Welcome back ginophiles, (not to be confused with gynophiles, cough, but um ya everyone’s welcome… errr back). I hope you ladies and gentlemen (I went back and forth with this) liked last month’s article. I got some very interesting feedback, thanks for that.
As I was mulling over different topics for this month’s column, it occurred to me we hadn’t done much content with any real applicability lately. Never fear though my vigilant acolytes, as this month, we’re going to hone the art of “Gin Tonic Partying” or “The G&T Party” or the classic “Gin and Tonic Party”.
There are so many options, but if we had to choose a moniker, I’d propose we adopt that of the Spanish, simply, “Gin Tonic”. The Spaniards don’t fiddle around with acronyms or conjunctions, they just state what they like, and I know firsthand they like “Gin Tonics”, and they like to party. So if you were saying to yourself, “Carson, why the cheesy title?” let me just say that nothing I do for you is without purpose. I may even occasionally challenge myself with cheesy titles so I can be a stronger and humbler brand ambassador for you my readers.
Before we get to “The Party”, let’s talk a little bit about the history of the Gin Tonic. Most of you will probably know this but gin tonics evolved as most things do, out of necessity and availability. The British, among others, started colonizing flagless countries in the 16th century for various plunder and sometime in the 19th century, the higher-ups deemed it necessary for the officers and later the soldiers to take quinine supplements to stave off malaria. It was in India that they started mixing water, lime, sugar and gin to their prescribed quinine. This was such a perfect match of Ying and Yang, you would think they were colonizing China rather than India. Nevertheless, the gin and tonic was born.
Over the centuries, the mixing of various gins and various tonics didn’t evolve so much as it mostly went in-and-out of fashion until the 1980’s and 90’s, when vodka took ahold of the market and Gin was what many called, “what their parents drank”. I remember being told as a young bartender that gin was actually poisonous, and looking back now, I’m thinking that guy must have been some time traveling warrior who spent too much time in London during the “Gin Lane” days. Gin, I assure you, is no more poisonous than any other spirit that’s properly distilled.
Let’s fast forward to “The Party” or get a bit closer anyway. As vodka started to fall out of fashion, shortly after the turn of the century, and DUI/DWI laws became stricter throughout the US and subsequently the rest of the world, people started drinking better as well as drinking less. Boutique spirits started popping up on back bars. There were still a lot of vodkas, but gins as well started to have a go. Bartenders started focusing on making more premium cocktails as well as providing a guest experience that mirrored the forgotten era of the cocktail. This was the impetus to the rebirth of the cocktail bar, as we know it. So instead of a scene of Tom Cruise in “Cocktail”, rather picture Jerry Thomas throwing a Blue Blazer.
By 1999, boutique gins started to pop up and with this the implementation of bespoken garnishes. I mean really, what bar at that time had cucumber ready as a standard mise-en-place, and what bar doesn’t today? Bars stock what the guests are asking for and now you see bars carrying loads of perishable and non-perishable items that are used for the most part as garnishes.
As the world of boutique gins expanded, so did the options for tonics. Schweppes, the world leader in tonic at the time, floundered around offering different recipes and packaging for different markets, as well as adding a number of different flavors that seemed to come and go at random. The UK variant was dry and used real sugar while the French one was sticky and used corn syrup. In the meantime, as the market changed and the world got smaller, the internet connected everyone, international flights became more affordable, and companies like Fever Tree and Fentiman’s began dominating the market, even though they were three times the price. This reflects directly on our previous discussion of drinking better. I think we generally tend to have an idea of how much we want to spend when we go out, and it’s much easier when we plan on having three drinks. Now we can see that even though Schweppes has made some improvements in certain markets, they have globally failed both the operator and the consumer. As a global brand ambassador & bartender, my challenge when writing a recipe using tonic, is that I need to know that tonic is the same worldwide. Schweppes is still stuck on this Coca-Cola mentality and allowing each country to manufacture as they see fit for their demographic. In short, it’s always a safer bet to choose a premium boutique tonic if you want consistency worldwide, but if you're an individual consumer or need to only think about your local market, feel free to experiment with anything you have locally, or even go as far as making your own. It’s actually not that hard to make homemade tonics, and now that just became an idea for my next column. Feel free to DM me if you want to talk homemade tonics.
Let’s now talk about the Whys, the Hows and the Wheres of this aforementioned Gin Tonic Party. First off, the Whys. Well, the answers for this are pretty endless, so I’ll just name my favorites. Firstly, Gin Tonics are delicious; secondly, Gin Tonics are really delicious! Follow this with; Gin Tonics are serendipitously hip AKA safe to use at any level of party. Possibly more appealing than style we can segue to convenience. Gin Tonics pair beautifully with easy to serve party fare we such as cured meats, artisan cheeses and smoked fish. Using convenience again, we can argue what may be the strongest argument: Gin Tonics are easy to smack out in bulk. So there’s the Whys. Let’s move on, shall we.
Now we come to the Hows, my favorite bit. I promised you I would give you something applicable if you waded through all my meanderings, so here it goes. We have established some hard facts and probably a few soft ones, disregard the latter and let’s focus on the former. Gin Tonics are cool and easy to use in any application. I have been put to task at providing cocktails for groups in countless situations in my 27 years of mixing and I can tell you what not to do first, assuming you are entertaining more than 2. Never put yourself in a situation where you have to work more that you want to. Imagine having a piano at your party, and that it is your only source of music and only you know how to play it; amazing if it’s a party of 2, not ideal with bigger groups. That being said, stay away from muddled cocktails. I threw a pool party one time and I was on the barbeque and making mojitos at the same time; I never stopped working, miserable. And this is where the Gin Tonic shows what a precious gem it is. I can bartend by myself in a bar with 60 pax and offer Gin Tonics or whiskey rocks and never get behind. It’s even better for private parties. On one occasion, my estranged wife was hosting a party for the “socialité” of Indonesia, and she asked me if I could do the cocktails without being there. This was an interesting and slightly demeaning challenge but one I enjoyed doing and still do today. Humility, oddly enough, can inspire and give birth to beautiful and elegant solutions. This one is a perfect example. Simply find a nice bit of counter space, set it up with large burgundy balon glasses, an array of premium gin bottles, maybe even a random bottle of vodka, loads of different premium and non-premium tonics, a few bottles of club soda or Perrier if you want to impress. Secondly, and this is where it gets cool, take the largest serving tray you can find, like a big banquet tray and load that up with every possible garnish you could imagine. Dig up every small decorative bowl, sake glass, ramekin, cordial glass, or tiny basket, then grab banana leaves, newspaper or whatever you have around the house or garden to create the display. I typically use any possible edible or aromatic garnish I can find starting with all the citruses and citrus skins, all the fresh herbs like mint and basil, then any dried spices one might find in a Chinese apothecary such as cinnamon, star anise, fennel or licorice root; again, focusing on aroma. I’ve even used aphrodisiacs for a laugh. The key here is making a massive and beautiful display. Make sure you have garnish tongs ready and lots of ice. If you execute this properly your guests will be absolutely blown away and will have a lot of fun. I love to hear about guests bragging that their garnish combination is the best.
Anyway, my patient darlings, here is the promised fruit. Any good bartender knows there is no such thing as a fast bartender, only a well prepared one. The same applies for those who entertain at home. If you want to throw an epic, Instagram worthy cocktail party at home and you don’t want to be bothered while your guests are there, do the groundwork and set up your Gin Tonic station. It’s a lovely feeling when you politely point to a beautiful display and invite your guests to help themselves. Challenge them to come up with the best Gin Tonic. I speak from experience, and I can tell you it's amazing to be able to not have to run around making drinks. It’s also a great conversation piece.
We mentioned Wheres so where? Anywhere. Gin Tonics are good, breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night. They excel at breezy outdoor luncheons as well as at soirees in posh penthouses. Gin Tonics pair with almost any food and stand up beautifully on their own. With the multitude of combinations of gin, tonics and garnishes, there is no way they will ever get boring, even if you only drank Iron Balls. If you are a sommelier, you will know certain dishes are nearly impossible to pair with a wine, and this is where we’d reach for a sparkling, a bright Cava or a forgiving Prosecco. I implore you to try a Gin Tonic the next time you find yourself in this quandary. I would be happy to personally assist if you were to reach out. I have experimented a bit and every time I am pleasantly surprised.
Thanks for coming to my Gin Tonic party and I look forward to being invited to yours.
Yours Forever Faithfully,
Iron Balls Global Brand Ambassador
You always have options, if you have balls