Summer Cocktails: Going Beyond Gin and Tonic

 , The New York Times  |  Updated: May 20, 2015 18:03 IST

Summer Cocktails: Going Beyond Gin and Tonic
For many of us, there is only one summer cocktail: the gin and tonic. At once bracing, tart and spicy, it refreshes with a complexity that stays intriguing all the way to the first cold snap of autumn.

But this summer is shaping up as an opportune time for devotees to pause and add a new twist to their warm-weather routines. In recent years, bartenders and drinkers, armed with a new array of craft tonic waters and a drive to experiment, have been slowly discovering that the quinine bite of tonic goes well with a surprising number of other spirits.

"Tonic is an all-in-one cocktail," said Thad Vogler, an owner of the San Francisco bar and restaurants Bar Agricole and Trou Normand. "Cocktails are a balance of two or more of the chief four flavors: sweet, sour, bitter, salt. With tonic you have bitter and sweet ready to go. Toss a nice spirit in, and you're all set."

Here are four combinations that have been winning favor, all of them as easy to make as the classic G&T.

Tequila and Tonic

When a friend recently told me of a relative who always ordered tequila and tonic, I was momentarily silenced. Such a logical combination, yet it had never occurred to me. I went straight home, gave it a try and sure enough, it was a tasty business. The naturally born panoply of flavors inside a good tequila fairly parallels the construct of botanicals found in gin.

As with gin, a strong candidate is needed, one that can go toe to toe with tonic. "Just as you want a really gin-y gin, I want a really tequila-y tequila," said Ivy Mix, an owner of Leyenda, a new bar in New York City. Mix is well versed in tequila; Leyenda specializes in Latin spirits including mezcal, pisco and cachaca.

She thinks tequilas from the highlands region of Jalisco are delicious, but perhaps too delicate a match for tonic. Her first instinct would be to reach for Partida reposado, which she calls a classic lowlands tequila. "It's just so perfect for this drink," she said. "It's not too woody. The rest it had in the barrel adds to the spirit."

For a tonic, she prefers the hard quinine hit of Canada Dry or Schweppes. Mix is equally specific on limes, insisting on a healthy wedge (at least 1/6 of a lime) and squeezing the fruit over the cubes to "season" the ice before adding the spirit and tonic.

She also likes mezcal and tonic, though she recommends a lighter-bodied product (such as Ilegal reposado mezcal) and less of it (1 1/2 ounces to 3 or 4 ounces of tonic).

Rum and Tonic

This pairing is not new. The novelist Kingsley Amis, a prodigious drinker, was well aware of the combination. And it was popular enough for Trader Vic's to include in its 1972 bartenders' guide.

Unlike the gin and tonic, which demands an especially assertive gin, the rum and tonic allows some leeway on the spirit, depending on what sort of rum you like.

The Rumbar at the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne in Miami serves its version with the light, easygoing Bacardi Superior. A darker aged rum makes a richer drink, while a rhum agricole, distilled from sugar cane juice rather than molasses, makes a more complex, vegetal mixture. Banks 5, a rum blend drawn from various locales, produces a lively, fruitier cocktail. And if you want to get all nautical, go for Mount Gay, the Barbados rum that has long had a foothold in sailing circles. With any of these choices, a lime wedge will find a happy home. Limes and rum always get along.

White Port and Tonic

White port and tonic is a fairly common pairing throughout Portugal. But lately it has begun appearing on menus at some American restaurants and bars, including La Taberna, in Napa, California, where it's offered - under the name Porto Tonico - by the glass and the pitcher.

When most people think of port, a heavy, red, fortified wine comes to mind, the sort you might drink on a cold evening after a meal.

White port is another animal. It is made from white grapes and is considerably lighter than its more famous rosy counterpart, and better suited to hot-weather drinking. Light in alcohol and high in ripe fruit flavor, it's a buoyant beach drink.

La Taberna pairs one part white port to two parts tonic. In that ratio, the succulent grape flavor of the wine shines through. A slice of lemon improves the cocktail greatly, adding a bit of tang.

Calvados and Tonic Thad Vogler, the San Francisco bar owner and restaurateur, is an enthusiastic fan of Calvados, the apple brandy from France. He first encountered Calvados and tonic while on one of his trips to Normandy. It has remained a favorite ever since.

For mixing, he recommends a younger Calvados, and he prefers to serve the drink simply: 2 ounces of Calvados and twice as much chilled tonic in a chilled highball glass, with no ice or garnish. It's good and bracing that way, a drink that makes you sit up and take notice of the day. The rich apple flavor combines with the bitter tonic for a drink that is simultaneously ascetic and luscious. But if you plan to spend a little more time with your drink and don't want the heat to get the best of it, a few ice cubes are not amiss.


Tequila and Tonic

Adapted from Ivy Mix, Leyanda, New York

Lime wedge (1/6 of a lime)

2 ounces tequila, preferably Partida reposado

4 ounces tonic water, preferably Canada Dry or Schweppes

Fill a highball glass with ice. Squeeze the lime over the ice and drop into glass. Add tequila and top with tonic. Stir briefly.

Yield: 1 drink

Rum and Tonic

Lime wedge (1/6 of a lime)

2 ounces rum

4 ounces tonic water

Fill a highball glass with ice. Squeeze the lime over the ice and drop in. Add rum and top with tonic. Stir briefly.

Yield: 1 drink

White Port and Tonic

Adapted from La Taberna, Napa, California

1 1/2 ounces white port

3 ounces tonic water

Wedge of lime or lemon

Fill a tumbler with ice. Add white port and top with tonic. Stir briefly. Depending on your taste, squeeze a wedge of either lime or lemon over the drink and drop into the glass.

Yield: 1 drink

Calvados and Tonic

Adapted from Thad Vogler, Trou Normand, San Francisco

2 ounces Calvados

4 ounces chilled tonic water

Listen to the latest songs, only on

Pour Calvados into a chilled highball glass. Top with tonic water. Do not garnish.

Yield: 1 drink


© 2015 New York Times News Service

For the latest food news, health tips and recipes, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and YouTube.
Tags:  Cocktails