The Gin & Tonic

The Gin & Tonic
Photo: Martí Sans/Stocksy

The quintessential summer drink has its recipe right in its name: Gin & Tonic. But it's not that simple. Ignore the details and you squander the chance to make this classic quaff sublime. Choose wisely and you'll build an effervescent testament to tropical refreshment. Mix blindly and you're headed for the doldrums. Or worse—consider that in some unenlightened cultures Gin & Tonic is available in a can—you can't even choose the proportions!

Happily, the individual ingredients are enjoying a renaissance. The primary element (gin) is being revived as mixologists have rediscovered its place in timeless tippling, and craft distillers are widening the possibilities with novel botanicals. Gin is essentially very complex, flavored vodka. Dozens of aromatics can be added (either during distillation or afterwards, the former is usually better), but the defining characteristic is juniper. For this drink, we champion gin strong on juniper's bracing flavor. And for that you turn to such London Dry gins as Beefeater, Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire, Boodles and Gordon's—all fit the bill, but with their special variations. Plymouth, though technically not a London Dry, matches the taste profile. A relatively new entrant, Fords, chose juniper notes in pointed contrast to the new trend in craft gin.

The gin rebirth has brought a brave new world of formulae. Hendrick's, with cucumbers, and Citadelle, with spice-forward cinnamon and nutmeg, were forerunners. Nolet speaks of Turkish roses and its hyperpremium version has verbena and saffron. There's no shortage of creative notes in the craft market—lavender, pecan, hibiscus, grape flowers, Fuji apple—but the lemon-infused Malfly is perhaps most heretical—not for its flavoring, but its claim that the origin of gin is Italy, which will raise the ire of the English and Dutch.

Tonic is getting its due as well. A long decline began with the appearance of soda guns in bars and continued as quinine, the ingredient that makes it a palliative for malaria, disappeared. Check your tonic bottle. If it doesn't say quinine, it doesn't have any. Brands like Fever-Tree and the tonic concentrate Jack Rudy make a feature of that tangy, tart flavor. You can also customize by making your own with cinchona bark (quinine's source) and following Internet recipes.

Don't forget a garnish. The classic is lime, but lemon is quite popular, as is combining the two. Some even get their citrus kick from orange. And whatever some stuffy purist might tell you, ice is essential. Otherwise, what makes it a summer drink?