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Tonic is the new Gin

We all know that we are living through another Gin renaissance. In recent years a mirriad of small batch and craft Gin producers have been jostling for position, trying to stand out in an increasingly Gin-soaked market by playing on the subtleties of their botanicals and ingredients. Global Gin consumption is definitely on the rise, but what of that other ingredient in the most popular of Gin imbibes, Tonic Water?

Tonic water originated in early 19th Century India and other tropical outposts, where British officials stationed in these places started mixing Quinine powder, an insanely bitter extract from the bark of the cinchona tree and used as a preventative for Malaria, with soda water and sugar to make it more palatable.

Picture courtest

Cinchona bark – Courtesy of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew.

For many years the standard Schweppes and Canada Dry brands of Tonic were the mainstay of G&Ts the world over, providing a fairly homogeneous, less bitter, sweet syrupy tasting tonic with far reduced amounts of quinine. In the US the FDA limits the amount of quinine used in Tonic waters to 83mg/litre, whilst any effective therapeutic dose is in the range of 500-1000mg/litre, so a partaking in a cheeky G&T in the tropics is not going to stop you getting malaria any more!

SchweppesAd1Canada DryIn recent years we have seen some premium tonics enter the marketplace, the likes of Tomr’s tonic, Fever Tree, and Q Tonic have made an emphasis on using real quinine and natural ingredients, as opposed to flavorings and corn syrup.
And most recently craft tonic syrups have started to appear from Tomr’s, Jack Rudy Cocktail Co and Johns Premium Tonic Syrup. This is coupled with the increase in cocktail bars mixing their own tonics and adding their own craft flavours.

Fever Tree, setup in 2004 by Charles Rolls, the former owner of Plymouth Gin, was driven by “…the fact that with the tonics available on the market at that time, it was difficult to tell the difference between different premium gins.” says Rolls, something that this Gin Club has found consistently with blind taste tests. We even find that with some Gins, even Fevertree itself has a tendency to drown out some subtle flavours.

This is less so with the Tonic Syrups and hand crafted tonics, where moderating the ratio of tonic syrup to soda, to bring out or emphasise the subtle flavours in the gin, can dramatically change the overall flavour of the drink.

So far this Gin Club has only been able to smuggle in Jack Rudy’s Tonic syrup for review, but will be bringing in samples of Tomr’s and Johns Premium for a side by side taste test in laboratory conditions in the near future, but initial tastings of these stateside have proved to be promising and we are excited to bring these into regular club circulation.  If you can’t wait for that, then you should take a look at these excellent tonic reviews from The Gin Is In Blog.

As Tomr’s says “Life’s too short to drink a crappy tonic”

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Gin Joints

Drink here : The Flintridge Proper, La Cañada Flintridge, CA. USA

On a recent fact finding mission to Los Angeles, I stumbled upon an article in LA Weekly proclaiming a bar in La Cañada Flintridge as the greatest gin bar in Los Angeles. Admittedly I had just googled “The best gin bar in LA”, but upon further investigation another article proclaimed that this bar, just north of Pasadena on interstate-210, as being in possession of the largest Gin selection in the known world. This was indeed a bold claim and too good to miss, and the only encouragement I needed to hail a taxi and get myself to La Cañada on a Friday evening to embark on some much needed potation.

Welcome to The Flintridge Proper.

Over 200 Gins, A Proper Gin bar.

Over 200 Gins, A Proper Gin bar.

 

The bar itself is situated in strip mall off the main drag, Foothill Blvd, and from the outside it was not really what I expected. I guess I was thinking large Victorian gin palace, purchased in the 1960’s and transported brick by brick from Southwark High Street to Los Angeles by a dedicated but slightly Ginebriated Californian oil man. Instead its rather prosaic appearance belied a veritable agglomeration of Gin within. This was nothing less than a California-style Gin Palace of the first degree.

I propped myself at the bar, in the traditional manner and gazed across the expanse of Gins proudly displayed behind the bar like trophies to be won in a shooting gallery; and this was some shooting gallery. I scanned the names on the bottles, some familiar, some unfamiliar, and some written on with a sharpie marker pen. They spoke of Gins like, Cap rock, Desert Dry and Deaths Door, produced domestically across the US to the more familiar European Gins, two Monkey 47’s, three Bathtubs, some classic Genevers, vintage Spanish and Italian Gins like a 1970’s Milton & 1960’s Bosford. I even spotted a bottle of Lighthouse from New Zealand. The Proper also produces it’s own Gins, which i will come to later.

Luckily I was joined at the bar by The Gin Club’s west coast ambassador, the aptly named Mr Necessary, a connoisseur of Gin and a full time tonic enthusiast. Where should we start?

St George, Dry Rye Gin from California

Why not start with a local Gin, well, sort of local, the St Georges, Dry Rye Gin, brewed in Alemeda, San Francisco. This is not a purists Gin by any means, but I am all about variety and was intregued to see how the rye flavours worked with the juniper. We threw some fevertree into it with some ice and the result was quite pleasing. It had a subtle sense of whiskey mixed in there and strong nose spiced with peppers and oak. Slightly reminiscent of a bold DRJ’s. Definitely a man’s gin.

Next up was a local bathtub type gin, this had been made from locally foraged botanicals found in the Seco, Arroyo Valley in the nearby Angeles National Forest. This was quite a raw affair, but had a distinct nutty flavor when taken neat, but is probably best consumed in a Tom Collins. A little too raw for a martini or a ricky, but certainly distinct in a G&T.

The drinks continued and as I made my way through a Dessert Dry, a Navy Strength Old Tom – The Professor C.A., a Distillers Cut Monkey 47, some Old Raj 110proof, a Jenson Old Tom, and an Uncle Val’s Botanical in a Martini. The guys behind the bar really knew their Gin, introducing me to knew cuts, and helping me navigate my way through the 200+ Gins on offer.
The clientele of the bar was as eclectic as the Gins themselves; possibly because the NASA JPL facility is a short distance up the road, this appears to be the go-to place for space scientists.
It took me a while to realise this, as i tried fruitlessly to purchase some actual Apollo Moon Buggy wheels that a guy sitting adjacent to me in the bar had in his office. And then in astonishment and wonder at the coincidence when I found that the quiet reserved chap I was sat next to was an actual legend from the Apollo space programme!

If you find yourself in Los Angeles, and you have an interest in Gin and space travel, then you really must pay a visit to the Flintridge Proper.

Gins at The Flintridge Proper

 

*many thanks to Ross Necessary, the Gin Club’s west coast correspondent, for his assistance and support at the Flintridge Proper.

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