What was Gibraltar’s most popular Christmas spirit I wonder?
If the UK is anything to go by there’s a good chance it was gin. In a YouGov poll for 2017, 29% voted it their favourite, ahead of whiskies (25%) and vodka (23%). The equivalent of 1.3 billion gins and tonic were drunk in Britain in the course of the year just ended.
But what constitutes the perfect G&T?
Whereas not that long ago you would happily settle for whatever combination the barman served up, nowadays he’ll expect you to have a preference. Not just for the gin, for the tonic too sometimes. Even the garnish. Stare blankly back at him and be prepared for sideways looks from the cognoscenti.
There’s a drinks blog I like to read that features more than 450 distilled gins. How on earth do you determine which is your favourite without ruining your liver and burning a hole in your pocket? Do you go for a London Dry or a Plymouth? A tried and tested brand, or one of the new kids on the block? Will you sample one that contains just four botanicals (the flavours that make gin, gin; without them it would be vodka) or 31, as one Scottish distillery boasts? There’s even gins that are ‘aged’, like wine!
And choosing the gin’s just half the task. As one leading manufacturer’s sales pitch states, “If ¾ of your Gin & Tonic is the tonic, make sure you use the best”. Until recently, I daresay, not many G&T enthusiasts were too bothered about who supplied the bubbles in their beverage. With gin’s resurgence in the past few years though, all that’s changed. Besides the standard ones, the market now offers a bewildering range of ‘premium’ tonics, with prices to match, that are themselves flavoured with botanicals like elderflower, hyssop or hibiscus.
So not only must you select a gin. Ideally, you’ll experiment with various posh tonic waters to see which one is the perfect accompaniment. My choice? Schhh I’m not telling, but I like something neutral that doesn’t mask the already complex flavour of the spirit.
Traditionally the G&T has been garnished with a slice, or wedge, of lemon or lime. Simple, straightforward and nice. But is that good enough for today’s sophisticated palates? Of course not. You just have to adorn yours with bits of pink grapefruit, strawberry and basil or rosemary and black pepper. One self-styled ‘unusual’ gin has even popularised the use of the humble cucumber, infusing the distillation itself with an extract of the vegetable and encouraging imbibers to add a slice or two in place of more conventional garnishes.
Even the glassware gets in on the act. For decades I’ve been perfectly happy to sip my mother’s ruin from a tall glass. Alas, that’s so yesterday.
The rage now is the balloon glass, which admits more ice and is said to better trap the aromas in the drink. For all its airs and graces though, it’s just a take on the Spanish ‘copa’. Spain, surprisingly, is the biggest consumer of gin in the world and bars have taken to serve G&Ts in glasses historically more accustomed to containing Riojas or Riberas del Duero.
It’s all too much for me I’m afraid. Where’s that scotch and soda?