Friday Night Cocktail: Gin and Tonic

Gin and TonicOn a hot summer day, there is no drink I would rather have than a Gin and Tonic. So I’ve been drinking a lot of them lately, which finally gave me the impetus to make my own tonic syrup, which is then combined with club soda to produce tonic water.

The defining feature of tonic water is the inclusion of quinine, which gives it its characteristic bitterness – a quality that my husband  blames for his now-disproven belief that he didn’t like gin. (He notes, “The tonic industry has a lot to answer for.”) In its refined form, quinine can be potentially dangerous, so most homemade tonic waters use the unrefined form: cinchona bark, which gives the tonic a slightly discomfiting shade of brown, rather than the colourless (or, really, fluorescent) appearance of commercial tonic.

In addition to quinine, tonic water is usually flavoured with citrus aromas – lemon, lime, even lemongrass – and sometimes other spices as well. Recipes for tonic syrup abound online, but I chose the one found in the Food & Wine 2012 Cocktails guide: it seemed to make a reasonably sized batch, and I appreciated the inclusion of dried lavender for a floral element. Once you get past the colour, it’s deliciously earthy, citrusy and floral, with a pleasant bitter-sweetness.

Is it worth it to make your own tonic water? It’s hard to say: it can be difficult to source cinchona bark, the process is more involved than with, say, homemade passion fruit syrup, and there are many quality tonic waters on the market right now. And let’s face it, I think Schweppes gives a classic flavour profile that satisfies me nine times out of ten. But if you’re the sort of person who likes to tweak your ingredients or know with utter certainty what goes into what you’re eating and drinking, or you want a specific flavour from your tonic water, then it’s nice to know how to do it.

Either way, it looks like I’ll be enjoying many more Gin and Tonics in the coming weeks.

How to make a Gin and Tonic

If you make your own tonic syrup, follow the instructions in your specific recipe for how much of the syrup to use. The proportions below are for the syrup I made from Food & Wine’s 2012 Cocktail guide.

  • 2 oz. gin
  • 1.5 oz. tonic syrup
  • 2 dashes lemon bitters
  • 4 oz. club soda
  • Lemon twist

Combine the gin, tonic syrup and lemon bitters in an ice-filled highball glass. Stir to combine. Top with club soda, and add a lemon twist.

If you don’t want to get your hands dirty making your own tonic syrup, then a gin and tonic couldn’t be easier.

  • 2 oz. gin
  • Tonic water, preferably Schweppes
  • Lime wedge

Pour the gin into an ice-filled highball glass. Top with tonic water to taste. Squeeze in a lime wedge, and enjoy.

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