The first mixed drink I ever recall tasting was a Gin and Tonic. The gin of choice was the late 20th century staple Gordon’s Dry Gin, the tonic the only one available: Schweppes Indian Tonic Water. The memory, to this day, remains firmly chiseled in my mind as one of the most uncomfortable experiences in my early days of gastronomic exploration: a foul marriage made in hell of fresh pine needles, aggressive, pricking bubbles and an overpoweringly intense bitterness.
Then again, gin and tonic was probably not made for a teenager’s palate. Luckily, though, our palates change with time and what was once considered off-putting and harsh may later in life become more nuanced, even desirable: I have since, for what it’s worth, learned to appreciate the combination of Gordon’s and Schweppes; the pungent, floral and herbaceous notes of the gin mixed with the slightly sweet, crisp and bitter bite of the Schweppes tonic. But still, I’ve kept thinking: there’s got to be a better alternative to this. For years, this seemed to not be the case, but in the immortal words of Bob Dylan; “the times, they are a-changing” and people, the Gin (and Tonic) revolution is a-happening!
Actually, to be honest, the gin revolution has been happening for a while and probably started with the launch of Bombay Saphire Gin in 1987. The iconic blue bottle, the price point and the clever story telling involving secret botanicals and complicated processes revitalised the market and gave way to the launch of other premium brands such as the highly profiled “Martini” gin Tanqueray No. 10 and the oddly likeable cucumber-infused Hendrick’s Gin in the late 90’s and very early 2000’s.
Indeed, the dawn of the new millenium was pretty much also the dawn of the premium gin niche but it was gonna be another ten odd years before things really got under way.
The Modern Gin Revolution
Every few years, without failure, people alike go collectively crazy about some sort of spirit. Not too many years ago it was Scotch Whisky, then rum, followed by Bourbon and now the old Mother’s Ruin has become all the rage. People crave gin and they crave it badly. But they don’t crave just any regular kind of gin. No, they crave quality gins, preferably small batch gins with stories to tell, distillation secrets to hide and unusual ingredients cleverly infused into them.
An increasing number of producers big and (predominantly) small are churning out an impressive amount of gins, many of them infused with their own extremely unique (and secret) blend of spices. Some of these gins are downright dreadful, but many of them are extremely interesting.
And the same thing goes for the gin companion of choice, Tonic Water, by the way. Where teenage Johan could’ve walked into a bar (had he been allowed to), ordered a Gin & Tonic (had he wanted to) and be reasonably sure to be slipped a Gordon’s & Schweppes – 30 some-year-old Johan would probably rather be faced with the question: Which gin? In what Tonic? Today, the market is practically overflowing with new gins and tonics, making the number of combinations and creativity poured into mixing them practically limitless. In other words, it’s a great time to be alive. In Denmark especially!
#TuesdayGT and the Danish Gin Revolution
The Danish gin revolution, as with many other food and drink trends, is in no small part fuelled by the dedicated food blogger community. My blogger in arms, Sjonne, for example along with our friends over at gastromand.dk have launched a revival effort for the humble Gin & Tonic under the social media hashtag #tuesdaygt – the idea, quite obviously, is to turn Tuesday into Gin & Tonic day, a day on which the blogosphere and the foodie community come together to enjoy, share and reinvent the Gin & Tonic.
Some rather elaborate creations have seen the light of day owing to the #tuesdaygt ritual, drawing on a variety of artisan gins, a host of more or less well-known tonics and a number of more or less sane garnishes. A couple of personal favorites include this Bluecoat Gin and leaf gold Gin & Tonic (Google Translated English version) as well as this bucket-sized Spanish Gin & Tonic. (Google Translated English version)
I’ve even chimed in myself, most notably with a combination of Thomas Henry Tonic, the cucumber and rose petal-infused Hendricks Gin, baby heirloom cucumbers, Habanero Limons and a spritz of rose water.
This week, though, I thought I’d shake things up a bit and play with the very fundamentals of what a Gin & Tonic looks and feels like by conjuring up a cooling Gin & Tonic sorbet!
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Who in their right mind would do a Gin and Tonic sorbet? And the answer, of course, is no-one – did you forget whose blog you’re reading? Ahem, anyway, the idea came to me this past weekend. I had my friends Emelie and Malene over, both of whom love Gin & Tonics (as women apparently do!) and since I pretty much love to spoil my girls silly, I of course strove to give them what they wanted. In my own, uh, unique kind of way, of course. So, I thought to myself. Why not play around a bit with the perceptions of what an aperitif could be and the order in which dishes should be served? Why not, I figured, kick the meal off with a nice, cooling, savory Gin and Tonic Sorbet?
I had, after all, the perfect ingredients for the job in the shape of this Gin Mare “survival kit” procured and sold to me by my go-to wine guy.
A match made in Heaven? Gin Mare and 1724 Tonic Water
Gin Mare is the perfect example of the modern artisan gins we discussed above; a gorgeously packaged Spanish premium gin made using ingredients sourced throughout the entire Mediterranean region: Italian basil, Turkish rosemary, Greek thyme, Spanish citrus, olives (yes, olives!) and a whole host of other herbs and spices, including but probably not limited to, coriander, cardamom and, of course, a rather heavy shot of juniper berries, the signature gin ingredient. Gin Mare is not only pretty, it’s also full of character and incredibly unique. Powerfully pungent, spicy and a little rough in an oddly sexy kind of way, she’s a bit of a cruel mistress when sipped neat, but when mixed – especially with tonic – she mellows out and becomes fragrant and seductive, in a still decidedly unique and demanding way.
Speaking of tonic, what would be better than to use one made by the same company that brought us the gin and very cleverly packaged it along with it? More specifically, I’m talking about 1724 Tonic Water. Having tried to do my homework for this article, I’m actually still a little confused as to whether this is a Spanish or a South American tonic, and apparently so are a lot of other people. What I do know, though, is that 1724 is an exceptionally well-made tonic bursting with tiny little bubbles, packing a crisp, citrusy punch and a distinct yet controlled and pleasing bitterness.
The name,1724, by the way, refers to the number of meters above sea level where the quinine used in this particular tonic is hand picked along an ancient Inca trail. Quinine, of course, being a fever-reducing and anti-inflammatory substance derived from the bark of the cinchona tree and laster used as the main, bitter flavor compound of tonic water.
Bring it together: Gin and Tonic Sorbet
When mixed, you start to see why these two products are so often sold bundled together. What you get when mixing them, you see, is the perfect example of what a Gin & Tonic could and should be: A spicy, fragrant, punchy gin & tonic with a junipery bite from the gin as well as a clean cut bitterness and citrusy notes from the tonic. Not overly sweet and not one to be taken lightly, this G&T displays quite a bit of character and flavor, yet remains perfectly crisp, clean, herbal and mouth water inducing. In other words, the perfect aperitif before a larger meal, even in sorbet form. So, let’s mix!
Gin and Tonic Sorbet
- 10 cl Gin Mare Gin
- 40 cl two bottles of 1724 Tonic Water
- Juice of one orange
- 1 tablespoon of simple syrup see note
- Thoroughly stir together all ingredients and pour into a large shallow dish
- Place dish uncovered in freezer
- Freeze for at least four hours, stirring thoroughly with a fork every hour to reduce the size of forming ice crystals
- After four-six hours, a semi-solid (non-liquid) mush of small-ish ice crystals should have formed
- Remove dish from freezer, and process slush in batches in a blender or food processor to create a more homogenous sorbet-like texture
- Pour sorbet into suitable container, cover and stash in freezer, consume within a few days for optimum flavors
Recipe NotesTo make simple syrup, add equal parts of sugar and water to a small sauce pan over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring every now and then until sugar has completely dissolved. Cool and use. Will keep pretty much forever in the fridge.
On the subject of garnishes…
So, I suppose making a Gin and Tonic Sorbet is one thing, but how do we serve it? Well, as far as I’m considered, every Gin & Tonic needs a garnish, and consequently so do Gin and Tonic sorbets! But what kind of garnish? Well, tough question…
As the Gin & Tonic tradition has evolved, so have the garnishes. In the Gordons and Schweppes days, you were lucky to get a scoop of ice and a lemon slice as a garnish. The more sophisticated Bombay or Tanqueray drinkers would have you use lime. Hendricks as part of their clever marketing efforts, saw the lemon/lime replaced with a slice of cucumber. As for today’s booming gin market? Well, today, the subject of garnish is incredibly complex. Some use fresh fruit, others citrus peel while sprigs of herbs and/or botanicals, even liquorice are not entirely uncommon either.
I, too, could have gone overboard here and done something entirely elaborate. But for once, I wanted to keep things rather simple and without too many elements or flavors to distract from the clean, crisp bite of the sorbet. So, simple it was:
I was playing around with a Spanish gin and I hear that orange slices are considered a traditional garnish for Gin & Tonics in Spain. Knowing this and having a bunch of organic oranges laying around, I decided to play along and garnished my G&T sorbet with a wedge of orange and a sprig of mint. This not only made for a simple and pretty presentation, it also added an extra little touch of fragrance as I roughed both the mint sprigs and the orange wedge up a bit just before serving to release some of the essential oils.
I served the finished concoction as a total (and welcome) surprise to my diners in the shape of an unexpected start to a multi-course meal, and even after years of them putting up with my antics, I could see it kind of caught them off guard and threw them out of the loop for a bit.
Obviously, being served a sorbet as an appetizer is a bit of a first for many people and so is the concept of non-sweet sorbets. The sugar used in this sorbet serves not to sweeten the sorbet, but rather to boost the flavors and enhance the final texture, so the end result remains crisp, bitter and spicy, as a Gin & Tonic should be. Only in an entirely new and strangely amusing form.
And that may just be why this worked so well. People expect a Gin & Tonic to be liquid and they expect an appetizer to be maybe cold, maybe chilled, but certainly not frozen. The contrast between what was expected and what was delivered caught my dear guests completely off guard and left them equally parts amused, bemused and pleased trying to make sense of the dish and the new experience. I’m happy to report that once a few chills and giggles had been had and sense had been made of eating sorbet as an appetizer, everybody agreed that the Gin and Tonic sorbet served the same purpose that a regular Gin & Tonic aperitif would have done: it got the saliva going, delivered a slight, comfortable buzz and stimulated the appetite. Only in an entirely new and fascinating way.
I’m definitely doing this again…