Above left: Lemon Thyme Gin and Tonic at Cata. Right: Jose’s Ultimate Gin and Tonic at Jaleo.
Will summer ever end? After months of muggy subway rides and humidity hair, the cool-down strategies that seemed refreshing in June are getting downright dull. Case in point: the gin and tonic. We’d never dream of throwing shade at Britain’s favorite summertime sipper, that marvel of innovation that’s both a deceptively complex two-ingredient cocktail and a tropical disease cure (it was invented by British army lads in colonial India who wanted to jazz up the quinine tonic they’d been prescribed to fend off malaria). But as more and more bartenders are demonstrating, even an old classic can handle a little rejuvenation.
From San Francisco to South Beach, the G and T is appearing in sexy new guises. Since its renaissance started in Spain, some of its hottest stateside incarnations are in tapas bars. The four renditions at New York’s Toro range from classic-with-a-twist to barely recognizable, like the Midnight Train to London, which adds Earl Grey tea and apricot to round out the spirit’s herbal notes. At Jaleo in Washington, D.C., the menu includes a barrel-aged version garnished with pickled ginger, while at San Francisco’s Coqueta, the Tonic de Cortez is a New World departure, adding mezcal, white vermouth, and Suze (a French aperitif).
If you want to enhance your home G and T without investing in new liqueurs or equipment, do as Ewa Olsen at New York’s Cata does and think outside the limewedge box. The cocktails on her restaurant’s 20-plus G and T list are served with whimsical garnishes like rose petals, Thai basil, and strawberries. “Every gin has an aromatic essence that we try to bring forward,” says Olsen. To up your own garnish game, taste your gin to determine what would echo its dominant flavor — some are heavy on floral notes; others evoke lemongrass and cardamom. Also remember to bruise fresh ingredients like herbs and flower petals by clapping them between your palms — this releases their fragrant oils before you drop them in the drink.
And if you really want to impress at your early-fall garden party, shake up your tonic. Artisanal soda makers are bottling tonic waters that skip the corn syrup and artificial flavoring, and you can now also grab your own tonic syrup and liqueurs to customize seltzer. Our favorite is Tomr’s Tonic, made with cinchona bark (a natural source of quinine) and a blend of herbs and citrus. Don’t be scared by its rich amber color — that’s how you know you’re getting the good stuff.
Left: Tonic de Cortez at Coqueta. Right: Midnight Train to London at Toro.
The DIY G & T
Do try these at home, kids.
Strawberry–Thai Basil Gin and Tonic
Recipe by Ewa Olsen, Cata, New York
4 Thai basil leaves
3 oz. Martin Miller’s gin
Bruise two basil leaves and place them at the bottom of a highball glass. Drop in two slices of strawberry, crushed gently, and add gin. Fill with ice to the rim of the glass, and place one crushed basil leaf, one fresh leaf, and half the strawberry on top of the ice. Pour as much tonic over it as desired.
Midnight Train to London
Recipe by Caitlin Doonan, Toro, New York
2 oz. Earl Grey–infused gin
¾ oz. lemon juice
1 barspoon apricot jam
To make the Earl Grey–infused gin: Combine one bottle gin with two Earl Grey teabags, then let steep for two hours. Remove teabags.
Combine gin, lemon juice, and jam in a shaker. Fill with ice. Shake well, then fine-strain over fresh ice into a highball glass. Top with tonic and garnish with half an orange slice.
Photo credits: courtesy of Cata Restaurant; Greg Powers (Jaleo); Ken Goodman (Toro); courtesy of Coqueta.