Today, we are weighing into one of the great debates of the booze world. Families have fallen out over less. The issue is whether the Gin and Tonic can be considered a cocktail. So, drink helmets safely strapped on, in we go!
Is the Gin and Tonic a cocktail? I put the big question to Twitter and the results were startling: 67% against and 33% for. If only all public votes could be so decisive. Bearing in mind that most of my followers are drinks nerds, does that mean that the G&T is officially not a cocktail?
Not a cocktail?
It got a bit heated at times. Top American wine writer Miquel Hudin commented: “Two ingredients is a ‘combinado’ no matter what decoration or garnish you toss in those god awful bucket glasses.” But then a Martini usually only has two ingredients, sometimes only one if you’re particularly hardcore.
Drinks expert Julian Vallis even disagreed on the number of ingredients: “It’s a Gin Highball with 3 ingredients. Gin, quinine-infused sugar syrup and soda water. You can also call it a Kina Martini with Soda if you’d like to deconstruct it.” Which is true if you’re using something like Jeffrey’s tonic syrups.
Others got quite technical, saying that Flips, Punches etc were also not cocktails. I feel that is getting too purist. Originally, a cocktail was a specific drink made from spirits, water, bitters and ice. But that ship sailed a long time ago, we’re quite happy to call new-fangled vermouth-laced concoctions like a Manhattan or a Martini cocktails.
As Richard Godwin, author of The Spirits put it: “If the Mojito is a cocktail, which it is, then the G&T is surely a cocktail. (See also Paloma, Cuba Libre, Americano, etc). If you go by the ‘true’ definition of a cocktail, then Daiquiris, Mai Tais, Sidecars etc also aren’t cocktails. Which they clearly are.”
Just thrown together?
Another argument against is that while drinks like the Martini are prepared using shakers, jiggers etc. a G&T is simply thrown together. But then other cocktails are thrown together like a Paloma, Tequila and grapefruit soda, or a Gin and It, gin and sweet vermouth.
Also, you can make a G&T with as much care and attention as you might a Martini. In my youth, I used to laugh at my old grandfather who before handing us a drink would pedantically explain why he used so much ice but I now realise he was right. He always used miniature Schweppes bottles for maximum fizziness, freshly cut lemon and he measured the Beefeater. Getting a G&T from him was like visiting the Ritz. So different from my father’s with ice that had been sitting out all morning, warm gin and, worst of all, tonic water out of a 1.5 litre bottle.
In Victoria Moore’s superb How to Drink, she spends four pages outlining how to make the perfect G&T and that doesn’t include gin recommendations. “To make a good gin and tonic you do not just have to care about every ingredient, you have to be anguished about them,” she writes. “Ice cubes, the more the better.” I think she would have got on famously with my grandfather.
So yes, you can throw a G&T together, you can throw a Martini together, but you can also make it with skill and generosity.
How to make the perfect Gin and Tonic
A G&T can be elevated with fancy garnishes like peppercorns, or be jazzed up with fruit bitters. I tend to stick with lemon (not out of the fridge, Moore warns) or orange, lime is overpowering, though a stick of rosemary adds a nice flavour and makes a handy swizzle stick.
Those Spanish fishbowl glasses look great on Instagram but I’m with Hudin here. For me a heavy tumbler is best. It doesn’t hold as much, but you can always make yourself another one.
As for gin, it’s really a personal choice. Tonic water has a strong taste so I tend to go for gins with a) big juniper flavours b) plenty of alcohol. I have a bottle of Bathtub Gin on the side, so that’s what I’m using today but Tanqueray, Hayman’s, Brighton and Beefeater are all excellent in a G&T.
The tonic water question
When it comes to tonic water, we have the standard Fever Tree in the house, the Mediterranean version is great too, but don’t turn your nose up at Schweppes. A few years ago, Harper’s magazine did a blind tasting of tonic waters and standard Schweppes came out on top. Whatever you choose, the fizz is all important. It must come from a small can or bottle and, as Victoria Moore puts it: ““I scarcely need mention that the tonic must be chilled.”
So there you have it. Conclusive proof that the G&T is indeed a cocktail. It could do with a proper name though. You could call it a Gintonica as they do in Spain. But I’m going with a Margo & Jerry, after the Leadbetters, the G&T swilling couple from The Good Life. Cin cin!
60cl Bathtub Gin
Fever Tree tonic water
Chill everything, except the garnish. Fill a tumbler with ice, add the gin and stir, top up with tonic, stir again and garnish with a piece of lemon or orange (and rosemary if you like).