By Andrew O’ Gorman, Past President Bartenders Association of Ireland and former Head of Department, Bar Management DIT
Thousands of people, heading for a night out are becoming part of Ireland’s spectacular reinvention of that old British classic, the Gin and Tonic. When Winston Churchill stated in the 1930’s that” the gin and tonic has saved more lives than all the doctors in the Empire”, he was preaching to the converted. If you have an interest to explore further the delights of the juniper berry you can do so in many pubs and savour their many cocktail incarnations like the 'Singapore Sling', 'Fallen Angel' and the 'Last Word'.
The Gin and Tonic was invented by British colonists in India in the 19th century, after it was discovered that quinine was an effective prevention against malaria. Quinine, however, is extremely bitter, and sugar and soda water was added, creating tonic water. This was then drunk with the gin ration issued to soldiers and the classic British sundowner was invented.
Recently, however, the cocktail has caught on in Ireland, where it is simply called Gin and Tonic, and the Irish have turned the drink into something spectacular – far removed from what their predecessors liked to sip. Now a balloon glass is favoured, to concentrate the aromas of the drink while you sip it, and there are many new gins to choose from – many of which have been made artesanally. Many bars offer a wide range of gins, as well as various tonics and a choice of garnishes, which can include cinnamon sticks, vanilla pods, and various other fragrant botanicals.
There is, of course, no such thing as the perfect Gin and Tonic. Some swear by Bombay Sapphire, others prefer Gordons or Tanqueray; gin experts will sing the praises of Dutch Genevers or English Plymouth gin, Cork Dry Gin and the flood of new gins have created many new favourites such as Hendricks and Monkey 47. Tonic is also a matter of taste, with expensive varieties such as Fever Tree and Poachers doing well on the market, while Schweppes and Club remain favourites.
Gin and Tonic was not originally served with ice, although both the gin and tonic were chilled before serving. Ice, of course, dilutes the drink as it melts and is shunned by some serious G&T drinkers. Others, however, love a clinking glass of rocks. The garnish is perhaps the biggest point of argument. In India it was always a slice of lime, and that remains the favoured garnish of Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray and Gordons. Fever Tree recommends lemon, while Beefeater is often accompanied with orange to reflect its high use of bitter Seville citrus fruits. Hendricks recommends a slice of cucumber. A slice of citrus is often replaced with a generous sliver of peel, which releases the essential citrus oils far more effectively than a slice. However, anything goes, and you may find all sorts of things, including Clarke’s strawberries from Stamullen, Co. Meath, mint leaves, liquorice roots and apple slices in your G&T.
Of the Irish brands of Gin the following are giving the Irish drinkers a variety of choices and they include Bertha’s Revenge, Blackwater No. 5, Boatyard Gin, Bonac 24, Brennan’s Old House Gin, Dingle Gin, Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin, Glendalough Wild Botanical Gin, Ha’penny Gin, Mór Irish Gin, Old Carrick Mill, Shortcross Gin, Silver Spear Gin, Thin Gin, Von Haller’s Gin and tonic from Poacher’s Premium Beverages.
In my early years working as a bartender the Pink Gin was very popular with customers. The Pink Gin is a cocktail made fashionable in the mid-19th century, consisting of Gin and a dash of Angostura bitters, a dark red bitters that makes the whole drink pinkish. Lemon rind was also commonly used as a garnish, with the citrus oils subtly complementing the flavour.
America Village Apothecary is a small Irish company focused on artisan products, set up by Claire Davey in 2015 and based in Baile Mheiriceá in North County Galway between Clonbur and Cornamona. In addition to the Tonic Syrup, America Village also produces a pine syrup and gorse syrup, as well as tinctures and bitters for use in craft cocktails – all made from foraged and carefully sourced organic ingredients.
Simply add the tonic syrup to sparkling/soda water to create traditional tonic water for a gin and tonic.
America Village say theirs is the first small batch quinine tonic to be made and produced in Ireland. Ingredients include cinchona bark, citrus, herbs and botanicals, Fior Uisce spring water, cane sugar, and is available all year round.
Water evaporates to form Atlantic clouds which float 3000 miles over the world’s cleanest ocean to fall as rain on the mountains on the west coast of Ireland. The water percolates through the unspoilt ancient mountains to underground aquifers.
The source of Fíor Uisce water is in Tourmakeady, Co. Mayo in the scenic West of Ireland, an ancient land, steeped in legend and tradition, a place with a mystical respect for water - the source of life.
World renowned glassware manufacture Schott Zwiesel are known for their wine glasses and decanters, but have taken on board and produced a perfect Gin and Tonic glass, a Spanish style Copa Gin and Tonic glass.
1630 Jesuit missionaries in Lima, Peru, document the successful treatment of malaria with the bark of the Cinchona tree. The extract of the bark, called quinine, remains the best antimalarial for the next 300 years, and the key ingredient for the tastiest tonic even today.
1958 Fictional British agent James Bond finds himself in Kingston, Jamaica, where he orders "a double gin and tonic and one whole green lime." Bond's tart take on the drink, recounted in the film Dr. No: Add the squeezed halves of an entire lime, and plenty of ice.
2010 Innovative Spanish bartenders reinvent the gin and tonic, celebrating the nuances of fine gin elevated by premium tonic water. The new Spanish style, served in a balloon glass and garnished with spices, fruits or herbs, becomes the new choice of aficionados around the world.