May 26, 2017

In good spirits: R&D for the G&T


Botanist is just the latest bar to shake up the summertime classic

By Joanne Sasvari

Few things taste of summer like a refreshing gin and tonic. But admit it: aren’t you just a little bit bored with the same old bittersweet fizzy drink?

Well, you’re in luck, because the G&T has had a makeover. Today we’re enjoying it in more formats and flavours than ever before.

The original drink was invented in the 19th century as a medicinal beverage. British soldiers stationed in India drank quinine tonics to combat malaria; to make the bitterness palatable, they added sugar, water, lime and gin and a classic was born. Even today the distinctive bitterness of tonic water comes from cinchona bark, from which quinine is derived.

The G&T quickly became the refreshing patio drink of choice throughout the Empire and beyond. But over the years, commercial tonic water lost its bracingly bitter bite and became sweeter and sweeter, and the drink itself less and less exciting.

So it’s little surprise that bartenders the world over are having fun reinventing it.

They’re turning it into popsicles, freezies and slushies. They’re capturing its flavours in cupcakes and cheesecakes. They’re transforming it into foams, airs, gels and spheres. And they’re creating simply delicious drinks.

The G&T is a perfect template for creative cocktailing. It’s easy to change up with aromatic garnishes and artisanal tonics, even bitters, mists and syrups.

Take the “B&T” from Botanist, the Fairmont Pacific Rim’s new bar and restaurant. It’s a G&T, sure, but with complex layers of flavour from smoky mezcal, dry fino sherry and housemade elderflower, lemon balm and spruce tincture. After all, with a name like Botanist, it’s no surprise that the bar celebrates gin, or that its first cocktail is a variation on the G&T.

“The gin program will be great,” explains head bartender David Wolowidnyk. “Gin is known for being an array of botanicals. But botany is the study of all plants. Everything that we’re doing involves botany.”

Even though you can’t get your hands on the Botanist tincture, you can still add layers of flavour to your own G&Ts. Instead of lime, garnish it with a twist of orange peel and a dash of orange bitters. Or try a new tonic, or even make your own. Or switch up the gin with something that has distinctive botanicals, like Hendrick’s rose and cucumber, then add garnishes that emphasize those flavours.

If all else fails, turn your G&T into a frozen treat. Summer and grown-up popsicles—could anything be better?

B&T

At the new Botanist in the Fairmont Pacific Rim, the bar team has created this update on the classic G&T. They use their own housemade tincture, which is not available retail, so creative beverage director Grant Sceney suggests replacing its floral and forest notes with elderflower liqueur and the bitter of your choice.

2 mists mezcal

1 ½ oz (45 mL) gin

¾ oz (22 mL) fino sherry

1 tsp (5 mL) elderflower liqueur

3 drops woodsy bitters such as Ms. Better’s Cypress Bowl

3 oz (90 mL) tonic water

Place ice cubes in a large red wine glass and spray with a mist of mezcal. Add gin, sherry, elderflower liqueur and bitters, stir well, then top with tonic water and stir gently. Spritz again with mezcal. Garnish with lemon zest and rosemary or spruce sprig. Serves 1.

Three to try

Tonic waters can have mouthwateringly complex flavours of herbs, citrus and flowers. Here are three of our favourites. Prices vary.

Fentiman’s Tonic Water
Citrusy, sweet and floral, with pleasantly woody quinine notes. Made with cane sugar for a natural sweetness, this is very fizzy with a dominant note of lemongrass.

Fever-Tree Indian Tonic Water
Smooth, clean, a little bit spicy. Made with cane sugar, it has a nice balance of citrus and quinine with a fine carbonation and a slightly medicinal taste.

Q Tonic
Subtly sweetened with agave nectar, this tonic is dominated by the bitterness of quinine. It is crisp and refreshing, allowing the flavours of the gin to shine through.

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