The perfecT gin and Tonic
Simon Hoggart i t was 1980. We were in a field just outside what is now Harare and was then Salisbury, waiting for Joshua Nkomo, one of the two main black politicians in what was then Rhodesia and would shortly become Zimbabwe. It was hot, with that scorching, suffocating heat which I associate with Africa. I had arrived from cold, rainy London the previous day. As we waited for Nkomo – who was on African time,
which meant that he was several hours late – the sun became higher and hotter. There was no shade. African people no more enjoy sitting in direct broiling sun than we do, so every one of the thousands there was suffering intense discomfort. My own skin turned from pasty white to yellow, and then to a deep brown in the course of the day. I had never had a faster tan. My skin looked like pork crackling.
To wile away the time I began to fantasise about what I would like to drink. It would be a gin and tonic. I described it to my press colleagues. I pictured it in a tall glass, filled with ice. My choice of tonic then, as now, would be Schweppes, though definitely not the slimline which to my palate has a chemical, effluent taint. I would pour half the tonic onto the ice, add a lavish helping of gin, then the rest of the tonic, which has a faint blueish tinge, against which the oily spirit swirls appealingly. Some people add lemon, which is fine, though I slightly prefer lime or even orange. I described the beads of condensation on the glass and the tinkling sound of the ice as you picked up the glass. I think my colleagues were on the verge of killing me.
Finally it was over, and I returned to the house where I was staying, for that perfect G&T, the first of a hot day, whose effect can be bolstered by a second but never quite repeated. And the skin peeled straight off my face, virtually in one piece, so that by the time I went to bed I was paler than I had been when I left London.
True G&T fans can chatter for almost as long as connoisseurs of whisky. Tonic water contains quinine, which was meant to keep malaria at bay. But quinine does not have a pleasant taste, which is why it is heavily diluted in the version we use now.
My father-in-law liked Plymouth naval strength, which is around 55% alcohol, so strong that it could be drunk with salt water. That’s not necessary now, but having served in the Navy he preferred it anyway. I used to suggest putting in more of the weaker gin, but it wasn’t the same. You can still buy naval strength at a very few stores. My old boss, Ian Aitken of the Guardian, also in the Navy, drank pink gin – neat with bitters. Some older British people take it without ice, their tastes no doubt formed when ice was either not available in pubs, or else was dished out by the single lump, and asking for more was like demanding seconds of caviar. The notion of warm G&T is, to most of us, as odious as a fine malt whisky with blackcurrant.
I like it on long plane journeys. The combination of the alcohol hit and the thin air makes the prospect of eight hours in a mobile cigar tube a lot more agreeable. Drink lots of water, and you won’t have a hangover as you cross Dubai. I remember when you asked a BA cabin attendant for a gin and tonic, and he or she would give you two miniatures and two cans of tonic – ‘It’ll save me coming back,’ they would say. Get as much ice as you can. The last ginsoaked cubes will mute the taste of the lasagne of recycled in-flight magazines.
Favourite brands? Your taste. The term ‘gin’ means nothing more than juniper. The soaks in Hogarth’s Gin Lane had drunk vile potions made with anything cheap – you might as well have had a gin and slurry. Now the manufacturers pick their flavourings with care and flair. My personal favourite is Hendrick’s, pricy, but tasting of rose water and cucumber. I’m very partial to Matthew Gloag’s gin, if you can find it. But it’s all a matter of personal leanings; if you like Gordon’s, or Bombay Sapphire, or Tanqueray (the most popular imported gin in the US) that’s fine too.
The poet W.H. Auden came to stay at our house when I was a student. I was deputed to fix the drinks. He bustled into the kitchen, afraid I would not know how to make the dry martini he favoured. It consisted of a tray of ice cubes, a bottle cap of dry vermouth, one sliced lemon, and an entire bottle of gin. It lasted him all night – or at least to dinner-time. I’m afraid I can’t remember the brand, but
I suspect it was Gordon’s.
6 the spectator spectator.co.uk THE BEST SPIRIT IN THE WORLD
F. Paul Pacult is a recognised independent authority on spirits. After 15 years his subscription only newsletter, Spirit Journal, published a list of the Top 110 spirits Paul had reviewed. Highland Park 18 year old stands proudly at the top of the list as “Best Spirit in the World”.
This accolade is no accident; it is based on an unbroken tradition of whisky-making at Highland Park stretching back to 1798.
Turning our malt by hand promotes succulence and balance in our whisky.
Drying the malt over aromatic Orkney peat imparts distinctive aromas giving our whisky a uniquely sweet smokiness.
Orkney’s cool climate encourages even maturation adding balance to our whisky.
Maturation in expensive
Sherry oak casks contributes richness and complexity.
Finally, Highland Park is harmonised in oak casks to ensure consistency and balance in every bottle.
We’ll leave the last words to Paul; “It fits my profile of what makes a perfect whisky, which is to say it ’s totally in harmony, there are no rough edges and everything is melded together brilliantly.”
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