Wednesday 23 August 2017

Gin and tonic—but not as we know it

For your drinking pleasure: a Hartley Gin Tonica, featuring my own penchant, the addition of Campari

The ceaselessly industrious Mr Smith sent me a copy of his new tome, all about the Spanish style of serving gin and tonic. DBS himself (always a fan of taxonomy) long ago decided that this serve was sufficiently distinct to count as a separate drink, referring to it specifically by the Spanish name gin tonica, and that is indeed the title of his book.

The Spaniards’ love of a G&T apparently started in the Basque country and is now so entrenched that this beverage is considered the national drink. What makes a gin tonica different from a gin and tonic? Essentially, attention to detail. The punter is presented with a range of gins and tonics, which are complemented by elaborate garnishes, all served in extravagant balloon glasses to capture and channel the aromas. Large quantities of high quality ice are vital and the tonic is added as delicately as possible so as not to damage its effervescence (I’ve even heard of someone pouring the tonic down the shaft of a barspoon to try and minimise the loss of bubbles). The whole preparation process can take up to 15 minutes, and the wait is considered part of the experience.

David’s book offers 40 recipes, broken down into Classic, Contemporary, Experimental and Seasonal, starting with simple variations on standard garnishes, such as the Evans which deploys both lemon and lime, the James Bond, where a lime is squeezed into the drink (as described in Dr No), the Pink Gin (with added Angostura bitters), plus general variations made with aged gin or sloe gin.

Here you will also find the Hartley, named, I am honoured to say, after myself. I had mentioned to David that I sometimes like to add a dash of Campari to my G&T, so his version has a teaspoon of Campari and a teaspoon of orange juice (to balance the bitterness with sweetness).

But even the “Classic” section calls for unusual garnishes such as thyme, rosemary, bayleaf and coffee beans. Moreover, the recipes never specify simply “gin”—each one is a precise combination of a particular gin and a particular tonic. Alternative gins are also given, but if you fancied working your way through the recipes it would mean buying a lot of different gins and quite a few different tonics that may prove hard to come by.

Moving into the “Contemporary” section we find more esoteric gins, featuring unusual botanicals or spirit bases made from rye or rice, as well as exotic garnishes, the flavours of which start to take more of a defining role—such as the combination of grapefruit and vanilla pod (which apparent synthesise the impression of chocolate) or infusions of teabags. Also in this section we encounter the addition of other spirits such as Bénédictine, crème de violette or even malt whisky.

Once we get into “Experimental” territory, the only certainty is that there is gin involved in some way (although it may be joined by another spirit or liqueur, such as rum or blue curaçao). Garnishes include lemon sorbet, gummy sweets, rock candy or marmalade, and the tonic itself may be augmented or replaced by lemonade or soda water.

The “Seasonal” section offers recipes that will feel in keeping with different times of year, although the ingredients are not necessarily any less exotic, featuring gins made with spices or actual Christmas puddings and tonics pre-flavoured with cranberries, elderflower, grapefruit and rosemary. The winter recipe adds ginger ale, ginger wine, cinnamon sticks and cloves. There is a Chocolate Gin Tonica (is that a season? Why, I hear you cry, it is every season) made entirely of ingredients you will be outraged to find you never knew existed—gin made with cocoa nibs, coffee and vanilla, a cardamom tonic water and chocolate bitters. Finally, the New Year’s Eve version uses a gin that comes in a Champagne bottle and is served with a little Champagne as well.

As I say, you would have to be a dedicated home mixologist to source all the various gins and tonics specified in these recipes, with the patience to delay your post-work loosener while you hull strawberries and shave ribbons of cucumber. But if you love a G&T and wish to explore all the drink’s nuances, then this inspiring book is for you.

Gin Tonica by David T. Smith is published by Ryland Peters at £7.99.*

* If you follow up both those links you'll see that the image on the Ryland Peters website actually shows a different cover design from the copy I was sent. I wondered if the UK and US editions were different, but on the cover is the same as

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