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This bitter spirit characterizes western bar culture like no other drink.
One thing is clear: gin and tonic is firmly rooted in our bar culture. This classic beverage has continued to evolve in recent years, primarily due to the numerous new gins that have awoken a desire for experimentation.
In the early days, however, this drink was all about the tonic water, not the gin. Brits in India would drink the very bitter Indian tonic water to protect against malaria. Because the taste was not very pleasant they added gin. A rather pedestrian start to this blend that can now be found everywhere: gin and tonic is now firmly rooted in western bar culture.
Behind the bar counters, you'll usually find all manner of different gins. Long-standing classics such as Gordon's and Beefeater in their clear bottles are lined up alongside newer brands such as Hendrick's Gin and local brands such as Appenzeller Gin 27 and Turicum. And the methods of crafting a good gin and tonic are as diverse as the selection itself. The drinks are mixed in an elegant highball or copa glass, often containing a medley of fruit and spices. The ingredients vary depending on the type of gin.
Gins are produced through various distillation processes. Most often, a neutral alcoholic distillate is used as a base, such as those made from grains, molasses, fruits etc. One of the two most common methods (known as vapour infusion) involves heating the diluted neutral alcohol once more in a copper boiler and passing the alcoholic vapours through the desired botanicals (which may be suspended in baskets in the upper part of the still, for example). The other widely-used method involves infusing the botanicals in the base distillate for a longer period before distilling once more. This technique is known as maceration. Some gin producers macerate and distil all flavour carriers individually, while others dispense with this option. Regardless of which process is used, the finished gin acquires its characteristic flavours from the botanicals involved. Nowadays there are numerous types of gin, but the following five are the most common:
Dry gin is unsweetened gin, usually with a distinctive juniper flavour, which may then be enhanced by hints of bitterness and citrus notes from the selected botanicals.
Despite what the name suggests, London Gin is not a designation of origin, but rather represents the elaborate manufacturing process. All botanicals in London Gin must be added during distillation. What's more, no more ethanol can be added after re-distillation. This particular gin is characterised by its strong juniper taste and delicately spiced flavours. Provided it contains no sweetening ingredients, it can also be called London Dry Gin.
Unlike London Dry Gin, "Plymouth Gin" is a legally protected designation of origin. As such, it can only be produced in the English coastal city. Plymouth Gin is rather fruity and sweet, and has a softer juniper flavour.
Old Tom Gin
Old Tom Gin is an old-style gin. The subsequent addition of sugar makes Old Tom Gin sweeter than London Dry Gin. The name Old Tom Gin purportedly came from plaques shaped like tom cats mounted on the outside wall of some pubs in 18th-century England following the gin licensing restrictions imposed by the British government. Someone would slot money into the cat's mouth and then the bartender inside would pour a shot of gin through the tube to reach the punter outside.
New Western Dry Gin
This new twist on Dry Gin emerged during the course of the last decade. In this variety, juniper takes more of a back seat. This allows other flavour carriers – such as citrus fruits – significantly more space to reveal their aroma.
There are currently 5,000 different gins and several hundred tonics to choose from. So it's not always that easy to find the right combination. As a general rule, the tonic water should complement the unique flavour of the gin produced by the botanicals and should be mixed 3:1. The specific flavours should also be reflected in the garnish.
Here are a few examples:
Tanqueray Gin Rangpur
The main ingredient is the rangpur lime, a hybrid of the lemon and mandarin orange. This gin also contains coriander and liquorice, so ideally the garnish would include a liquorice stick or a couple of coriander leaves.
Ten botanicals are added to this particular gin. These include coriander, lemon zest and almonds. The drink can be garnished with lemon peel and almond slivers, which can also be frozen in ice cubes.
Just like its botanicals, this gin originates from Japan. It contains cherry blossom, cherry leaves, yuzu zest, green tea and Japanese pepper. Peppercorns or cherries are therefore ideal for adding to the glass. If you're feeling particularly brave, you can even add a few drops of green tea.
New Western Dry Gin contains an array of unusual botanicals. Hendrick's, for example, includes cucumber, rose blossom, camomile, caraway and elderflower. The classic garnish would be cucumber. For a more distinctive touch, you can use camomile blossom.
These Zurich-based producers also use local ingredients for their gin, for example lime blossom, rose hip and hand-picked spruce tips. The latter are not ideal as garnish, however dried rose hip or fresh lime blossom will add a beautiful touch.
Gin doesn't just release its flavour in combination with tonic and various botanicals. It also goes beautifully with other spirits, juices and syrups. Here are just a few suggestions:
Pour 30 ml each of dry gin, red vermouth and Campari over several ice cubes in a tumbler, garnish with orange peel.
Pour the gin (50 ml), lemon juice (30 ml) and sugar syrup (20 ml) into a shaker and shake well. Pour through a sieve into a glass and top up with chilled sparkling water (100 ml).
Mix gin (60 ml) with vermouth (10 ml) or shake in a shaker. Garnish with an olive or lemon peel.
Thanks to its various spicy extras, gin can be an impressive ingredient in meals as well as drinks. It goes particularly well with salmon, for instance. The same rule applies to food as it does mixing drinks. Gin goes particularly well with those ingredients that it already contains in the form of botanicals.
So why not refine a chilled cucumber soup with a dash of Hendrick's gin or add it to a cucumber salad dressing?
A good glug of gin also works wonders in a tomato sauce. Simply let it simmer away. It can also be used in other, creamier pasta sauces instead of vodka. Gin provides a beautiful contrast in sweet desserts. Try drizzling the juniper spirit over freshly baked muffins. If you like your gin and tonic cool, simply freeze it – and enjoy it as a sorbet in a bowl or as an ice lolly.
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