Even before the current Renaissance, there was one cocktail that was widely available in the United Kingdom; the Gin and Tonic. You could even order it in pubs and not be on the receiving end of a stare lifted straight from that scene in “An American Werewolf in London”.
You would have, at most, the choice of two types of Gin; one of which would be Gordon’s in its distinct green bottle the other would be Beefeater with the picture of said Tower of London guard on its label. If an option was offered for tonic water, it would be diet or regular. This rule of two applied to the ice as well; just a pair of cubes would float forlornly in the drink. Things have changed and changed for the better. On my recent visit to London, I found a wealth of choice and several excellent Gin and Tonics.
California Girl comments: When I moved to the UK, over 30 years ago, a gin and tonic was the ONLY cocktail I could drink when going out anywhere. When I would travel to Europe, gin was cheaper than tonic water, so what I would get would be a huge glass of gin and a tiny little splash of tonic water on top. Yikes!
In the back streets close to my hotel I found a Spanish bar called Camino. The drink menu had a page dedicated to Gin and Tonic; different Gins and various garnishes. Since this was a Spanish venue, I acquiesced to the bartender’s recommendation: Gin Mare. This is a Gin from Catalonia and was served with Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic Water and garnished with a sprig of rosemary. Rather than serve the drink in a tumbler, it arrived in Spanish style in a large coupe. This allows for an adequate amount of ice to be added. The resulting drink was a beautifully balanced mix of citrus and herb; quite possibly the best Gin and Tonic that I have drunk.
Having enjoyed this drink and wanting a more substantial meal than Tapas I left the bar. The steady fall of rain dissuaded me from going too far afield. I dropped into a nearby chain restaurant and ordered steak frites. There was a table advert for their Gin Blooms; so even here the basic G and T was being offered in more interesting forms. The Gin was an old standard: Beefeater. The tonic was where the twist was provided: elderflower, grapefruit & orange, watermelon & cucumber, and green tea & lemongrass. I ordered the last of these options. The use of the coupe was encouraging. Unfortunately, the drink was not well stirred, so the first few sips were all but alcohol-free. Neither the tonic nor the spirit was a match for those in Camino.
Two nights later, I went with a group of colleagues to The London Gin Distillery. This place is worth a post all of its own, but suffice it to say for this article, I had an excellent Gin and Tonic. After we left, we needed to wait for our dinner table, so we went to The Albion pub, in which my colleague had a Gin and Tonic using Warner Edwards Rhubarb Gin. On hearing about this I was skeptical; rhubarb seems too far away from the traditional botanicals. Seeing the pink drink added to my doubts. One sip and I was a believer. The traditional herb flavours are noticed first and then a tang of rhubarb bitterness on the finish. I shall certainly order one of these when I next see the bottle. Granted, this drink was served in the traditional tumbler with the English parsimonious approach to ice cubes.
The range of gins available in just this one tiny corner of London is impressive. The quality and variety of the Gin and Tonic cocktails was excellent. It is amusing to note that whilst back in the day, different pubs would stock different brands (Britvic, Schweppes, or Canada Dry) all of these locations, bar the restaurant used Fever Tree. However, I have yet to find a better tonic water, so this lack of variery is not a reason for critiscism