How to make the perfect gin & tonic

The G&T is the mixed drink to end all others. But what is the magic formula for the very best one you can make? Read our expert guide to serving your best-ever gin and tonic.

Gin and tonic in a copa glass

Gin is the trend that keeps on giving, and statistics show that visitors to the BBC Good Food website are fully-fledged enthusiasts of the juniper-tinged renaissance. While we love a gin cocktail, there's no denying the timeless charm of gin and tonic. Any gin lover will know that there’s more to a G&T than pouring the two components into a glass. Here, the experts at Craft Gin Club talk us through the mighty gin and tonic and provide us with the ultimate recipe for the best ever G&T.

Where did the gin & tonic come from?

The G&T actually started its life as a medicinal cure. Back in the 1850s as the British Crown took over the governance of India, British colonial officers faced a serious threat from mosquito-borne Malaria.

It was known that quinine – a derivative of cinchona tree bark – not only cured malaria, but also prevented it. The British troops were duly ordered to dose up with quinine to help fend-off the life-threatening illness. 

The prescribed quinine powder was extremely bitter, so to make it more palatable, British officials started adding it to sugar and soda to create a tonic water – which some bright spark soon realised tasted even better when mixed with gin and slice of lime... and so, the G&T was born! 

Gin and tonics remained a traditional British staple throughout most of the 20th century, although by the 1980s (and along with gin in general) they had gained a somewhat unfashionable and fusty image.

Gin and tonic in glasses surrounded by botanical ingredients
Why is gin so popular now?  

Come the millennium, a whole new style of G&T hailing from Spain helped the drink reach a new generation of drinkers. The Spanish gin tonica is said to have originated in culinary capital, San Sebastian, where the local array of Michelin-starred chefs developed a penchant for mixing their after-work gin with lots of ice and tonic, in large-bowled, long-stemmed glasses, garnished with an array of botanicals. 

This method, designed to show off the inherent flavours in the gin to their best advantage, quickly spread across Spain and beyond, and today the distinctive balloon-shaped copa glass is the most popular choice among gin aficionados everywhere.

And there a lot of those aficionados these days – in 2018, Brits purchased over 66 million bottles of gin. 

Tonic being poured into a copa glass

How to make a gin & tonic: the ultimate formula

What is the secret behind the perfect G&T? The question was recently debated by Craft Gin Club’s social media fans (over 600,000 of them) and the feedback was diverse, to say the least.

Some were very precise about the number of ice cubes needed – enough to chill the glass, but not too many to dilute the gin. Some people squeezed their limes, while others were adamant this would ruin the overall taste, and there were even some who felt there was simply no need for a garnish.

But, through a gruelling, analytical process, we’ve crunched the data to determine the exact elements needed for the perfect gin & tonic, as voted for by the nation’s gin lovers. You will need:

•    1 Spanish style Copa de Balon Glass
•    1/3 gin to 2/3 premium tonic
•     4 ice cubes 
•    a slice of lime, to garnish

This ratio of gin to tonic means the tasting notes of the gin come through nicely and the tonic will complement the botanicals in the spirit, without overpowering the taste.

Combine all the ingredients in the glass. It then takes four stirs (no more, no less!) to make the ultimate chilled G&T.  Don’t squeeze the lime as the sharpness of the juice may mask the more delicate tasting notes of the gin. Simply add the slice of lime for the aroma and a zesty hint. 

Tonic being poured into a copa glass

Gin & tonic glasses – which one to use?  

We would recommend a Spanish-style copa glass (full name Copa de Balon) to enjoy your G&T in. The shape of the balloon glass means the aromas of the gin are trapped to give a better taste to your G&T – 80% of taste is down to smell, which makes this glass style perfect. The size of a copa glass allows you to add a good quantity of ice and will also stop the ice cubes from melting as quickly as they do in a standard Collins glass. 

How to match gin with garnishes 

Gins with citrus notes work beautifully with herbal garnishes such as rosemary, basil or thyme, spicy gins match really well with orange peel, cinnamon or cloves, while more floral profiles pair well with cucumber, rose petals or a sprig of lavender.

How much ice to use in a gin & tonic 

You ideally want to use large ice cubes and four should be just the right amount to keep your G&T frozen but not dilute the drink.

Glasses being clinked

What tonic to serve with gin

For a classic G&T we would suggest a crisp, classic tonic to really let the botanicals in the gin shine. The bitterness in a classic tonic really compliments the piney juniper of gin and keeps your G&T from being overly sweet. 

However, there are now many flavoured tonics available – pink grapefruit, cucumber, basil and orange are some of the more popular flavours. When mixing your gin with a flavoured tonic, be sure to do your research to see what flavours will complement the tasting notes of the gin without overpowering them. 

For example, a citrus-led gin like Dry Island Gin, which includes botanicals of lemon myrtle and strawberry gum, pairs beautifully with the Fentimans Valencian Orange Tonic water. The sweet and zesty orange of the tonic water balances perfectly with the fruitiness of the strawberry gum. 

Gin and tonic with black pepper being cracked in

Adapting the gin & tonic formula

While this provides a good general guide, with such a versatile spirit one size does not fit all. While you could apply the measurements and method of the above calculation each time you mix up your favourite drink, you have to consider the variation of flavours of each gin. 

But really, there are no limits or wrong answers when it comes to gin adventures. There are so many amazing gins out there, the best thing to do is experiment with different garnishes, tonics and even glasses to find your perfect match... and the good news is, you'll have plenty of fun doing it.

Craft Gin Club is a monthly subscription to small-batch gins. Visit the Craft Gin Club website to discover more. 

More on gin...

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The best gin to buy as gifts
The best flavoured gin
The best pink gin
The best sloe gin
The best gifts for gin lovers
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Five ways with gin and tonic
Our best gin cocktail recipes
How to make your own flavoured gin
10 gin cocktails you can make in minutes

What are your tips for the perfect gin & tonic? We’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below… 

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