London mixologist Paul Mathew is in Phnom Penh to workshop some sophisticated takes on the malaria-stopping G&T
There couldn’t be too much to making a gin and tonic, could there? Just slosh in some of the juniper-based spirit, top it up with the mixer and ice and maybe pop in a slice of lemon. Easy-peasy.
Not so, says mixologist and London bar proprietor Paul Mathew, who is running a gin and tonic “masterclass” at the FCC on Wednesday.
While there may be no such thing as an objectively perfect G&T, there are plenty of variables that can change the flavour of the classic beverage, from the botanicals in the gin to the size of the ice cubes.
“It’s a bit of a workshop,” the English cocktail consultant said of the masterclass. “People will have a chance to make their own, experiment and see what they like best and, at the end, everyone can make their favourite and we can taste each others’ and see why people might like that style of gin and tonic.”
On Thursday, the FCC is to host a special gin and tonic evening during which all the gins will be available for the general public to try.
“Hopefully we’ll develop some really nice recipes during the masterclass that we can share the following night,” Mathew said.
Gin and tonic first became popular in India in the 1800s when the British mixed quinine, an extract from the South American cinchona tree used to treat malaria, with water and sugar to mask the bitterness, and lime to prevent scurvy.
“Gin was the officer’s choice of spirit at the time [rum being the regular ration], so it was a pretty logical step to mix the quinine water, sugar, lime and gin together,” said Mathew.
While gin once had the reputation of being the preferred tipple of only the blue-rinse set, in recent years the spirit has come back into fashion.
“Bombay Sapphire is one of the key gins that recreated the gin market,” Mathew said.
“It was getting a bit old, known only as stuff your grandmother drank, and then Bombay came along with its blue packaging and talking about the botanicals and drove the trend for gins again.”
According to Mathew, all gins are essentially just flavoured vodkas – neutral grain spirits with botanicals such as herbs and essences infused or added.
“The predominant flavour for gin has to be juniper but all the other flavours can vary,” Mathew said.
“Something like Hendrick’s, with cucumber and rose petal, is a more fragrant, slightly savoury gin.
“Whereas something like Tanqueray Number Ten has grapefruit peel and camomile and lighter more citrusy flavours.
“The Death’s Door gin that we have is predominantly juniper, so it’s quite punchy, quite alcoholic, with a strong juniper flavour.”
The greater the concentration of alcohol, the less soluble the botanicals are in the tonic, while having smaller ice cubes, which melt more quickly, means the drink dilutes faster.
Other variables include the temperature of the gin and tonic, the garnish used – whether it’s lemon, lemon oil, cucumber or something else – the type of tonic and, of course, the ratio of spirit to mixer.
While some people might like their gin and tonic strong and punchy with a hit of juniper and quite a sweet tonic water, others might prefer a more aromatic gin and tonic with a lighter style of gin.
“I can make some recommendations that can make it better than the average but, like all these things, it’s down to taste,” Mathew said.
The Gin and Tonic Masterclass is on Wednesday at the FCC. The price is $30 (including four drinks and free canapes). Numbers are limited. To book, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
KNOW YOUR GINS
Beefeater: Made using botanicals that are steeped in the neutral grain spirit for 24 hours and then distilled away providing a good juniper flavour on the palate.
Tanqueray Number Ten: Slightly higher alcohol percentage at 47 per cent, with pink grapefruit and camomile as two of the flavourings.
Bombay Sapphire: Uses a Carter-Head still, which has a basket in which the botanicals are placed. Alcohol vapours wash over the mix of the botanicals in order to extract the flavours. A more aromatic gin but with a lot less juniper body to the flavour – more like vodka with the aroma of gin. Comes packaged in a distinctive blue bottle.
Hendrick’s: Flavoured with rose petal and cucumber essences after distillation. Recommended garnish is a slice of cucumber. In recent years a great driver of the small-batch, trendy gin market.
Sipsmith: Made in small batches in a copper still at the first distillery to open in London for 189 years in 2009. A very traditional-style London dry gin made with natural botanicals and no artificial additives. Juniper focused. Similar to Gordon’s or Beefeater but higher quality.
Death’s Door: Made in Washington Island, Wisconsin, from just three botanicals, with juniper the main one and the other two giving more subtle flavourings. Slightly higher on alcohol at 47 per cent.
Monkey 47: German gin, produced in the Black Forest with 47 different botanicals, that comes in a small apothecary style bottle. Known for having “earthy berry” flavours. Very fashionable at the moment.