Sunday, June 7, 2009

Gin and IT

That’s what they call it in England—gin and Indian tonic. It may be an utterly British drink but it came of age in this country. As a student abroad, I remember looking forward to a trip to the pub for my first authentic gin and tonic. I was handed a smallish wine glass with a squirt of gin and a miniature bottle of Schweppes and told to help myself to ice and lemon laid out on the bar. I wasn’t told not to take more than a cube or two but gleaned that from the glare I got.

My interest in this drink was piqued as a youngster, making frequent trips with my family to Gabe’s Restaurant in Owensboro, Kentucky. The place is most remembered for its revolving, bigger-than-life statue of its owner, Gabe, and his mantra “Hi neighbor, it’s a wonderful world!” Back in the 1950s, Gabe’s had a beautifully lithographed menu. Down its side danced tempting illustrations of colorful cocktails, including a gin and tonic in a tall, sweaty glass garnished with an improbably green lime slice. This wouldn’t be the last time a picture lead to my downfall, but one of the few instances where I wasn’t disappointed.

Coming of age and finally being able to imbibe this libation that I’d lusted after for so long, I was surprised that I actually liked it. My mother had already prejudiced me against gin (or had at least tried). In her opinion, it was not something that nice people drank. My own experience was that the only bad gin was cheap gin.

Gin and tonic came about as an attempt to make bitter quinine—which the British in colonial India took copiously to avoid malaria—more palatable. What could be better than to disguise it with good English gin? Eventually, carbonated water and sugar were added and the beverage bottled. Today’s tonic water only contains a small amount of quinine, added to properly produce the distinctive bitter flavor enjoyed the world over. Ineffective as a malaria prophylactic, bottled tonic water is sometime recommended as a treatment for nocturnal cramps.
Back in the l960s when black lights were all the rage, I recall ordering a gin and tonic in a bar with psychedelic décor and being shocked that my G and T was fluorescent! This was not the result of some drug-induced hallucination: The quinine in tonic water causes it to fluoresce under ultra violet light.

Gin and tonic is traditionally a tall drink, properly made in a Collins glass with lots of ice. In recent years—especially around here—order a gin and tonic and it’s most likely to show up in an on-the-rocks glass. What’s so wrong with that is the resulting gin to tonic ratio. I prefer a gin and tonic made with an old-style gin such as Tanqueray or Plymouth rather than Bombay Sapphire or Citadelle which are better suited for a martini. For me a fresh lime wedge—and not too stingy—is an essential garnish. In the UK they would much more likely use lemon which works in a pinch.

Regardless of how you like your gin and tonic, it will always taste better enjoyed out of doors. Here is my list of Best of Madison places to sip a gin and tonic this summer.

The Continental Fitchburg. The atmosphere on the patio here is always that of a big backyard party—but without paper plates and plastic cups.

Genna’s Cocktail Lounge. It always has a buzz on and is the place to meet after work for the 4:30-6:30 happy hour.

The Edgewater Pier. This place has been shouting “This is Madison!” forever, and though the actual pier is not as long as it once was the vista is bigger than ever.

Fresco. “Not a cloud in the sky, got the sun in my eyes … I’m on top of the world looking down on creation.”—The Carpenters.

Harvest. On the Square but as close as you’ll get here to a café on the Rue de la Paix.

Bettylou Cruises. A view of the water is serene, but a view from the water is uniquely refreshing.

The Great Dane Pub, Downtown. It may be a brewery but the big dog’s courtyard is a first-class venue for a cocktail.

Ishnala. WISCONSIN SUMMER, filmed on location in IMAX starring Mirror Lake and a cast of thousands.


chris190 said...

Coming late to the party...but "gin and It" is not a gin and tonic. It refers to gin and Italian vermouth (4 parts gin to 1 part vermouth).
It was popular at cocktail parties when I grew up in England in the 1960s.

Anonymous said...

a gin tonic is a serious thing guy, too of them my put you blow you up into ground in no time. like a dozen of viagra online