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How To Up Your Gin & Tonic Game

Gin & tonics have been my drink of choice since college, when I would sip them for $5 at happy hour. Made with cheap, generic well gin, tonic the bartender dispensed with a sloppy shot from the soda gun, and garnished with a browning wedge of lime…they were hardly inspired. But they always seemed like a safer bet than the cloyingly sweet cocktails that a lot of my friends were drinking years ago at dive bars in our Midwestern college town.

G&Ts remained my go-to cocktail into adulthood. And while I eventually graduated from harsh well spirits to better, smoother, and more interesting gins, for years all the G&Ts I ordered at bars or made at home were just that: gin, generic tonic water, and sometimes a lime wheel. 

It wasn’t until I started traveling abroad that I learned how the humble G&T could be elevated from a dependable-but-basic cocktail to something so much more versatile, customizable, and totally inspired. 

On my first trip to Spain, I saw how obsessed the country is with the “gin tonic” (no “and” or “y”). From Barcelona to Bilbao, San Sebastian to Seville, Spaniards raise this cocktail to an art form. There are even bars devoted exclusively to the cocktail, boasting ten, 12, or even 20 different versions of the drink on their menus — all with different kinds of bottled tonic waters and medleys of garnishes ranging from different citrus fruits to pink, red, and black peppercorns, fresh herbs like basil, mint, and lemon verbena, and beautiful dried cardamom pods, star anise, and hibiscus flowers (to name just a few) paired to complement the juniper, floral, or herbal notes of a particular gin.

A few years ago, I visited the sublime Ritz-Carlton in Macau, China. Located on the hotel’s 51st floor, the bar & lounge boasts luxe interiors and a fantastic vantage point high over Macau…but I was more interested in the view of their G&T trolley. The elegant cart gets wheeled up to your cushy sofa or lounge chair by a bartender in a smart suit who will chat with you about the flavor profiles of dozens of different gins to find you the perfect G&T customized to your preferences. 

Like most of us, I’d rather be sipping a fancy G&T in a swanky bar rather right now, rather than at home. But in 2021, the good news is that it’s never been easier to craft G&Ts at home that rival those served by the pros at dedicated bars in Madrid and Macau. Read on for unique gins, high-quality tonic waters, creative garnishes, specialized glassware, and more to mix up your own globetrotting G&Ts at home today on International Gin & Tonic Day, and beyond.

Darnley’s Original London Dry Gin, $32

Juniper and other botanicals are what make a gin a gin, and give each spirit its singular character. The recipe for Darnley’s London Dry gin, which is distilled in Fife, Scotland forages wild elderflower from the grounds of Wemyss Castle, the ancestral home of the Wemyss family for generations. 

Named for Lord Darnley — who met his future wife, Mary Queen of Scots, at the castle in 1565  — the elderflower is macerated with juniper, orris root, citrus, coriander, and grains of paradise before getting distilled in a traditional copper pot.

Future Gin, $40

California sunshine in a bottle: that’s the inspiration behind Future Gin, an LA-based distillery that combines the structure and traditional botanicals of a dry gin with the bright flavors of Meyer lemon, honeysuckle, and grape leaf.

Te Tonic Gin & Tonic Botanicals, $20

Kit out your spice drawer with a sampler of botanicals specifically sourced to enhance the flavors of your preferred gin. To extract maximum flavor from Te Toni’s seven G&T enhancers (dried orange rind, cassia cinnamon, star anise, hibiscus, Jamaican pepper, cardamom, and juniper), they recommend macerating the botanical of your choice in the gin before mixing it with tonic water and ice.

Watershed Distillery Four Peel Gin, $33

Four Peel Gin is the flagship spirit of Columbus, Ohio-based Watershed Distillery. Bright, crisp, and aromatic, its quartet of citrus zests (lemon, lime, orange, and grapefruit) create a smooth, slightly sweet gin with aromas of baking spices and flavors of candied citrus peels and white pepper. 

Riedel Gin & Tonic Glassware Set, $45

Take a cue from the “gin tonic”-obsessed Spaniards and get yourself a set of glasses specifically designed to hold your favorite cocktail. Riedel’s fine crystal gin tumblers have a bulbous bowl and 26-ounce capacity, which allow for a large volume of gin, tonic, and plenty of ice. The extra-wide rim allows you to take in all the wonderful aromatics as you sip.

Damrak Gin, $25

 17 botanicals, including lemon peel, coriander seed, lavender, Valencia orange, cinnamon, curaçao orange, go into every bottle of Damrak gin. Named for Amsterdam’s historic inner harbor — where the Dutch East India company’s merchant ships once arrived with spices from exotic destinations around the globe — the distiller uses several botanicals historically traded in Damrak harbor in their recipe today. 

Try the citrusy spirit, which was awarded 94 points by Wine Enthusiast magazine, in a G&T garnished with an orange wheel and a sprig of rosemary.

Dry Fly Distilling Canned Gin & Tonic, $20 for 4

Heading out on a camping trip or hosting a backyard hangout? Stock up on Dry Fly Distilling’s ready-to-drink canned gin and tonics. The portable 6.7% alcohol by volume (ABV) cocktails are made with craft tonic syrup and gin from Dry Fly’s award-winning Washington gin.

Bimini Gin, $35

Rather than showcasing juniper’s piney flavors and adding an entire garden of herbs and botanicals, coastal Maine-based Bimini takes a different approach to their modern American gin. Their distillation process, which takes place in a 150-year-old textile mill just south of Portland, extracts more of juniper’s fruity and floral notes and adds grapefruit zest, hops, and coriander seed for a more focused flavor profile. The spirit was given 93 points by Wine Enthusiast.

Barr Hill Gin, $40

Sustainability is at the forefront of the spirit-making process for Vermont-based distiller Barr Hill, which crafts America’s most awarded gin. Raw honey is one of the key components and flavors in their unique recipe, and the company uses eco-friendly practices like building bee habitats, upcycling spent cocktail ingredients to reduce waste, and using 100% solar power to make their gin. 

Barr Hill hosts an annual Bee’s Knees Week initiative and this year, their goal is to plant an impressive 500,000 sq. ft. of bee habitat in order to help increase the population of these all-important pollinators. 

Q Classic Tonic Water, $4 for 4

You might think that the tonic water you use in your G&T doesn’t make all that much of a difference…until you taste one made with the good stuff. Cheap tonic from a generic plastic bottle at the grocery store tastes flat and has a chemical aftertaste compared to small batch options made with quality ingredients. 

Q’s Classic Tonic Water is refreshing, crisp, and never too sweet. Best yet, it’s made specifically to be paired with London Dry gins. You can also pair more floral gins with their Elderflower Tonic Water.

Tattersall Distilling Barreled Gin, $36

Whisky isn’t the only spirit that can benefit from barrel aging. Take your G&T to the next level with Tattersall’s Barreled Gin. The flagship spirit, which is made with 22 botanicals, is conditioned in French oak white wine barrels for added complexity and spice.

If you live in the Minneapolis area, pick up Tattersall’s Spruce Tip Tonic Syrup, which is made with locally foraged spruce tips.

Fords Gin, $28

 While working in the spirits world, Fords Gin founder Simon Ford noticed that bartenders had specific “go-to” gins for cocktails like martinis, gimlets, negronis, and G&Ts. So with the help of 8th-generation Master Distiller Charles Maxwell, he set out to make a super versatile “cocktail gin” that works seamlessly in both classic and modern gin cocktails.

Crafted in London, the new take on a London Dry Gin is steeped with nine botanicals: a traditional base of juniper and coriander seed with notes of citrus (bitter orange, lemon, and grapefruit peel), florals (jasmine and orris), and spices (angelica & cassia) that are steeped together for 15 hours prior to distillation.

The reusable bottle has an easy-peel label and measurements on the back so you create cocktails like freezer-door gin martinis at home.

Pomp & Whimsy Gin Liqueur, $35

For a fresh take on gin, try Pomp & Whimsy’s unique liqueur. Infused with juniper, coriander, angelica, grapefruit, orange, cucumber, lychee, raspberry, and jasmine and then lightly sweetened with organic cane sugar, it’s great in a G&T, or try it over ice or in a Champagne cocktail.

Alice & the Magician Thai Herbs Aromatic Beverage Elixir, $20

Add big, bold flavor to a G&T with a few drops of Alice & the Magician’s concentrated beverage elixir. A 30-mililiter bottle of the bright and beguiling mix of basil, mint, and lime leaf makes up to 200 drinks and is shelf-stable for up to 2 years.

Cooloo Gin & Tonic Icepops, $20 for 12

Why let the kiddos have all the fun? These adult-only treats pack a G&T into the most refreshing possible form: a frozen icepop. The smooth, sorbet-like frozen cocktails are a blend of herbal gin, bittersweet tonic, and zesty lime, and are 5% ABV (alcohol by volume), and a dozen of them cost just $20.

Glendalough Rose Gin, $30

Originally made by Glendalough’s Master Distiller to honor his mother, Rose, at a family wedding, this unique Irish spirit makes a lovely pastel G&T. Garden roses, wild roses, and other plants gathered from the Wicklow mountains that surround the distillery imbue this intensely floral, aromatic gin with its memorable taste, color, and aroma.

Bluecoat American Dry Gin, $32

Handcrafted in small batches, this lively gin is crisp, citrusy, and decidedly American. Made by Philadelphia Distilling using citrus peels and other 100% certified organic botanicals, this spirit is a softer representation of juniper than traditional dry gins.

Beautiful Drinks Co. Canned Grapefruit & Rosemary Sparkling Gin & Tonic, $13 for 4

This portable, ready-to-drink G&T won the Bronze Medal at this year’s SF Spirits Competition. Light and refreshing, each 12-ounce can is a lively blend of gin with bergamot, grapefruit, elderflower, and rosemary that’s 150 calories and a low 5% ABV.

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