How to be a better home bartender: Gin and Tonic [RECIPE]

An aromatic gin and tonic

An aromatic gin and tonic

As shadows stretch across the yard, a collection of over-achieving leaves are threatening to turn. Despite the season's late start, there are only so many warm days left to us. It's enough to cause distress, and there is no better restorative for those long, luxurious summer nights after a stressful day than the classic highball: gin and tonic. Suddenly it seems like there is an explosion of gins (to find a new one you like, check out the periodic table of gin at the new Marin in downtown Minneapolis). We once again sat down with master drink mixer Shawn Jones of Cafe Maude Loring Park to discuss how best to shake up this classic.

See Also:

[jump] Jones becomes animated the more he talks about the myriad of mix-ins available for a gin and tonic. "A lot of bars are making their own tonic now. I think it was Dan Oskey at the Strip Club that was the first to do it, but now there are a ton of tonic options."

He suggests seeking out Q tonic made with natural ingredients like agave nectar without as much quinine.

Gin and tonics came from the medicinal discovery that quinine could prevent British soldiers from contracting malaria in colonial India. 

For the more ambitious home bartender, making tonic syrup isn't hard. The procuring of the ingredients takes a little planning ahead. You'll have to track down some cinchona bark (available online) and citric acid and boil it into a simple syrup. Jones suggests the simpler option of purchasing Bitterman's tonic syrup, a product he's kind of having a moment with, available at South Lyndale Liquor Store. It's perfectly balanced between the herbal notes in the tonic with a subtle sweetness that enhances the juniper in the gin. You can add your own soda water to control the fizz factor.

Once you've mastered the basics, there's no end to the way you can vary this drink. For an especially summery twist, mix it up with strawberries, mint, and rhubarb bitters. Gently press mint at the bottom of a shaker. Says Jones, "That's a pro tip. Don't tear the leaves or you'll get that vegetable flavor and a bunch of mint stuck in your teeth. Just press the leaves to release the oils. Add some sliced strawberries, gently crush them." Mix with gin, tonic, soda, and ice, top with four or five drops of seasonal bitters, and serve with a straw. "It's one of the only drinks where it's okay to use a straw because you want to get at all that fruit at the bottom."

Gin and Tonic
2 oz. gin (preferably Prairie Organic's new gin)
3/4 oz tonic syrup (or Bitterman's tonic cordial)
4 oz soda water
garnish with citrus twist

Tonic Syrup
(adapted from Imbibe magazine)
4 cups water
3 cups pure cane or demerara sugar
3 Tbsp. quinine (powdered cinchona bark; available in some herb stores or online)
6 Tbsp. powdered citric acid (found in the bulk section of most co-ops)
3 limes, zested and juiced
3 stalks lemongrass, roughly chopped

In a medium saucepan, dissolve sugar into water. Bring to a boil. Immediately turn down heat to low and add remaining ingredients.  

Simmer for approximately 25 minutes, stirring occasionally until powders are dissolved and syrup is thin and runny.

Remove from heat and allow to cool. First strain through a sieve, discard larger solids. Then strain through a cheesecloth. Store in a sterilized container in the refrigerator.