Dave Arnold spent seven years perfecting the Gin & Tonic, but he says he’s not done tinkering just yet. His version, which he serves at his cocktail bar Booker and Dax in New York involves Tanqueray, housemade quinine simple syrup, filtered water, saline solution, clarified lime juice and forced carbonation. (You can hear him describe the process in the interview with Evan Kleiman above.)
For our purposes, we assume that you don’t have access to quinine sulfate or a rotovap, so below we give you Arnold’s lazy-man G&T, or as he describes it in his book Liquid Intelligence, “The Best G&T You Can Muster If You Can’t Muster Much.”
Reproduced with permission from Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail by Dave Arnold (W. W. Norton & Company)
The best gin and tonic you can make with traditional techniques uses gin that you’ve stored in your freezer and tonic water poured from a fresh bottle that you’ve kept in ice water (if you really must, use tonic water that has merely been refrigerated, but keep it in the coldest part of your fridge—the part that accidently freezes the lettuce from time to time). By “fresh bottle” I don’t just mean unopened, I mean recently purchased. Plastic bottles lose their carbonation at an alarming rate, and smaller bottles lose carbonation faster than larger ones. Twenty-ounce bottles can lose an appreciable amount of carbonation in a month at room temperature. If you buy tonic water in glass bottles or cans—both of which are gas-impermeable—storage time isn’t important.
Before you make the drink, you must decide what glassware to serve in. For my G&Ts I typically choose a champagne flute (and no ice), but I am always using force carbonation. In this nonforce scenario, the champagne glass feels wrong, and it’s best just to serve the drink on the rocks in a standard highball glass. You will add 1¾ ounces (52.5 ml) of gin and 3¼ ounces (97.5 ml) of tonic water to the glass to make a 5-ounce (150-ml) drink. You can measure the gin with a jigger, but don’t measure the tonic water that way—jiggering will cause too much carbonation loss. Instead, before you make your drink measure 5 ounces (150-ml) of water into the glass and note where the water level, or wash line, is. Try free-pouring water into the glass to that same level by eye and then measure afterward how accurate you were. After a couple attempts you will likely be getting to within a quarter-ounce or better every time. You can also try to learn where the wash line for 1¾ ounces is in your glass so you can free-pour the gin, but I’d just use a jigger instead. Now you are ready to make the drink.
Several minutes before drink time, make sure your glass is in the freezer getting cold. Cut your lime into quarters, of which you will need one per drink. At drink time, pull the glass and gin out of the freezer and pour 1¾ ounces (52.5 ml) of gin into the glass before you pour in the tonic. Next, tilt your glass to a 45-degree angle and slowly pour the ice-cold tonic water into the glass. As you pour, slowly raise the glass to vertical and stop pouring when you have reached the 5-ounce (150-ml) wash line you memorized earlier. The order of operations is important. You want the two ingredients to mix thoroughly without any bubble-liberating activities like stirring. Pouring the tonic into the gin mixes better than pouring the gin into the tonic. Tonic water is denser than gin (even gin at freezer temperature), so the tonic will sink through the gin. Also, there is more tonic in the recipe than gin, and when mixing two liquids you’ll mix more efficiently if you add the larger volume of liquid to the smaller one. As a bonus, adding gin to the glass first will melt any errant ice crystals on the inside of the glass—crystals that would become bubble nucleation sites and cause copious foaming if the tonic hit them.
Next, squeeze as much juice as you’d like into the drink from a quarter of a lime. Adding lime before tonic would help the drink mix better, but lime juice contains bubble nucleation sites and bubble-stabilizing surfactants that would wreak havoc with the tonic’s carbonation if it were added earlier.
Then add freezer-cold ice—not tempered ice. Don’t drop the ice into the drink like a Neanderthal. Gently slide it in using a bar spoon. It’s important that you add the ice last; if it goes into the glass before the liquids, it will promote foaming as the tonic is poured and will present a barrier to mixing. Added at the end, the ice promotes mixing. If you use ice directly out of your freezer, it will add very little additional dilution. The ice cubes will crack from thermal shock, but that’s okay in this application. Drop the lime quarter into the top of the glass if you like that sort of thing. If you dropped the lime directly into the liquid, it would create constant bubble nucleation, but in our on-the-rocks scenario the lime will sit just above the drink, leaving bubbles unharmed and lending a nice aroma as the glass is raised to the lips.
If you have a Sodastream or some other force-carbonation apparatus, you can take this recipe—
1¾ ounces (52.5 ml) of gin and 3¼ ounces (97.5 ml) of tonic water—and put the mix in your freezer till crystals just begin to form, then force-carbonate per the instructions in the Carbonation section, page 288 (for a Sodastream you’ll have to double the recipe). In this case I’d serve the drink in a chilled champagne flute without ice—you’ve earned it. Squeeze the lime into the drink after you have poured it and do not put the lime into the flute unless you want to spoil your carbonation work. Clarify the lime juice first for an even better result.