Sunny Singapore might be described by some as a tropical paradise, but the land-of-always-summer has one glaring feature in common with Dante’s Inferno. It’s pretty much always bloody hot.
It’s not necessarily scorching all the time; the weather can only get so cruel. In April, however, mercy isn’t something the climate is particularly interested in. The gifts of the sun are buckets of sweat and an abundance of that strange species: human lobsters.
There is a drink for every season, however, and a season for every drink. Short drinks- drinks with high spirit content and little mixer- offer no succour from the scorching heat. Long drinks, however, are just about perfect. Refreshing, feather-light and for most part, simple to make.
A word of advice though: pay close attention to what’s going into them.
It takes two
A long drink typically has three ingredients: spirit, mixer, and a modifier or garnish. They’re not equal partners either. By the very nature of long, low alcohol concoctions, the mixers make up most of the drink.
Why people pay so little attention to the largest component of what they’re drinking, we’ll never understand. While we give a pass to soda water in general (though you might be able to make a case for performing the carbonation on your own), we insist on the best for the other mixers. The reason is quite simple; everything except soda contributes a flavour of its own.
Put another way, if you’re going to put in ten to fifteen bucks’ worth of spirit, then why waste it by using a mixer that delivers twenty cents’ worth of quality? Could you imagine pairing a tuxedo with sneakers? It’s sheer lunacy when quality mixers come at very reasonable prices!
How does one judge quality then? Isn’t the canned stuff you get from the supermarket good enough?
We live in an era where artificial flavouring is abundant. So abundant that we might not even know what natural flavours taste like! That’s a pity, because natural produce has a way of tasting delicious. Simply compare fresh squeezed orange juice with your typical saccharine, sickly sweet concentrate. Natural flavours have dimensions, nuances, complexity. They’re not trying to make imitate flavours, they are the objects of mimicry.
The real deal is made from quinine, an extract from the bark of the Cinchona tree, and was used as anti-malaria medicine in times past. Typically, tonic also contains citrus peel and some amount of sugar to make the bitterness of the bark more palatable.
The medicinal properties of tonic water are little used today, and the mainstream producers simply dropped the quinine and citrus entirely for artificial flavouring. They then saturated their tonics with sugar to make them more appealing to the average man on the street, and voila! A soft drink was created- a soft drink that bears little resemblance to the original drink, is overly sweet, and fills the palate with the taste of regret.
The same happened to ginger beer and ginger ale.
Using it- Gin and Tonic
We’ve been using Fever Tree Indian Tonic for a while now, and it scores well on many fronts. It’s made from Congolese Cinchona bark to give it the characteristic bitter flavour, natural cane sugar to eliminate the cloying, metallic aftertaste of artificial sweeteners, bitter orange peel from Tanzania to give it a citrus lift, and soft spring water from Staffordshire to give a pleasant mouthfeel and flavour devoid of chalky minerals.
Now, you might be wondering what actual tonic water should taste like- it is much more bitter than your typical faux tonic soda. This bitterness, acting as a contrasting element, works to bring out the flavours of whatever it is paired with in the glass. In the classic pairing of Gin and Tonic, a traditional tonic will allow the botanicals of the gin to express themselves on your tongue. The citrus notes in the tonic also complement the juniper, and the lemon and lime found in gins. Instead of covering the spirit with a saccharine blanket, good quality tonic enhances it.
We made the switch to Fever Tree some years ago, and we’ve been deliriously happy with the results so far, especially when used with a good London Dry gin. The flavours of both gin and tonic are stronger and fresher, returning the classic libation back from glorified soft drink to its rightful place as one of the great tipples of the world. We don’t see ourselves going back to canned tonic anytime soon.
Making a Gin and Tonic is quite a study in itself. We don’t know if we’ve got the “perfect” version of the drink down pat, or if there’s even a “perfect” drink at all, but our recipe makes for a damned good drink under the scorching April sun. Consider the elaborate preparation of the drink to be an investment. The extra steps will add aromas and flavour to your final drink, and don’t take that long in practice.
- 80ml London Dry Gin of your choice (we like Tanqueray Ten)
- 200ml Fever Tree Indian Tonic
- 2 or 3 Citrus Wedges (usually lemon or lime, grapefruit with Tanqueray)
- 3 to 4 Citrus Peels
- Fill a copa (or any globed glass) to the brim with cold, clear ice. Do not skimp on the ice here- a G&T has to be freezing cold.
- Let it sit for a while, till you see the glass frost up.
- If the gin you chose has a citrus element to it, twist the peel of a citrus of the same type over the ice to add aroma.
- Add citrus wedges into your drink
- Add your chosen gin
- Twist the citrus peels over the glass, using a fresh peel this time
- Add the tonic water- slowly and steadily so as not to agitate the bubbles and preserve carbonation
- Stir the mixture with a spoon twice to mix the components. Additional agitation allows the bubbles to escape, so do so sparingly and gently.
- Twist the peel a final time over the drink using a fresh peel
- Add a garnish of your choice
- Serve and enjoy
- When choosing a garnish, try to use one that's present within the gin. For instance, if there's lavender in the gin, go ahead and sprinkle a bit of it on top. Since many gins have lemon or lime rind in them, adding slices of lemon or lime is usually a safe bet.
Ginger beer is another of those classic mixers that have been hideously misappropriated by the mass-market companies. In fact, what many brands claims to be ginger “beer” actually isn’t! Ginger beer is actually a beer brewed from ginger.
If that seems obvious, then perhaps it would shock you to realise that most of the ginger beers sold on the market are ginger ales, which are sodas flavoured with ginger.
Though similar, there are subtle differences between the two ginger mixers. Ginger beer is usually served at less than 0.5% ABV, which allows it to be sold as a soft drink. So, you’re not usually apt to find any alcohol in your ginger beer at all. Nevertheless, in a nod to its brewed origins, there is very little sweetness in ginger beer- a result of the sugars in the ginger being transformed into alcohol. It also packs a much stronger flavour of ginger root than ginger ale- a bracing punch of spice compared to its cousin’s softer and sweeter touches.
Approach gingerly if you’re not a fan of powerful flavours, and take heed if you want to substitute ale with beer. Drinks which were created with ginger beer in mind do not taste very good if you simply swap in its cousin. Much as you would expect, the drink will taste saccharine, limp, and somehow flaccid.
More importantly, the flavouring used by many commercial soft drink makers are still artificial. To disguise the “off” flavours, a copious amount of sugar will be used. Again, saccharine, limp and flaccid.
We struggled to find good ginger beers and ales for a long time. Thankfully, our friends at Fever Tree started them making them, too. They use Green Ginger from the Ivory Coast, which has a fresh lemongrass aroma, and Nigerian Ginger, which is rich and intensely spicy on the nose.
Using it- Moscow Mule
If you want a showcase of the bracing, dry flavours of a good ginger beer, why not try the classic Moscow Mule? Legend goes that it is the result of three failed ventures: the initial run of Smirnoff Vodka, copper mugs, and – crucially, Cock ‘n’ Bull Ginger Beer. In some serendipitous moment preordained by the booze deities, the three hapless businessmen combined forces and sold the resulting patchwork of vodka and ginger beer in their copper cups.
It’s still served that way today.
- 50ml Vodka
- 100ml Fever Tree Ginger Beer
- 2 Lime wedges
- Fill the copper mug with ice and allow to cool. It's cold enough when you start to notice ice forming on the outside of the mug. If you don't have the mug, a regular tall highball glass works.
- Add the ginger beer and vodka to the mug
- Squeeze the juice from the lime wedges into the mug and drop the spent wedges in
- Stir the mixture gently twice, then serve.
Using it- Presbyterian
If ginger beer is dry and powerful, ginger ale is sweet and comparatively mild. There is a place for the humble ginger ale as well. Sometimes, you want the spirit to be in the forefront, or you want a mellow drink to while away the hours with. In this case, the classic Scotch whisky- ginger ale combination beckons. Called the Presbyterian for reasons lost to time, it combines two ingredients with great natural affinity- many scotches (Mortlach, Benromach, and even Macallan) have ginger notes.
The recommended serve uses Singleton of Glen Ord 10 year, and it’s a fine choice. Honey, nuts, light citrus, smoke and spice from the whisky dance well with the heat from the ginger.
- 50ml Scottish Whisky (Singleton of Glen Ord 10 works well)
- 100ml Fever Tree Ginger Ale
- A lime wheel for garnish
- Fill a tall Collins glass with ice.
- Pour in the whisky
- Top it up to the brim with ginger ale
- Stir gently twice
- Garnish with a lime wedge and serve.
Summing it all Up
If you’re looking for drinks to beat the heat, then long, cool serves will prove to be trusty companions. Don’t skimp on the ingredients; chopping off a limb in a three-legged race is going to show. Investing a couple of bucks in making sure your mixer is top notch will pay huge dividends when it comes to your drinking pleasure, so why scrimp there?