Mix a G&T
like an alchemist

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SPW Contributors

Sanlam Private Wealth

Hot on the heels of the craft gin revolution has come a host of bespoke premium tonics. The special relationship between gin and tonic – the ultimate symbiosis of taste in the world of spirits – keeps yielding new ways to enjoy gin and to better understand its many facets. We asked leading gin distillers to explain what makes the G&T such a classic combination.

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In the lexicon of cocktail bars there are perhaps few letters that enjoy the immediacy, the sense of words happily left unsaid, than ‘G’ and ‘T’. G&T. Gin and tonic. A GT. However you prefer to order yours, rarely does such a simple cocktail deliver such pleasure.

The proliferation of premium craft gin shows no sign of abating, with distilleries mushrooming countrywide and inspiring innovative flavour explorations. Look, for instance, to The Gin Lab @ The Conservatory at the upscale 12 Apostles Hotel in Cape Town. The spirit once known as ‘mother’s ruin’ is winning over legions of new fans. Is the launch of South Africa’s first black-owned gin brand, Mayine Gin, a tipping point for this once-colonial spirit?

While the rise of craft gin has brought new pleasures to fans of an elegant martini or negroni, the simple G&T has lost none of its allure. But what makes these two such a great combination? What’s behind the alchemy? And how can you make sure you’re doing it right when you’re mixing it up at home? We asked four of South Africa’s leading craft distillers to talk us through it.

CHARLES BRYANT, SIX DOGS DISTILLERY, CAPE WINELANDS

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Why do gin and tonic marry so well together?

Gin contains juniper – it’s a must-have when distilling gin – and tonic contains quinine. The molecular structures of juniper and quinine are almost identical. As such it creates this perfect combination, so even if you didn’t like tonic or you didn’t like gin, you may well like the combination of gin and tonic.

Your ideal G&T for 2018?

Six Dogs Blue is a party gin and plays best with Barker and Quin. Six Dogs Blue gets its colour from the blue pea flower found in Indonesia. It’s a beautifully smooth gin with notes of rose pelargonium over cut lucerne. When you add the Barker and Quin Indian tonic, the gin turns a soft pink.

LUCY BEARD, HOPE ON HOPKINS, CAPE TOWN

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What’s the trick to pouring a perfect G&T?

I hate it when people ‘drown’ my gin in tonic – you want to get the ratio of gin to tonic right to ensure that the gin is able to shine through. My recommended ratio is one part gin to four parts tonic. I tend to drink it with slightly less tonic than that even, letting the gin really come into its own.

What are the ‘rookie errors’ to avoid?

Tonic should always be served as cold as possible, as otherwise its sweetness is pronounced and the drink can become a bit sickly. I also tend to avoid tonics that use sugar alternatives – the low-calorie tonics – as these often have a metallic taste and mess with the delicate botanicals of a gin.

If you’re drinking an interesting craft gin, I’d avoid using a highly flavoured tonic. But it’s fun to brighten up a more ordinary London Dry with a tonic that has lots of its own botanicals.

Which is your favourite gin, and tonic, at the moment?

Our Mediterranean Gin. It’s the most complex of our gins and is filled with typically Mediterranean flavours – rosemary, basil, thyme, olive – and for me evokes lazy long summer evenings in the south of France or southern Spain, which is where we were inspired to make gin. I recently tasted the new tonic from San Pellegrino. It is so delicious – delicately flavoured with hints of herbs and citrus – and it goes incredibly well with all our gins.

SHANNA-RAE WILBY, TIME ANCHOR DISTILLERY, GAUTENG

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How does one make sure tonic doesn’t do a disservice to a premium craft gin?

You need to use a good quality tonic, with less sugar, that enhances the flavour of your gin. A tonic with high sugar content masks all the flavours. If you like the taste of commercial tonics, you can add ½ tonic and ½ soda water.

Which gin and tonic would you use for a perfect summer G&T?

Our Mirari Pink Gin. It’s a gin that’s amazingly balanced and tastes like summer. It’s made with over 1 000 Damask roses per batch, and pink grapefruit. Obviously Fitch & Leedes tonic, but another firm favourite is the original Barker and Quin. This tonic enhances the flavour of our Mirari Pink instead of covering it up!

LORNA SCOTT, INVERROCHE, SOUTHERN CAPE

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What’s the best way to taste a premium gin?

For our tastings at the distillery we encourage our patrons to try the gin on its own before adding tonic. A small drop of water will release the aromatic compounds, and despite the high alcohol content, the smoothness of our gins makes it easy to discover the many complex layers of flavour and aromatic compounds. Only then do we let them add tonic to the gin.

What are your tips for pouring the perfect G&T?

The ratio of gin to tonic is paramount. One part gin to two parts tonic works best. Choose a tonic that’s subtle – the gin must remain the hero – not too sweet, only slightly bitter and with lots of fine bubbles. I also find that using citrus zest instead of a wedge or a slice of citrus works best, as the citrus oils enhance and balance out a cocktail’s citrus notes without adding sweetness or acidity.

Which gin and tonic should aficionados discover this summer?

Inverroche Amber. It’s such a unique and well-balanced gin. The fragrant and aromatic coastal fynbos botanicals create a rich mouth-feel and enhance the woody notes of the juniper. It’s lovely on the rocks or with tonic, served with a curl of orange zest. Add a sliced strawberry, a few pink peppercorns and five bruised juniper berries for the most sublime summer G&T ever!

Fever Tree’s classic tonic water works well as it has a gentle sweetness, a clean, crisp dash of quinine and subtle bitterness. I like their tight carbonation bubbles – and it lets our gin stay in the limelight.

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