A solid gin and tonic is hardly complicated (quality gin, bottled tonic, and a squeeze of lime, perhaps), but the classic two-ingredient drink is having a revolution of sorts. Gone are the days of cheap gin mixed with flavorless tonic on tap (now confined only to bro bars and frat parties). Instead, we have José Andrés' Jaleo leading a movement where quality gin and infused tonics are standard, with mixologists brewing their own tonic and amping up gin lists to banish the boring old-man stereotype that so often accompanies the drink.
There’s Cata in New York, boasting 24 gin and tonics, not to mention Brasserie S&P in San Francisco’s Mandarin Oriental, which serves G&T flights with house-made infusions. Michael Chiarello just opened up Coqueta in San Francisco, with six different variations of the humble drink. And all of this stems from an invention to get the British army to drink their tonic water. (The original gin and tonic, purportedly developed when the British were in the East, was meant as a palatable way to down tonic as a cure for malaria.)
Of course, both gins and tonics have developed and become more refined since the days when British soldiers were pinching their noses and gulping down the bitter medicine. Gins have become drier, more complex, while tonics have become less bitter, a little brighter, and a lot more pleasant on their own. But the catalyst to this sudden boom in America might just have come from Spain, rather than Britain.
"In Spain, everyone drinks a gin and tonic after dinner or as an afternoon drink, and we drink with whatever we are eating," Andrés explained to The Daily Meal in an email. "For us it’s more of a cultural custom." In fact, the gin and tonic (or gin tonic, as it's called in Spain), is often considered the unofficial off-duty drink for Spanish chefs, enjoyed post-dinner service as a refresher to end the night. And thanks to the juniper berries, pine, and other botanical notes in gin, the liquor lends itself to seasonal infusions and plenty of mixing and matching, meaning a gin and tonic is never just a two-note drink, despite its ease.
"A lot of [the gin and tonic’s popularity] stems out of a growing familiarity with spices and flavors," industry magazine Plate’s editor-in-chief Chandra Ram said. "People have really embraced northern European cooking in the last several years, and juniper and pine are largely part of that. So it sort of preps the palate."
But at the end of the day, a gin and tonic is just a good, easy drink to pour after a long day at work. "There’s something really refreshing about a gin and tonic at the end of the night," Chiarello told us over the phone. "It’s a nice chef’s drink, and it’s also an easy late-night drink to have. It kind of washes your day away." Which, in a way, returns the gin and tonic to its medicinal birthright.