Last Friday, Andy returned home from work, loosened his tie a bit, and staggered into the kitchen. It had been a long week for him and if I couldn’t tell by the look of exhaustion on his face when he’d left that morning, I could tell by the wine and martini emojis he was texting me from the train all the way home. I was already a few sips into my Friday Gin and Tonic so asked if he’d like me to make him one — even though every time I do this I feel like I’m right in the middle of that 1950’s Good Wife’s Guide (“Offer to take off his shoes…Have a warm or cold drink waiting for him”) that went viral a decade ago. I address him as “Honey” to hammer home the parody even further.
I do this even though I know exactly what he’s going to say:
“Thanks, but I’ll make my own.”
He’s not rejecting my offer because he knows it makes me feel like a ruffly-aproned housewife. He’s rejecting it because…he doesn’t trust me to make him a gin and tonic.
I’m not kidding.
Those of you who have been around this blog a while know that we really appreciate a good cocktail in our house. (Especially since the consumption of one has turned into a weekend-only ritual — more on that later.) And though we’ve discussed the magic of a Dark & Stormy on a soupy summer day and waxed poetic over Andy’s Manhattan more times that I care to admit, we’ve never really gone into the Gin and Tonic in any detail, which is somewhat astounding to me. It’s my go-to cocktail, what I drink all year long, and craaaave in the biggest way when the weather gets warm…all crisp and fizzy, limey and refreshing. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was Andy’s family who introduced the cocktail to this nice Jewish girl (my parents still look slightly frightened if I order one in a restaurant) when we first started dating, and to anyone paying attention, that was TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO. I emphasize this not because of how ridiculously long we’ve been together, but because that means I’ve been making this drink for a quarter century and my husband still does not think I’m capable of doing it the right way.
The Right Way. I’m sure you’re wondering what the heck that means. Cause even if you don’t know a lot, you know that there are only three ingredients in a Gin & Tonic: Gin, Tonic, and Lime. How hard can it be?
Oh boy, so hard. Yes, there are three ingredients but there are many more factors, all of which I’ve outlined below so you can make a proper one tonight — “proper” here defined as passing the DALS litmus test — and so I can maybe convince Andy that I’m capable of achieving the un-ironic Good Wife status…which I’d promptly reject.
1) THE GLASS
Most of the time we go with a lowball, like the Alessi shown in the above photo, but if it’s been a long day, we’re not embarrassed to admit that we’ll reach for what CB2 calls the Cooler, but what we affectionately call “The Big Gulp.” (Here is CB2’s entire Marta barware line.) I can’t point to the exact science behind this, but a gin and tonic made in a tall skinny glass — like the kinds you usually get at weddings — rarely delivers on the crunk factor. A G&T in a wine glass? It’s just wrong.
2) ORDER and RATIO of INGREDIENTS
Ice, booze, tonic, lime. If you do tonic first, you never have a real sense of how much (or how little depending on your perspective) booze you’re working with. And while the ratio of gin to tonic changes depending on various outside factors (deadlines, teenagers, general existential dread) I mostly stick with the standard 1:2. Also, a note about the ingredients: You might feel the urge to experiment with lavender-infused simple syrups or sprigs of mint or cucumber water, which is all fine, so long as you know the end result cannot be called a gin and tonic.
In my experience, this is where 90% of gin-and-tonic makers go wrong. As is the case with all cocktails, and as we’ve said probably one hundred times on this blog, you simply cannot overdo it here. Fill that glass up to the top with ice cubes before you do any pouring — you want the glass to be nice and chilled. Another crucial detail: Make sure the cubes are separated into individual pieces and are medium-sized. Too small and they’ll melt fast and dilute your drink; too big and they’ll interfere with your sipping rhythm. I was the first to get behind those Jumbo Ice Cube Trays which promised slow melting cubes for cocktails, but abandoned them after realizing I was sort of sipping around the giant block, while hoping it didn’t tumble out onto my shirt if I tipped it too fast. (Though as I type this it occurs to me that maybe I should question my booze-to-tonic ratio instead of the product.)
This is a personal decision but obviously a crucial one. I will never turn down a Tanqueray and Tonic — my standard bar order — but other favorites these days include Boodles, Hendriks, and, in the small-batch dept: St. George, Botanica and Greenhook.
5) TONIC WATER
When I make my millions, the basement refrigerator (or guest house?) will be stocked with individual bottles of Q Tonic. It’s dry and delicate and won’t overwhelm my gin the way it overwhelms my wallet. But until then, I’m happy with Pellegrino and Fever Tree, both of which you can usually find at supermarkets and both of which offer solid upgrades from Schweppes or Canada Dry. Not that I would ever complain about these last two — I’m not terribly picky about the flavor of my tonic. What’s way more important here is that whatever tonic I choose must deliver on carbonation. A Gin and Tonic without fizz is like a ride on the N train: It’ll get you there, but the ride will be joyless. To that end: Best to buy in individual bottles, rather than one large one…all the better to ensure optimum bubbles.
The important thing to note here is that the Lime be a Lime and not a Lemon. (What is up with that impulse?) I prefer slicing off the lime cheek (instead of an individual wedge) to get more juice out of it, but this is a matter of personal taste. As long as that personal taste does not allow for lemons. NO LEMONS.
7) THE SETTING
Now granted, where I’ve nursed my Gin & Tonics would read like a Dr. Seuss book — with a goat, on a boat, on a train, in the rain — but the ones I remember the most are always the ones consumed outside when the weather is warm and the light looks like it does in the picture below. Also not to be discounted: Sipping a gin and tonic while overlooking an ocean or a lake — or whatever body of water — will compensate for most G&T flaws. Any flaws, actually.
DO: Drink your Gin & Tonic outside on a warm night with a (distant) view of the Hudson River. DON’T: Mix with a sub-par no-fizz tonic (this was Whole Foods’ 365 brand #neveragain!) while playing catch with a Boston Terrier whose charming-but-nervous energy will most certainly kill your buzz.
This post goes out to my new favorite person, Lisa Zaretsky, who made my year when she expressed gratitude for DALS after overhearing my name in the bookstore where we were both shopping. Bottom’s up Lisa!