Gin and tonic is a go-to drink for me. I started drinking them in college because I thought it sounded sophisticated, and I quickly grew to love them! I’ve always ordered one to herald in my vacations, which means I am often drinking the first tonic squirt off the gun at an airport or hotel bar early on a Tuesday. (Here is my plea to day bartenders: please, bleed your guns before the first pours of the day!) Even when the tonic is flat, there is something very civilized about a gin and tonic.
Drinking gin with tonic water came into favor in India in the mid 1800s, as a means to administer quinine to British colonists in India. Quinine from cinchona bark helps ward off the effects of Malaria, and the British colonists mixed their quinine extract with gin, sugar and soda in order improve its bitter flavor.
Commercial Tonics & Tonic Syrups
Commercial tonics hit the market soon after, and most of the world has been drinking one of only a few big brand tonics (like Schweppes or Canada Dry) for the last hundred years. With the craft cocktail trend, there is a renewed interest in tonics made with real quinine rather than quinine flavoring, and several local bars are really upping their games. Not only have we seen some great premium tonics come into the market, like Fever Tree and Q, but also some delicious quinine syrups; it’s a simple way to elevate the beverage program, and get a strong tonic flavor while being able to control the sweetness of your cocktail. One we’re particularly fond of is Tomr’s tonic, which was developed by a bartender in New York, and has rich, earthy flavor.
Chicago’s Amazing G&T Culture
Tim Lacey was one of the first bartenders we knew in the city developing his own tonic recipes. He was crafting house made tonics at Custom House in the South Loop, using real cinchona bark and incorporating falernum, sage, cloves, and other vibrant flavors. His gin and tonic flight at Custom House was very popular, and we credit him with starting the trend locally.
A couple of standouts we’ve had recently include the Homemade Gin & Tonic at Frontera Grill, where beverage director Jay Schroeder is featuring our Distiller’s Gin No. 6 and a house tonic made with cinchona bark, black tea, and thyme. The tea gives it a great richness and the spices are perfectly balanced with the bitter.
Another beauty came across the bar to me at the newly reopened Spiaggia. Almost too beautiful to drink (don’t worry, I steeled myself and made it to the bottom of the glass), Derek Mercer is pairing our Distiller’s Gin No.11 with his own tonic, incorporating lemongrass, dry spices, and citrus peels into his syrup, which he cooks sous vide to intensify the flavors.
These are just a couple of the ones we’ve found recently. We look forward to finding more standout G&Ts this summer, and we’ll keep you posted!