It’s gin and tonic time.
When is it not, you might ask? Fair question; let me rephrase: It’s writing about gin-’n’-tonic time. So in the spirit (ahem) of the season (and because I have a freezer full of gins as at least an indirect result of On the Rocks), I decided to do a controlled test of this fair-weather favorite. Or as controlled as one can be after sampling three in the course of an hour.
Schweppes — no, not the diet version — was the tonic of choice, as many fanciers feel that the tonic is at least as important as the gin. (Some like the English brand Fever Tree, but Central Market doesn’t have it in their FT lineup — anyway, it would be expensive.) A quarter of a Mexican lime was used in each drink. About 2 ounces of gin was poured over a fistful of ice, but I’m not fastidious about measuring, especially after two or so drinks, so the quantities of gin may have varied slightly. Fill glass to the top with tonic — unless you’ve selected an unusually tall glass. The gin’s the thing, after all.
And the winner is … Junípero Gin. As the name might suggest, this is a gin made in San Francisco in small, copper-pot stills whose aromatics are weighted toward juniper berries. But the name only suggests that: In Spanish that term is bayas de enebro. The Latin Juniperus is the more likely foundation, but I prefer to think that, more cleverly (or at least co-equally), the gin is named for Fr. Junípero Serra, the Franciscan friar responsible for a chain of amazing churches in Mexico’s Sierra Gorda and, later, in California. Whatever the name’s root, I like this gin straight out of the freezer, but with tonic the full range of botanicals seems amplified, and — though this might be stretching things a tad — the botanicals also seem to complement the quinine.
My second-favorite combination used an even more exotic gin: Hendrick’s, distilled and bottled in Scotland. Its shtick is that, in addition to being distilled with juniper, coriander seed, and citrus peel, Hendrick’s is infused with cucumber and rose petals. I also like it still slightly syrupy from the freezer. I admit that the cucumber has never revealed itself to me that much, but the rose petal is just forward enough — and it’s amplified in the combination, making it perfumy but not overwhelmingly so.
Broker’s is a classic London dry gin, and this one I don’t like so much by itself — it’s too austere. But it’s a great partner in mixed drinks that have a little complexity. In a gin and tonic, it’s suave and clean, but there’s no aha! moment.
Until I embarked on this investigation, I was a fan of tequila and tonic as well, and in the course of it I did try one tonic drink made with El Jimador Reposado. It was good enough, and some of the tequila’s smoky, herbal, and earthy character did come through. But I was now fully committed to gin. Sadly, to expensive gin. I think I’ll stick to tequila in shot form — or in a tequila sour with an almost equal ratio of tequila, simple syrup (start with less of this), and fresh lime juice, preferably squeezed in one of the hand-held Mexican devices. As an aside, I was unwilling to commit the last of my Los Danzantes joven mezcal to the experiment; it’s too good on its own.
Just to prove once and for all that gin was the man, I tried one more combination: vodka and tonic. (I feel obliged to clarify that all this did not happen on the same day.) I have two Texas vodkas in my freezer (no, there’s not room for a whole lot else): Tito’s and Dripping Springs. Depending on the day, I can be convinced either one is better than the other, but Tito’s was closest at hand. As you can now imagine, this combo landed at the bottom of the barrel — certainly not offensive, but nothing to be yearned for during the dark days of winter. Go for the gin; it says spring and summer. Vodka, on the other hand, merely says mix me. (The same is true for martinis, by the way: Gin rules.) •