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March 18, 2015

It was once considered the granny’s drink of choice. However in recent years gin has enjoyed a huge resurge in popularity to the point where it is now a staple in every stylish bar in the UK.



When it comes to gin there’s little James Sutherland of Edinburgh’s 56 North doesn’t know. His bar has one of the biggest gin collections in the UK, housing over 200 bottles from around the world. Named the Spirits Bar of the Year by the Scottish Licensed Trade News, it’s fair to say he recognises a good gin when he sees one.

The simple and most popular way to enjoy gin is with a tonic. But if you’re in the habit of grabbing a supermarket own brand tonic and chucking in into a glass with a slice of lime, you may not be appreciating everything a good g&t has to offer.

We asked James to point us in the right direction.

Don’t discount the mixer

“Mixers make up three quarters or two thirds of your drink yet they are arguably the most overlooked element of a of a good gin and tonic,” James said. “You can take the best quality gin and use a poor mixer and end up with a poor gin and tonic. You can take an average gin and a brilliant mixer and end up with a nice gin and tonic.”

“Schweppes is the standard mixer, the one supermarkets try to replicate and the one you’ll see in almost every bar. Fentimans is a bit harder to lay your hands on and a bit more of a polarising product but I love it. it’s got a bit more of a botanical bite to it, it’s a bit more of a chunky product and as such the flavours are really interesting. And last we’ve got the Fever Tree range which includes the standard tonic, the Mediterranean tonic and the elderflower tonic. They are all very nice but the regular one does a really good job of pulling out the botanical notes, particularly with citrusy gins.”

Get the ice right

“Ice is arguably the most important element of a good gin and tonic. It’s the hardest bit to do at home but it’s what makes it great. It’s all about dilution – if you’re making a gin and tonic you want gin and tonic, not water. And as ice melts it will add water to your drink. The key is to add lots of ice so the drink stays cold and the ice doesn’t melt quickly so add ice all the way to the top of the glass. For the glass themselves, traditionally gin was served in a tall glass but what you’re seeing a lot now is the Spanish coppa which I personally love. If you can’t lay your hands on one of them, a wine glass does an equally good job.”

Embrace Scottish gin

“The beauty of what we’ve got with Scottish gin is that there’s not one style of Scottish gin. We don’t produce one flavour, we produce loads. We’ve got everything. Just 200 yards down the road we have Pickerings producing an amazing style of gin. In Glasgow we have Makar gin. We have everything in between. There’s a real quality of produce which relates through to the customers. People believe in Scottish produce. The lovely thing about Scottish gins is that I can say, hand on my heart from a guy who drinks a lot of gin, they are all superb. We are very very lucky. We’ve got a rich background of distilling and brewing malt whisky and beer and that experience relates beautifully to our gins. 70% of all gin made in the UK is made in Scotland so it is a huge industry and we have a hell of a lot to be proud of.”

Don’t play favourites

“At 56 North we have a range of Scottish gins as well as gins from all over the world, Australia, Germany, Belgium and lots more. We don’t have a favourite gin. We have gins we love but I think favourite is a dangerous word because it means you are not trying new things. For me it’s having a product you can come back to six months later knowing it’s good. For us and our guests it’s all about flavour.  It doesn’t matter where it comes from that much. The most important thing is that it’s going to make a nice drink and our customers will enjoy it.

There’s no right way to serve gin and tonic

“I never serve tonic in the gin, I always put it at the side of the glass. There’s no reason other for this than every has their own personal taste. Some people might want the gin neat with no tonic. Some might want a little bit of tonic. Some people prefer strong, some people prefer weak. It’s very much up to the individual and I don’t think there is a right answer. My only input would be that there’s no point just tasting the tonic or just tasting the gin, you want all three elements, gin tonic and garnish, pulling together.”

“Gin responds beautifully well to being adventurous. Try different serves, different garnishes. Try different ways of approaching even the same garnish. When it comes to gin and tonic, the sky’s the limit.”

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