Gin & Tonics: The DALS Way


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.

3) ICE
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.)

4) GIN
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. GeorgeBotanica 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.

6) LIME
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!

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52 Comments

Caitlin

Thank you for this. We were just talking the other day about needing to have a drink that we can make well, because we can’t stomach beer or wine anymore (so sad), and I said that you two would have an answer for us. I checked back through the archives, but now there’s this! What timing. (Also? I love that good wife’s guide and used it on Mike the husband at some point last year when he was halfway through his stay at home Dad position. Why are you greeting me at the door with a tantrumming toddler? Where is my haven of rest? My prepared dinner? He didn’t think I was funny.)

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Libby Monaghan

My husband comes home and makes us a gin and tonic every night. So far, I have never been able to do it all that well.
We love ours with cucumber instead of lime.

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Billy

I love everything about this. Q is my standard tonic. There is nothing better than a spring/summer G&T. I do however hand squeeze my lime before the tonic and after the gin, then give put the wedge in a juicer and kill it over the top. I’m salivating as I type!

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Nancy

I rather understand Andy’s reluctance to let you make his G&T, it is a simple drink with a lot of room for individual choices. My husband, who is an excellent cocktail maker most of the time, has been known to only use the juice from the lime! I think the drink is just not the same without the whole lime wedge dropped in!

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Christina

I agree with you in your tendencies for a very particularly made G&T . My house is stocked with no fewer than four gins at the moment, and I don’t order them in bars any more unless they have an exceptional cocktail menu because they so often ruin them.

HOWEVER…I disagree on a few key points. Lemons are preferred in G&T, though the particular gin may dictate what works best. (We just got a gin with a berry undertone and I”m looking forward to trying a slice of orange with it this weekend.) Secondly, I really like the 365 tonic, both for its thrift versus Q as well as its slight sweetness.

#GandTForever

P.S. I loved last week’s post on Catastrophic Happiness with several people and have re read it several times. Lovely, true.

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Jenny

I like the 365 tonic when it’s good, but the problem is that every other batch seems to be lacking in the fizz dept. so it’s a gamble. A gamble I’m not willing to take in this case.

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Caitlyn

I feel as though you have just validated my existence as a fellow year-round G&T drinker. I always feel odd drinking them in the dead of winter, but other drinks are just so lacking 🙂 Love the suggestions!

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Sharon

Lime only, keep the ice in only as long as it takes to get the G and T cold enough, then I fish it out…………heinous crime but I hate diluted cocktails……………and I’m a gulper not a sipper, a fault I continue to work on.

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Lupe Velez

Missing from this blog entry are the children. In some households in Glen Ridge, children were taught how to make and serve cocktails by the time they were seven years old. After some three martini lunches (the norm in those days), it was such a blessing to come home to a nice Old-fashioned or Manhattan, or go straight to the scotch on the rocks. Children are resilient, they may be able to catch up, if given the time and love they require. As an extra bonus, I would teach the dog how to fetch the cheese and crackers.

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BLH

This was written for my husband and me! We had a similar thing going on in our house, and here is the missing crucial step. Before you squeeze the lime and drop it in, try running it around the rim of the glass. Essential! Now I can be a “good wifey” too, if I so choose.

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Greta

I would add that in addition to sipping your G&T outside, on a hot/humid or just plain hot day, a perfect accompaniment is reading Hemingway’s “Islands in the Stream.” It’s the ideal summer read in my opinion—and Hemingway’s descriptions of drinks will make you very thirsty.

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Am

Gin & tonics, Pimm’s Cups, and real margaritas (not the frozen kind!) are my warm-weather must-haves. I’ll have to try Boodles sometime, I’ve never heard of it before.

Have you ever tried Bluecoat? It’s one of my fave gins.

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Charlotte

I often forget how much I love a good g & t – tonic bubbles are crucial. At home my parents had a couple of borage leaves added and often no lime (wait what?). Yours pictured looks great but too much ice for me (maybe my English blood?) but thanks for the reminder. Time to dig out my gin and go buy some tonic….

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Awads

This is how i feel about a Negroni–my spring-summer go-to cocktail. I have to make it myself. It has to have Dolin sweet vermouth , bluecoat gin, and campari (no aperol!). And it’s 1:1:1…can’t just eyeball it either! I had relegated cocktails to “weekends only” at the start of the year, but once the weather warms, that’s just not possible. cheers!

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Mark Christenson

Cocchi, Cocchi, Cocchi!

🙂

Dolin is nice, too–great to see another Negroni fan!

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Kristin

100% agree with everything about this post. G&T has been my drink for many years and I make it exactly the same way. Some people put lemons in it????? Very much looking forward to one tonight!

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Allyson

Oh man, the perfect gin and tonic is an elusive beast. I find that I have to disagree with you on some points- I like my gin and tonics in highball glasses, and my default g&t uses bombay sapphire (when I’m feeling flush I like Tanqueray 10). We agree on St. George, the importance of tonic, and lime. If it wasn’t before noon, I would mix myself a G&T right now- or rather, have my husband mix one, because I don’t trust myself to make them as well as he does.

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Lisa Zaretsky

Your shout out made MY year! Such a treat to make your acquaintance. 🙂

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Irene

I’m not sure if this is still true, but it used to be that when you ordered a G&T in England you got gin with a splash of tonic: just enough to keep the malaria away. Not for sissies.

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Sunski

Another G&T drinker here, who agrees with you on all points. Sadly, I don’t enjoy them as much in the winter and it is still cold enough here (Northern MN) to use the “outdoor refrigerator” (the screened porch). But today I bought the ingredients for my second-favorite drink: the French 75 (gin+simple syrup+lemon+champagne). SOOOoooo looking forward to 5:00!

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Anne

I’m not sure what it says about me but I have had Q Tonic as a standing repeat order from Amazon for a couple of years now! I’ve also been known to panic when my local store doesn’t have it.

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Laurie @ Pride in Photos

Everything you said is almost to perfection….but to make it perfect…you must buy your ice from the white box vendors. THE ICE IS SO CLEAR AND BEAUTIFUL. It just makes the G& T sparkle. We keep a bag in our freezer just for our drinks

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lomagirl

I LOVE a good G&T- but I almost never drink (them or anything else) anymore.
When I taught in South Korea in the 90’s, there wasn’t much to do in the way of entertainment besides drink and play cards, so we used to have Gin and Gin nights. Just thinking of this drink brings back good memories.

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gayle

You left out some important info on the best g&t. You must build in this order:
1. ice
2 lime
3 tonic
4 NO STIRRING, it will properly mix itself. Stirring will just allow the all-important fizz to escape!

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Lynn

I never had gin and tonic with lime – ever- before moving to America. English pubs always used lemon slices or wedges.

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Christina

I’m with you, a Friday g&t is a thing of great, great beauty; I’ve always liked the Whole Foods tonic water, but Q is a good splurge.

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Dana

I’ll respectfully disagree here: if the gin is botanical in nature (Hendricks, St. George), a lemon is far superior. It melds better with the delicate aromatics of the gin. If you’re going with English style gin, by all means stick to lime. But lime overwhelms the botanicals of the more delicate gins. Just my humble opinion 🙂

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Emily

Gin and Tonics are the best. I will say, the best way to take it to a whole different level is in homemade tonic water. A family member did it a few years ago and I was skeptical, thinking it was just a reason to brag about having made tonic water. I am glad to say that I was wrong, and that tonic syrup with club soda made the best gin and tonic I have ever had. It was other worldly and now something I have to make every so often.

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Alex

I have to disagree with you on the glass! I went to Spain last summer and realised just how serious the Spanish are about their Gin and Tonics – there are whole bars devoted to them! Always served in a wine glass/glass with a stem, customised with a variety of herbs, botanicals and various fruit. One of my favourites involved blueberries, cardamom and cloves! I still enjoy a good Hendricks style g&t with cucumber, and of course the traditional one you describe above, but seriously, for lovers of gin, get some Spanish inspiration just to mix things up a bit!

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Mark Christenson

Agree that the Spaniards are gin-crazy and love their “gin tonics” (no “&” or “and”), but generally they blow way past the preferred ratio of 1 part gin to 2 parts tonic and end up with very “weak” drinks (sometimes as much as 5 parts tonic to 1 part gin).

That said, Gin Mare (if you can find it) is one of the best gins and makes one of the best G&Ts ever (in particular with Fever Tree Mediterranean tonic).

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Jane

I love this blog as much as I love my gin. Drinking a G&T for me is liking making a good cup of coffee — the process is as satisfying as the sipping. I admit to have about 19 different types of gin. They have become like wine. I don’t have a favourite, well, all of them really. They all taste different, and I choose them depending on the day and mood.

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Sherri

Looks delicious and refreshing! I was interested in the “more on that later” comment regarding the weekends. Is that topic for a later post?

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tenely

Perfect but for 2 things. 1)Tonic is the most important. Do not buy those liter bottles. Do not buy Canada Dry. Schweppes is good. Q is Better. Whole Foods brand in little cans is best. 2) Hendricks, tonic, cuc, mint. Summer in a glass.
Boodles! Mmmmmm. I’m getting thirsty.

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Sarah

Jenny – I hate to say this but you are SO wrong! Your garnish should always mirror whatever the chief botanical is…which is rarely lime! Hendricks should always be cucumber, Boodles (yum by the way, you are right about that) should be orange or maybe grapefruit…and the idea of serving a good gin with Canada Dry…?! I’ll have to stop myself ranting here I think because I am fighting an urge to just throw my hands up in despair and go: “Urgh, Americans”. Please come to London sometime soon and we will show you how gin should really be drunk.

ps. you’re right about everything else in the world and I love DALS. xxx

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Shay

Death’s Door gin is great! I even stopped using lime so I could just revel in the subtle flavor of the gin.

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Liz Johnson

Love this. Yes on Q! Yes on Tanqueray! Yes on lime! Yes on ice! But wouldn’t you prefer a Collins glass? Tall and skinny for me, please.

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heidipie

Where do you get Pellegrino tonic water? I’ve never seen it. Thanks!

p.s. I love G&Ts so much that I got kosher-for-passover Formula 209 gin for last weekend’s festivities

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Jennifer S

While we are fans of the Cocktail, our go-to, everyday is the Afterwork G&T. Many of our essentials align with yours. Lowball (our wedding registry Waterford, Colleen). Ice: 2 cubes of standard ice tray fare (Sterilite from Target). Tonic: Canada Dry or Schweppes (I recognize HFCS is hideous but this is the tonic water our parents used and it is familiar, comforting. Tonic waters with real sugar or more dry versions just taste wrong. Sue me.) Gin: We’re partial to Bombay Sapphire or Plymouth Gin but Hendricks is appreciated, and Death’s Door is our favorite regional small batch. Lime: yes! Lemon: never! We’ve tinkered with the order in which our G&Ts are built and agree that ice, gin, lime, tonic is what works for us. Adding the tonic last seems to mix the drink so the lime is integrated not forward. We could stir before serving but we’re more eager to drink than opposed to bruising the gin. Skol!

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Kate

Love the details! Gin and Tonics always remind me of my parents. They would mix big tumbler glasses full as roadies on our way out to dinner on the weekends. They would place the open glasses in the cup holders, load the kids in the car and make the 15 minute ride to the restaurant. Probably something that would look frowned upon these days. 🙂

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Mark Christenson

Obviously lots of personal opinions about what gin, what tonic, what garnish. Here are a few things that are at least arguably not debatable:

1. Freeze gin and glass ahead of time, and ensure that tonic is as cold as you can get from refrigerator
2. Pour gin into glass
3. Tilt glass at 45-degree angle and pour tonic down the side of the glass (2:1 ratio, tonic to gin, is fine)
4. This mixes the gin and the tonic and minimizes the loss of bubbles. And because tonic is denser than gin (ever at freezer temperature) it will sink through the gin and help mix.
5. Squeeze your preferred amount of juice from quarter of a lime (adding lime earlier increases “bubble nucleation sites” that negatively impact the carbonation in the tonic.
6. Add ice, freezer cold (not tempered). And don’t drop ice into the glass, but place it with a spoon or other utensil–dropping it in causes a big burst of foam/bubbles that diminishes the experience. And adding ice at the end promotes mixing, while adding just-out-of-the-freezer ice minimizes dilution.
7. Drop the lime quarter on top of the ice (or don’t). Dropping it on the ice further eliminates the foaming/reduction in carbonation, and adds a nice aroma.

Courtesy Dave Arnold’s “Liquid Intelligence” (a great book for anybody who likes cocktails).

Personal comments:

1. Fever Tree is the best tonic although obviously personal choice matters.
2. Monkey 47 is the best gin, although Sipsmith VJOP is quite nice, too. Limes work great with both, although a slice of grapefruit is perhaps even better with the Monkey. If you can find Gin Mare (from Spain) then basil and rosemary are the correct garnishes.
3. Fever Tree (any of the regular, Mediterranean, or Elderflower) is the best tonic.
4. I personally like one big ice cube vs. a bunch of smaller ice cubes because I don’t want the bitterness of the tonic and the juniperiness of the tonic to be diluted, which seems to happen with a bunch of small cubes.
5. Tonic should only ever be purchased in glass containers–any tonic in plastic bottles starts to lose carbonation as soon as it’s bottled.
6. Did I mention Fever Tree is the best tonic?

Peace,

Mark

P.S.–I have nothing to do with any of the above-mentioned products–just a wine guy who thought he hated gin but was turned onto G&Ts by another wine guy and, since then, have tried too many variations to count. Although virtually any is refreshing and enjoyable on a hot day, there is a clear hierarchy between Schweppes and common gins (apologies to the Gordon’s, Tanqueray, and Bombay fans) and Fever Tree (or even Q Tonic 🙂 and some of the gins mentioned in the comments.

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Estelle Rae

Have you tried ‘Fever Tree’ tonic. It’s the best tonic I have found to date. I haven’t seen Q tonic in Scotland, but will keep and eye out for it. My favourite gin is probably ‘Caroun’ which is made in a small Scottish distillery. Other than that, I quite like Sipsmith, but I’m definitely going to keep a look out for your favourites. There’s nothing like a G&T after a hard week!

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bridgit

My husband is in charge of all cold cocktails in our house, but he makes a G&T to my brother’s specifications. You might have Andy try rimming the glass with lime and squeezing it and dropping it in the glass before the gin and tonic. My husband and brother both wax philosophic when teaching someone to make one. It’s pretty funny! And I’ve never experienced flat 365… hope I never do, since that is definitely our favorite of the not crazy expensive tonics.

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