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Expert Lessons

How Mixologist Dave Arnold Makes the Perfect Gin and Tonic (And How You Can Too)

"If you want to assemble a good gin and tonic, the least you should do is put a couple of highball glasses and gin in the freezer (don't worry—it won't freeze)."—Dave Arnold

To me, the gin and tonic is the drink that everyone thinks is ok, but it's actually one of the easiest to mess up. The concept of a gin and tonic is fantastic—the cold dryness, the clean bitterness, the refreshing carbonation and that hit of botanicals—but the execution is often terrible. The gin is usually room temperature, and you're lucky if the tonic is good. And if it is good, you're lucky if it's cold. The ice melts right into it, and the end result will either be horribly weak or horribly under-carbonated, or both. I've been obsessed with trying to perfect the gin and tonic, and I've found several ways to do it, from a solid at-home method all the way up to some pretty unorthodox versions.

If you want to assemble a good G&T without a lot of work, the least you should do is put a couple of highball glasses and your gin in the freezer (don't worry—it won't freeze), and keep tonic in the coldest part of your fridge. When you're ready, put some ice in a glass, pour the gin, then tilt the glass and pour the tonic; finally, squeeze the lime on top. That won't be a bad G&T, but it doesn't reach the level I want.

At my bar, Booker & Dax, in Manhattan, my standard G&T is fairly simple: I make it with quinine sulfate, which is the bittering agent in tonic, along with sugar, clarified lime juice, gin, water and salt. But it takes a lot of work to prepare those ingredients. For example, I clarify my lime juice so it won't foam when I carbonate the drink. I do this by adding an enzyme, along with wine-fining agents, then I spin the mixture in my centrifuge.

Recently, though, i've been most interested in creating G&T recipes that don't require any lime juice at all. I've been substituting with sumac, a tart spice, since it has an interesting back-of-the-mouth acidity. One of my coolest creations, though, is a gin and tonic that has neither gin nor tonic. My secret is a Chinese berry called schisandra, which is simultaneously bitter (to replace the tonic) and sour (to replace the lime) with a resiny juniper note (to replace the gin). The alcohol? Plain old vodka.

Of course, what I'm making is not a gin and tonic as much as it is the idea of one, but it hits the mark.

Related: Amazing Gin Cocktails
Reinvented Classic Cocktails
An American Gin Renaissance

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