It’s that go-to hot weather drink, less Caribbean and more Mediterranean, more South East Asia, even: the Gin and Tonic. Add a torrential downpour and you’re in a Graham Greene novel. And it’s been that way for a long time. In the 1700’s a Scottish doctor by the name of George Cleghorn discovered that quinine could be used to prevent and treat disease because it suppressed parasites in the system. While this was of limited value in a place like Scotland, but for a young feller heading out into the sweltering, pestilent Empire it might just save his life. At least that was the theory.
Quinine was added to soda water to make it into a health “tonic.” The stuff was still bitter tasting, so sugar was added. Then lime. And the daily gin ration because, well, wouldn’t you?
Dr. Cleghorn’s findings were correct in theory. In practice, you'd need to drastically up the quinine dosage to do any good. At the favored gin to tonic ratio you'd have to be half-in-the-bag from dawn till dusk to, according to a 2004 study, reach “the lower level of therapeutic efficiency.”
Modern, commercial tonic however, has even less medicinal value and has been sweetened into a soft drink. Years ago, back when Mrs. M went by Ms. C, she introduced me to the gin and soda. I’d never heard of that arrangement before, and thought she was just being quirky (you know what it’s like when you first start dating). My future in-laws started rooting around for some tonic, producing a faded bottle of Schweppes. I said I’d take it however the house made it. At any rate I quickly found that I couldn’t go back to old standard G&T – it was too sweet, too cloying. I wanted to suck the enamel off my teeth. Plenty of higher end tonics come out since, but I’ve never warmed to them.
Here at the 4717, I wanted to go a little old school – but as a lot of things, not too old school – and was warned repeatedly not to make my own tonic. So leaving that to the experts, settled on a classic tonic syrup made by the good people at the Jack Rudy Cocktail Company.
It is, more or less, a quinine concentrate in a simple syrup of pure cane sugar and some flavorful botanicals. A teaspoon (about a third of what the recipe actually calls for) into some gin on ice, a lime, and topped off with soda, and this, gentle reader, is what you need to be drinking with the mad dogs and Englishmen go out under the noonday sun. The quinine has a light, high bitterness that offsets the sweet, which, it turns out is exactly what is missing from modern G & Ts.
As for the gin, Hendricks was probably the first out of the gate with its botanical forward gin, then Junipero. These work better in G&T, or S’ than in martinis. One of my personal favorites is Old Dominick’s No. 10 – which manages to be interesting without getting so fashionable that it slips easily into parody. Enter the age of a new artisanal gin hitting the market every week, each trying to outdo the other: If a little more botanicals are good, then a lot more must be better. It’s not.
Which brings us back to the concept of balance; you find whatever works for you. You need a well-balanced gin that is interesting but doesn’t make itself obvious, with a tonic that is however you like it. I may not fully understand my wife’s choice of beer, but on gin she’s right: give it a twirl in the ice and let it sit before diving it and the botanicals open up and soften.