Prime Meats © Simon Watson
Like many people, I used to think that a gin and tonic was one of the world’s most simple and refreshing drinks, consisting of two ingredients: gin…and tonic. OK, maybe a third ingredient, too: a lime wedge. Although there’s certainly a beauty in such simplicity, I have recently learned that I was being way too closed-minded about one of my favorite drinks. In fact, by making this beverage infinitely more complicated, it can attain supreme excellence.
One summer Friday afternoon, Damon Boelte, the bartender at my one of my favorite Brooklyn, New York, spots, Prime Meats, served me his Super Gin & Tonic—the best one I’ve ever had. All of my favorite attributes of the classic drink were heightened: The citrusy notes were brightened with the addition of some grapefruit bitters, the juniper was in perfect balance with the tonic’s quinine, and the drink was served in a pint glass. “I always say that a gin and tonic should consist of more than gin and tonic,” says Boelte. Here are his instructions for how to make it:
“In the bottom of a pint glass, I muddle two lime wedges and a grapefruit peel.Then I add 1 1/2 ounces Tanqueray gin, 1/4 ounce Luxardo maraschino liqueur and a couple dashes of grapefruit bitters (preferably Bittermens); give these ingredients a quick stir. Fill the glass with ice. At this point I take a long, twisted bar spoon (like this one), hold it upright, with the spoon’s back resting on the inside wall of the glass, and pour the tonic (Fever-Tree) gently down the spoon’s shaft. This preserves the bubbles in the tonic, letting it glide down the glass past the ice cubes instead of cascading over them. Then I give it a couple of gentle stirs with my bar spoon still in the glass. I see no need in garnishing it, but I’ll typically add another grapefruit twist sometimes. I don’t use a straw because of all the aromatics involved in this particular gin and tonic.”
I was surprised to see Boelte use Tanqueray gin (expecting him to pick something small and local), but his reasons for doing so make a lot of sense. “Tanqueray’s botanical profile is one of the simplest around,” says Boelte. “It’s straightforward and to the point, but still flavorful, almost citrusy. I typically go for spirits that don’t subscribe to the standard 80-proof. Tanqueray is 94.6, so just by alcohol alone, it’s present and bright in cocktails and you’re able to use less of it—which is what you want. A gin and tonic should be refreshing and crisp, not boozy and flat.”