At my latest bartending post, Saxon + Parole on New York City’s infamous Bowery, I’m finally creating the incredible cocktail program that I’ve always wanted to and a lot of that has to do with working under and alongside one of my oldest and dearest high school friends, Linden Pride. While he is now firmly in a management role, he started out as a bartender, and a very good one at that. He remains one of the most talented cocktail minds I’ve known whose style and philosophy of drinks is very similar to my own: erring towards the savory yet elegant. On our eclectic menu of 12 cocktails is our house gin and tonic, which may seem like a rudimentary drink to put on any modern cocktail menu, but it is something we’re very proud of and is one of our most popular libations. The humble G&T is my favorite go-to highball; the one I have when I can’t be bothered deciding. But the truth is, most places use cheap gin, bad ice, tonic from the gun (ugh!) and a sad looking garnish. Needless to say I’ve had many more bad G&Ts than I’ve had good ones.
As my good friend and great mentor Jacob Briars concurs: “Of course every bartender except Moe Syzslak knows this drink, but it’s made badly across the world far more often than it’s made well. So learn how to make it properly; it may be the best 10 second test of your bartending chops. Far more celebrated bar bores than me use this as a key test. Make them a good Gin and Tonic, they reason, and they’ll chance your Kaffir Lime and Dingleberry Caipirinha. Make a bad Gin and Tonic, and the most they’ll test next will be your speed with a bar blade or fish slice. Plus there’s a great case to be made that, as it contains spirit, sugar, bitters and water, it’s one of the oldest, greatest and certainly the most widely consumed ‘Cock-Tails’ on the planet. So make it well.”
At Saxon + Parole, we make our own tonic water (courtesy of a recipe that Linden developed at Sydney’s iconic Rockpool Bar & Grill), which is very low in sugar, while also very fresh and aromatic through the inclusion of lots of grapefruit peel, fresh lemongrass, citric acid, liquid quinine and coconut water. I tested this out with a few different gins and found the relatively new Brooklyn gin to be the ideal match. Made at the Warwick Distillery in upstate New York, owners Joe Santos and Emil Jattne (both alums of Bacardi) have a wonderful, aromatic and citrus forward gin that is also relatively low in proof (80) compared to many others on the market, so you can easily enjoy a few of these in one session. We finish the drink with a few drops of grapefruit bitters and a huge slice of grapefruit. Stopping at one is futile.
A few words from the man himself:
“One of my all time favorite drinks is a Gin & Tonic. Refreshing, clean, sparkling, bitter, sweet. But I always found that after one, I never really wanted another. The truth being, the level of sugar in the tonic to balance the bitter of the quinine is always so high. Schweppes, for example, has 3.9g of sugar per ounce of Indian Tonic (higher than Coca Cola at 3.4g per ounce). No wonder it is so syrupy. In developing this recipe, we began by finding quinine, at first not easy. It is now prescribed for aiding leg cramps and no longer subsidized by Medicare [an Australian health care provider]. Hence it is crazy expensive. So we found a natural liquid form that tasted natural, bitter and clean. To balance this we threw in a range of our favorite botanicals: lemongrass, grapefruit zest, lemon skins, lime peel, rosewater, orange blossom, cucumber peel, young coconut flesh and coconut water. Balanced with a little malic (to clarify) and citric (to give structure) acids and we had a flavored tonic water that had only 0.6g of sugar per ounce. It’s incredible to see how this water tastes against different gins – and more to the point, how the nuances of these gins really stand out. To be honest, it has completely ruined other Gin & Tonics for me. I can never go back to any other type of tonic water now.”