In Arkansas, where in July and August you can have weeks running of days in the 90s and 100s–that’s when it’s 90% humidity (or feels like it) and 100 degrees or more–there is absolutely no tall cool libation that hits the spot like an icy cold gin and tonic. Okay, some would argue that an ice cold beer ranks up there, but when this Southern Magnolia wilts in the heat, it’s a G&T for li’l ole me. Diet, of course, the tonic, I mean, not the gin…lots of crystal clear ice…big squeeze of lime.
When we lived in Arkansas, we counted the arrival of summer as the first day it seemed warm enough to need a G&T to cool off, whatever the calendar said. Throughout the next few months of heat and humidity, especially in the dog days of August, we downed a prodigious number of them, made traditionally (at our house, anyway) with Bombay Sapphire gin and Canada Dry or Schwepp’s Diet Tonic. (Artificial sweetener avoiders take note: diet tonic has always been made with saccharine. For reasons for which I can offer no illumination, diet tonic somehow escaped the rush to aspartame that overtook most of the diet beverage industry and if there’s a brand of it out there made with Splenda, I’ve never seen it.)
When we left Arkansas and moved west to cooler, drier climes, we discovered that a fair amount of the joy in drinking a gin and tonic depends on being where it’s blisteringly hot and humid; in Santa Fe, Boulder, or Santa Barbara, we found that we rarely if ever felt moved to drink them anymore.
But this summer, it’s been relatively hot up where we live on Lake Tahoe (nothing like some parts of the country, but a bit hotter and more humid than usual) and something about the combination of sun and water has rekindled our taste buds for G&T. Perhaps the association of heat and humidity with gin and tonic runs deep in those of us who possess some degree of British ancestry, since the whole concept of the drink arose to make the quinine tonic, needed to stave off malaria in India and other steamy corners of the erstwhile Empire upon which the sun never set, palatable by adding gin to it.
And make it palatable it does…especially with a wedge of fresh lime squeezed in.
Our long-time favorite brand of gin for this purpose, because of its aromatic herbal nose, was Bombay Sapphire. Better than plain Bombay, better than Boodles, better than regular Tanqueray, better than any other gin…or so we thought. A recent article by Eric Felton in the Wall Street Journal (sorry, available online only to WSJ subscribers, but a free trial is ongoing right now) espoused the perfection of a gin and tonic made with Tanqueray 10. Writes Mr. Felton:
What about the gin? As I did with Martinis last year, I tasted a dozen examples, this time to see which made the best Gin and Tonic. I found that the gins that make the best Martinis — I preferred Hendricks and Plymouth — aren’t the same ones to use when mixing with quinine water. But in all cases, I like gin that is unapologetically gin. Some of the boutique gins to hit the market in the last few years have done their best to resemble the nothingness of vodka. Stick your beezer in a glass of South, a new gin from New Zealand, and you’d be hard-pressed to find the slightest hint of anything gin-like. By contrast, open a bottle of the wonderfully hide-bound British gin Boodles and juniper perfumes the room. South made for a lousy Gin and Tonic; Boodles made for a classic.
My favorite gin for mixing with tonic, however, turned out to be Tanqueray No. Ten. I didn’t much like Ten when I was stirring Martinis — the bright taste of citrus peel overpowered the drier flavors. But in a Gin and Tonic, Ten is a triumph: With nothing other than gin, tonic and ice in the glass, you’d think that you had already squeezed half a lime into the mix. But go ahead and squeeze plenty of fresh lime juice in anyway, if you would be so kind, and you’ve got a drink worthy of anyone from a president to a chimp.
We decided to do our own blind tasting of Tanqueray No. Ten against our fave, the Sapphire, and T10 won…by a nose. Even more importantly, it softens the bitter edge of the tonic water even better than the Sapphire. Who knew?
Tonic water, of course, is sweetened water (with sugar traditionally, probably with high fructose corn syrup nowadays in the ‘real’ tonic water and saccharine in the ‘diet’ version) flavored with a small amount (about 83 ppm) of quinine. Quinine, which comes from the bitter bark of the South American cinchona tree, has been used for hundreds of years in more potent medicinal doses to prevent and treat malaria, stop nocturnal leg cramps, and treat a host of other maladies, most recently apparantly even including some measured success with prion (read that Mad Cow) diseases. It can bring fever down, reduce inflammation, and combat some infections. Quite a repertoire.
In lesser doses, it makes a mighty fine addition to a long cool summer drink. And though it might not be malaria we fear in America in this day and age, I’m all about warding off leg cramps, fever, inflammation, any other mosquito born diseases and maybe it will help those, too.
And if not, at the very least, it’s refreshing and it tastes REAL good on a hot summer day.
Diet Tonic is indeed available with splenda – try looking at sodaclub.com. I use the soda club maker in my home and best of all, all their diet sodas are splenda sweetened. Even their regular sodas have far less sweetener than the name brands so I see this company as a good deal – more especially since you don’t have to worry about recycling plastic bottles, since the bottles are reusable. Also, I no longer have to lug around bottles and cans from the store.
COMMENT from MD EADES: Thanks, I (obviously) didn’t know about this product source. I’ll look into it.
hmmm, now you’ve put me in the mood for a tall cool g and t right now! oh wait, it’s only 7:30 am. Guess I better wait a while, huh?
COMMENT from MD EADES: Why? It’s probably after 5 pm somewhere…maybe in Bombay.
PS I rescued this comment from the Junk Comments file; be sure to type in the passcode word given at the bottom of the comment space so that our filter won’t view your comment as junk spam. We’re still combing that file to get the pearls from among the trash, but we won’t be able to keep doing it forever, because it takes too much time.
Aah, my very first mixed drink was a G+T. I was on a sailing trip with my US Naval Academy Crew, and our first stop was Bermuda. There I discovered a disco club known as “The Grotto,” because it was literally inside a cave. Cool place. Thank goodness that in Bermuda bars would serve a responsible 18-year old a drink. The true discovery was the secret ingredient for the perfect G+T: a healthy dash of Angostura bitters. Turns the G+T pink, softens the lime and tonic taste, and adds a unique flavor all it’s own. Once you try it, you’ll never have a “straight” G+T again. Cheers!
COMMENT from MD EADES: Great story and thanks for the tip. I’ll have to give it a go.
PS I rescued your comment from the Junk Comment folder where all comments now go if the commentor doesn’t type in the magic passcode word given at the bottom of the comment space. Sorry for the inconvenience, but we were so awash in junk spam that we had to do something. At some point, we’ll probably stop checking the junk and it would be sad to miss a good comment such as this one.
about that magic passcode, I thought I did type in it in.. oh well, must have been the imaginary g&t fogging my pre-coffee morning brain. Glad I made it thru the pearl filter tho!
and now, it’s almost time for a real g&t, bartender, make it a Tanqueray Ten!
COMMENT from MD EADES: You very well may have typed it in pre-coffee fog or not. I think that if you type it in, then type your comment and PREVIEW it, it somehow erases the passcode and you have to type it in again before your save the comment. Perhaps the best strategy is to compose, preview, then type in the passcode, then save. What a bother! Would that spammers had something else to do.
Okay, you’ve caught me with a G&T in my mitt.
I’ve just been initiated into the Tank10 club myself during the last week in Berkeley, CA. This special gin is really crisp and refreshing! (Haven’t given it the martini test yet, so a complete analysis is pending.)
I, too, find it remarkable that the Big Two tonic makers remain the last bastion of an artificial sweetener that was all but banned 40 years ago. Actually, I thought it was banned. But while Tab and Fresca and the rest of us moved on, Schweppes and Canada Dry didn’t. (The two are the same company, by the way.)
But I wanted to note that many smaller, local bottlers — almost all of them, actually — make their diet tonics with Aspartame. Check your local brands that have the cheap orange sodas, root beers and colas in the store, like Shasta, Faygo, Canfield’s and many store brands. If they have a tonic, it’s almost always made with aspartame. And maybe one or two make it with Splenda now. Also check out sodaclub.com.
Anything is better than saccharine’s dubious chemical makeup. Not to mention an aftertaste with a half-life of 3 hours.
To the betterment of the summer’s best libation: Cheers!
COMMENT from MD EADES: Hear! Hear! Mike and I can heartily agree that the T10 G&T is summer’s best libation, but according to the blind tasting the author did in the article I cited, T10 is too citrusy and herbal to make a good martini. Guess it depends on how you like your martini, so you be the judge.
On the other note, to our way of thinking, saccharine, dubious chemical that it probably is, is better than aspartame any day. And saccharine hasn’t ever been banned in the US, at least. It does carry a warning about potential risk–although the studies showing risk were mostly rat studies and using hefty doses of the stuff far greater than a person would ever consume. It’s what’s in the little pink packets on the tables of restaurants everywhere. Cyclamates were banned here, but I think not in Canada, at least not at that time. Then aspartame came on the scene and everybody but tonic raced that way. Now Splenda seems to be the fair-haired child. Time will tell.
In the meantime…Cheers back to you!
After sort of equivocating on the subject in Protein Power, we felt the weight of scientific evidence that had accumulated in the interim demanded we caution against using aspartame in the Protein Power LifePlan on the grounds that it is excitotoxic and therefore not especially good for the brain. Well, that and because we’ve seen and treated a fair number of people ourselves who didn’t tolerate it well–memory disturbances, sleep disturbances, abdominal cramping, hives. Personally, I would rather that Schwepps and Canada Dry used Splenda, since to me it tastes better.
Where can I find tonic water with sugar, not high fructose corn syrup?
COMMENT from MD EADES: Sorry, I don’t have a clue and I strongly suspect not in this country. Perhaps in Mexico, the UK, or India.
I’ve also been hunting around for a tonic water with no saccharine or aspartame, because Schweppes has finally put me off G&T (even with my favourite Bombay Saphharie).
The only brand I could find is “Fever Tree”, an English brand. I’ve not secured a supply yet, but I’m fortunate enough to live in the UK where their distributors are…
COMMENT from MD EADES: Good luck. What is it sweetened with if not saccharine or aspartame? Sucralose? Stevia? Xylitol?
Publix Supermarkets diet tonic is made with Splenda and it is wonderful!
COMMENT from MD EADES: Wonderful news! Wish I had a Publix near me!