Fentimans to small batch soda versions found locally. There are also many syrups, I have used and love Jack Rudy’s, that can be mixed with club soda to make your own tonic water. Simple math made me realize I had to control the variables so I settled on premixed tonics.

The next question was gin. The classic uses London Dry and if the tonic was going to be dominant that made sense. As I noted, while searching unsuccessfully for new syrups I went into the Savory Spice Shop (a growing national franchise). They had a pre-packaged mix of spices to infuse vodka and make your own gin so that became another option. I also had a barrel rested gin, Cardinal, from nearby Kings Mountain N.C. and the gin style liqueur, Pimm’s No. 1, so I was set there too.

All that was left to do this right was to assemble taste testers and figure out ratios. My faithful panel was nice enough to gather for the task at hand and a forgotten shot glass made ratios approximate (I would guess it was 3:1 tonic to liquor). Here’s the three versions I made:

Prohibition (homemade) gin
Fever-Tree or Q tonic
Lime wedge garnish

Barrel rested gin
Fever-Tree or Q tonic in one session and Schweppes in another
5 drops Crude (Raleigh small batch brand) roasted pineapple/vanilla bitters
Lime wedge garnish

London dry gin
Pimm’s No. 1
Schweppes tonic
Mixed fruit garnish

The first mix was the most classic and the least liked. The gin was great. So good, in fact, that it was better by itself on the rocks. The nice part of make your own is that you can add and subtract spices. The juniper berries went in by themselves for 24 hours to emphasize that spice and the other spices were added for a final 24 hours.  If you are one of those people who don’t like the pine qualities of gin, though, you could add the juniper at the same time as the other spices (coriander, lavender, bay leaves, allspice and cardamom) and infuse for only 24 hours total to reduce their dominance. If gin is your favorite part of the G & T this may be the best option for your taste.

The second cocktail was a conservative variation yet well received. Barrel rested gin, at least the Cardinal version, is mellow and less spicy. The bitters added a subtle and different background flavor. I made this one with both the high end tonics and the less expensive stuff with the latter providing a quieter base to showcase the gin and bitters.

My final option was a G & T take on the Pimm’s Cup.  A number of Pimm’s Cup recipes suggest adding gin to increase the spirit quotient so I followed that idea by mixing Pimm’s and gin equally then adding tonic. The more assertive tonics worked really well here since it needed a mixer that stood up to the liquors. This is one to garnish with summer fruits like peaches, blackberries, blueberries and the like. The classic Cup addition of cucumber would probably work well also.

Jonathan’s Take: The T is my favorite part so high end tonics and syrups are well worth the cost.

David’s Take: Can I be a purist and an experimentalist at the same time? I’d like to try.

Next Time (Proposed by Jonathan):

One of my testing panel members suggested a drink called Serendipity. It will require that I go against my goal of reducing the number of spirits in my cabinet by adding Calvados. The drink includes the addition, always welcome, of a sparkling wine though so I think it is worth it. Plus, I have to listen to my testers since they are practically professionals at this point.


Maharani Cocktail

Proposed By: Jonathanjbm

Reviewed By: David

It would be a stretch to call anything related to a cocktail blog a responsibility although there are parts that feel that way. Each week we provide some background to the drink, its history, the reason we selected it or some context that affected our perception of it. More often than not that requires some shorthand that does not do justice to the drink or its creation. I suspect that most readers are more interested in the drink itself though so hopefully it works.

The reason I bring all that up is the name of this drink. To summarize that name I need to summarize a miniscule part of the culture of India and do so in less than a paragraph. The summary is so miniscule that I fear offending people who know and understand the incredible diversity of that country and subcontinent. Alas, I have my responsibilities as a not so savvy cocktailian, so here it goes.

The words raja and rani, and various spellings, are best known to me as crossword solutions. The true definition of raja or rani is a prince/king or princess/queen in India. From Sanskrit origin, the maha portion means a great prince or princess superior to the raja/rani. The maharani in particular can be the wife of the maharaja or the princess/queen leader. So what does that have to do with this drink? Absolutely nothing that I can determine, except perhaps the base alcohol, but it is that base of Tanqueray Rangpur that led me to this drink in the first place.

The recipe comes from another blog and I could not find any other reference to it anywhere. The Intoxicologist wrote the Straight Up Cocktail blog and it appears this is an original drink:

1.5 ounce Tanqueray Rangpur gin
1.5 ounce St. Germain
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
Lemon and lime wheels for garnish

Mix the first three ingredients, shake with ice (or stir in my case) and strain into a coupe. Garnish with the lemon and lime wheels.

It has been a long time since we used the Tanqueray Rangpur gin and I have to wonder why. Flavored with the exotic lemon and mandarin hybrid, this gin may be the best connection to the maharani name with its origin traced to Rangpur, Bangladesh. The unique citrus taste accentuates the gin even more than the classic combination with lime. I have found few liquors during this endeavor as interesting and appealing.

Here’s David’s Review:

dbmmWhen proposing cocktails, my brother—considerate soul he is—thinks of ingredients purchased for earlier recipes. Unintentionally, however, he makes choices that sometimes fill me with shame. That bottle of Chartreuse I’m supposed to have put aside… well… and that Mezcal… well… It’s not that I’m overindulging. It’s just that, when I like something… well… Please note that my bottle of crème de menthe is nearly full.

I did have enough St. Germain to make two Maharani cocktails for my wife and me, but the rest of the St. Germain disappeared long ago in various “experiments” and nightcaps. Anyone who has tried elderflower liquor probably relates.

And the Rangpur. I’m glad it’s still available at my local liquor superstore. Gin is my favorite base spirit, and I like all its manifestations. Whatever gin I have on hand goes into gin and tonics or even—once every great while—some martini variation. I can’t seem to hang onto gin for long. It’s amiable to so many cocktails. It’s not my fault.

Rangpur is also a particular favorite of mine. Like Jonathan, I’ve developed the habit of trying ingredients alone when we combine them in cocktails. Rangpur is less piney than dry gin, less sweet than Old Tom, more floral and, more citrusy than any other gin. At the same time, it’s hardly one-note. I also taste a bit of anise and maybe some bay leaf.

Not every sum is greater than its parts, but sometimes the promise of parts proves valid—what could go wrong with St. Germaine and Rangpur? A variation of the gimlet, this cocktail had me at the ingredient list. Fresh and sophisticated, the Maharani offers a dramatic citrus attack and the subtle herbal interplay of liqueur.

It’s also sweet, maybe too sweet for some people, and I wondered what it might be like to combine it with tonic in a taller glass filled with ice. Perhaps it’s my age, but bitterness seems natural to me. I looked for something to triangluate the acidity and sugar of this drink.

But I didn’t look that hard. If you like gimlets, you will love this cocktail. Maybe, like me, you won’t be able to keep the components long.

Jonathan’s take: Maybe the name came about because you feel like a maharaja or maharani when drinking this exotic and interesting cocktail.

David’s Take: I could order this one quite a few more times.

Next Week (Proposed By David):

We’ve arrived at our second anniversary on this blog and will celebrate the occasion as we did last year, by naming the drinks we liked best (and least) and offering some lessons for the year. I don’t know how Jonathan feels, but I actually feel that much more savvy. Nonetheless, we are more experienced… and that should yield some discoveries.