MxMO – Local Flavour

August 11th, 2008

Mixology Monday - Local Flavour

It doesn’t seem like very long ago since I managed to miss the last Mixology Monday, largely because, thanks to the collective post-Tales hangover many of us bloggers were feeling, it was delayed and only took place two weeks ago. However, hot on the heels of July’s event is Kevin from Save the Drinkers with this month’s theme – “Local Flavour”. While I’m originally from the Midlands, I now consider London Village home so will be concentrating on the Big Smoke tonight.

While the United States may be able to claim itself the home of the cocktail, we’ve not exactly been slacking over on this side of the pond either. England is birthplace to the punch, the fruit cup and of course dry gin. What’s more here in London we have long and refined history of hotel bars, with prestigious lodgings such as The Savoy, The Dorchester and The Stafford still turning out fine drinks after decades, if not centuries, of business.

The more contemporary bar scene is also burgeoning, with Notting Hill haunts like The Lonsdale, Montgomery Place and Trailer Happiness, plus others like LAB, The Hawksmoor and of course Milk & Honey producing world class drinks. Certainly if you walk in to most pubs around the country and ask for a Manhattan the best you are likely to get is an odd look, but, at least in London, if you want quality cocktails they are here to do sought out.

As you can tell I love living in London, but enough with the crowing – what drink to cover for Mixology Monday? There are plenty of English cocktails I could have chosen, like the East India which like many English drinks harks from our colonial past in India. I guess we had to do something to fill up the time not spent oppressing the local populace, and making drinks seems as good a way to pass the hours as any. Looking closer to home it’s hard to think of a more local tipple than the Pimm’s Cup, a drink invented a mere half-mile from where I work in the City of London that optimises England.

But I’ve already covered that, so instead I decided to look at perhaps the most English of all drinks, the Gin and Tonic. Another product of colonial India the G&T isn’t even really a cocktail by strict definition, simply being a spirit plus mixer – but what a spirit and mixer!

Gin and Tonic

Gin and Tonic

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Back in the eighteenth century people consumed quinine-heavy tonic water in the far-east colonies as a way of helping prevent Malaria. While good for guarding against Malaria quinine has a very bitter taste, so people began to add gin to the tonic in order to make the drink more palatable. Add in limes that are found everywhere in India and the G&T was born. These days the vast majority of G&Ts are created with pretty average gins and terrible tonic water from a gun, but as Jeffrey Morgenthaler said to me at Tales last month, there is a reason why the drink is so ubiquitous and it isn’t because of what it tastes like these days.

A well made Gin and Tonic is such a simple creation, but really is a drink that becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Tonight I’m keeping things local by using Jensen gin, a very small batch gin produced in Bermondsey, just south of Tower Bridge, at a rate of just 200 bottles every month. The gin is the brainchild of Christian Jensen who wanted to produce a London dry gin that avoids the current trend of new and unusual botanicals and keeps to the traditions of the dry gins from the first part of the twentieth century.

It is a very smooth gin, almost in that respect like Plymouth but with a much stronger juniper element and more intense floral notes. Jensen makes for a great gin in a G&T, and while I’ve yet to try it in anything else I am excited by its potential in mixed drinks. Completing the local flavour is Surbiton-produced Fever Tree tonic water, an excellent tonic that far exceeds its more commonly available competitors with a great natural quinine flavour and plenty of interesting citrus and aromatic notes.

So there you have it – practically the national cocktail of England, the G&T, made with ingredients produced no more than twenty miles from where I sit writing this now. Pretty damn local. Well, except for the lime slice… sadly we need a few more years of global warming before British limes become a possibility. If you’ve only ever had a G&T made with a crappy gin and tonic from a soda gun, why not go out and pick up some Fever Tree or Q-Tonic and see what you’ve been missing. You may just realise why the Gin and Tonic became so well known across the world.

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Posted in Gin, Mixology Monday, Recipes

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12 responses to “MxMO – Local Flavour”

  1. kevin kevin says:

    Hi Jay,
    Can’t remember if I told you thanks yet, but if not, thanks. This is a great post. I’ve got you in the roundup.

  2. Samantha Samantha says:

    I remember Jeff’s comment about the Gin & Tonic as well-looks like you’ve done it right here. Never really enjoyed the drink myself, but then again I’m one of those poor souls who got the tonic from the soda gun. I’ll have to look into Fever Tree and give it a try-Great Post!

  3. Stephen Stephen says:

    For a much more powerful version, go to the New York Times website and look up Toby Cecchini’s article from 2002. It’s his father’s recipe, which involves julienning the lime rinds, after you squeeze the juice. The result is wonderful.

  4. Dood Dood says:

    The gin & tonic is perhaps my favorite non-rum drink. Before becoming a rum snob, it was my staple cocktail.

    As for the tonic water, while at Tales of the Cocktail, Jeffrey Morgenthaler made me a G&T with his own, homemade tonic water. It was the most amazing G&T I’ve ever had, and has inspired me to go through the pains of making my own tonic water based on Jeffrey’s recipe.

  5. Gabriel Gabriel says:

    I drink me the hell out of G&Ts and, finally, got ahold of Q Tonic Water (thanks, Tales!) and find it requires a bit more lime and, preferably, a gin on the less-dry side of things to make a sparkling drink. I would love to get some Fever Tree to compare.

    Stirrings’ is also a respectable option.

  6. Jay Jay says:

    Yeah Jeff mentioned about his house tonic water. It’s definitely something I’ll have to try at some point, but then I say that about so many homemade ingredients, we’ll see what happens. In the mean time, Fever Tree is a pretty decent option for the lazy amongst us.

    What tonic do you use normally Gabriel?

  7. Vidiot Vidiot says:

    It’s still tough to beat in the summertime. I often add a drop or two of bitters, especially if I’m using non-artisanal tonic.

  8. Krivc Krivc says:

    How well does Schweppes tonic water work in this? can’t seem to find q-tonic in slovenia.


  9. Gabriel Gabriel says:

    Jay, I try to use Stirrings’ whenever I can get it but I’m usually relegated to the will-kill-a-good-gin class such as Schweppes or Canady Dry.

    I’m doing a post on this but Whole Foods carries a couple of tonics, Hansen’s and 360, that are just god-awful. I occassionally use White Rock which, all things considered, isn’t as horrible as one might think.

  10. Jay Jay says:

    Vidiot – I had a G&T at The Dorchester Hotel bar recently, and they serve a small tray with three house bitters (lavender, cardamom and one other I don’t recall) with which to flavour your drink as you wish. Very neat idea. I occasionally add some orange bitters to my G&T, but more often than not like to just let the gin shine.

    Krivc – Schweppes often gets quite a bad rap, but I think a lot of that is to do with the fact the American version is different to the one available in most other places. Due to FDA regulations they have to reduce the amount of quinine, making for a less bitter tonic.

    Anyway, in my opinion the version we get here in Britain, while not an amazing tonic water, is perfectly fine for general use.

  11. Johnny Bravo Johnny Bravo says:

    I’ve had both Fever Tree and Q-Tonic. Fever Tree wins hands down, in my opinion, plus it’s cheaper ($6.00 vs $10 for a 4-pack). I second Gabriel’s assessment that Q-Tonic needs a lot of lime.

    I tend to favor a G&T made with Hendrick’s (2 oz) per bottle of Fever Tree, although Boodle’s is pretty good as well. I picked up a bottle of Old Raj a few weeks ago, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to mix it with anything yet. Has anyone ever had a G&T made with Old Raj and Fever Tree?

  12. Mike S. Mike S. says:

    Johnny: Yes, Old Raj and Fever Tree makes a *stunningly* good G&T. But you’re right, it’s hard to mix that stuff given the price. Then again, I — very occasionally — make a G&T with some of my remaining stock of Tanqueray Malacca!

    And, to add my opinion on the tonic water debate: Fever Tree is the end-all for me. It’s simply the best I’ve ever tasted.



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