Who doesn’t love a two-ingredient cocktail? There’s probably none more timeless than the Gin & Tonic, which began life in the 19th century as a medicinal tipple to help ward off malaria but has since become a mainstay of every home cocktail bar the world over. The drink is so popular, it gets not one, but two celebratory days: a national day of recognition in America on April 9th and an international celebration on October 19th. Once upon a time, it was easy enough to settle on a favorite recipe, since there were only a few gins and tonics on the market to choose from. Today, there are a dizzying number of options in both categories, so finding the right pairing can be tricky. Here are a few gins and tonics, complete with pairing suggestions, to help you celebrate your next G&T day…or any day, really.
If you’re looking for a classic gin, look no further than Plymouth. It’s made at the oldest working gin distillery in England from a recipe that dates all the way back to 1793. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was considered more palatable than the widely available London-style and thus became the favored choice for sailors’ rations. During the cocktail boom of the early 20th century, popular drinks books often called for it by name. Unlike the well-known London Dry style of gin, which is typically heavier on the Christmas tree notes, Plymouth gin is softer on the juniper, a bit oilier, and sweeter. This makes it an ideal gin for lots of tonic options, especially some of the more full-flavored brands.
One of the reasons we’ve seen an explosion in gin options over the years is the prevalence of craft gin produced at smaller distilleries around the world. Green Hat is made in Washington, D.C., at the first legal distillery established in the city since Prohibition. It gets its name from “The Man in the Green Hat,” a famous bootlegger who supplied politicians during America’s dry years. Green Hat is a good example of a contemporary style of gin where other botanicals are featured as prominently as juniper. It’s light bodied and evokes more citrus and herbal qualities than classic styles which pair well with a wide number of popular, traditional tonics.
You’ve probably heard of Hendrick’s, the contemporary, Scottish gin brand that famously convinced us to put cucumbers in our G&Ts. Occasionally, they change things up with a limited-edition release made from an even more exotic recipe of botanicals than their standard offering. The latest, Lunar, celebrates the lunar new year with a gin meant to evoke the aromas and flavors of night-blooming botanicals. This gin is exceptionally herbal and flowery and packed full of interesting flavor all on its own, so it’s best to stick with a clean, classic tonic that won’t get in the way of the experience. Also, forgo the traditional citrus as a garnish with this one and try adding an herb like basil to compliment this gin’s unique aromatics.
Contemporary styles of gin tend to trade the traditional, piney notes of more classic styles for extra helpings of citrus and herbs, but Brockman’s is an outlier in that regard. While this English gin still evokes some gentle citrus from the use of Valencia orange peels, the real standout aroma and flavor comes from wild blueberry and blackberry. This uniquely fruit-forward gin packs such a diversity of flavor that it’s almost a cocktail all on its own, so it’s best to pair this one with a light, classic tonic. While berries are the easy and perhaps most obvious garnish, this gin already has plenty of that. Try an orange slice instead to enhance the citrus notes.
Gin is often something a craft whiskey producer sells to keep the lights on while their brown spirits age, but this Wild Kentucky Gin from New Riff was a true passion project for co-founder Jay Erisman. His enthusiasm for this gin shows in the 12 unique botanicals used in production that include wild juniper he hand-forages in Kentucky, American Spicebush, and a bit of Kentucky’s state flower, goldenrod. There’s also a splash of newmake rye whiskey in the base, which gives it a uniquely weighty texture to compliment the spice and earthiness of the botanicals. To lighten a gin this big, look for a well-carbonated tonic, and don’t be afraid to use something with a little sweet citrus in it to balance some of this gin’s drier elements.
Perennial favorites Schwepps and Canada Dry remain reliable and accessible tonic water options, but like gin, there’s been no shortage of new and interesting offerings to up your G&T game. Fever Tree was one of the first brands to introduce a premium tonic water, and while they have a litany of flavors in their lineup, their Indian Tonic Water remains a foolproof option to elevate your next G&T. It’s a well-carbonated tonic, mildly bitter and gently sweetened with pure cane sugar, and it packs plenty of citrus to compliment a wide variety of gins on the market.
Q Tonic was reportedly crafted in a Brooklyn kitchen by a couple of friends who longed for a better G&T. Their standard Regular Tonic Water is perhaps one of the driest tonics on the market and, not coincidentally, one of the lowest in calories. There’s still a subtle sweetness to compliment your gin, but the high level of carbonation and clean, crisp palate leave a pretty blank canvas to work with for your next G&T. It’s ideal for uniquely flavored gins like Brockmans or Hendrick’s Lunar.
Fentimans Premium Indian Tonic Water bills itself as the world’s first botanically brewed tonic water. It’s made with a blend of herbs, Sicilian lemon oil, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves. It even has juniper in it, making it almost a gin without the actual alcohol. This tonic is full-flavored to be sure with loads of citrus notes, so plan to pair this one with a more classic, straightforward gin like Tanqueray or Plymouth.
A new addition to the Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. portfolio of cocktail syrups and mixers, Jack Rudy Tonic Water is another good premium option with a classic profile. It’s drier than Fever Tree but sweeter than Q Tonic with a little more bright and bitter quinine punch than either option. It’s balanced with a lovely effervescence that pairs well with lots of gins, be they traditional or contemporary.
Tonic syrups, like cocktail syrups, have grown in popularity with the recent home bartending obsession. There aren’t that many on the market, but the offering from Washington, D.C.’s Pratt Standard is one to try. Like Fentiman’s tonic, it’s flavored with lots of the same botanicals you might find in a gin, and it works as both a tonic, with a splash of club soda, or a unique cocktail enhancer. Citrus and ginger really stand out in this one, so try pairing it with a citrus-forward, contemporary gin like Green Hat.