A Long History of Refreshment

05 Sep 2022

Modern approaches to the oh-so-cool classic gin and tonic

By Ann Marie Thornton  »  Photos by G. Frank Hart

A gin and tonic is the perfect highball to sip and simply let late summer’s humidity melt away into the convivial atmosphere of late afternoon.

A drink with a long history of refreshment, a gin and tonic is traditionally made from the classic London Dry Gin, tonic water (soda water with quinine), ice and maybe a squeeze or garnish of lime. London Dry Gin is renowned for its juniper forward nose and flavor. (Think Beefeater, Gordon’s, Tanqueray, even Bombay Sapphire.) “London Dry” is really a recognition of that juniper character and a designation about how the gin is made, primarily that the gin is top quality and flavored during the second distillation with no flavors added afterwards; the moniker does not have anything to do with where the gin was produced. London Dry became all the rage in the 19th century following the invention of the continuous column still. But now, gin like many spirits before it, is enjoying a renaissance that includes new world twists.

Local gins are springing up like roots and herbs in the springtime. Many American gins are now featuring flavor profiles that mute the resinous, piney notes of juniper gins while embracing the other clean, crisp notes that gin can offer. These modern approaches occasionally add delicate aromas and flavors after distillation. As a result, there are a plethora of herbal, spicy and floral gins with a variety of flavors and intensities, many of which blend brilliantly into cocktails for a new twist on an
old blend.

North Carolina has at least 80 distilleries, many of which offer tours and tastings. Since September 2019, the five-bottles-a-year limit was lifted, and NC distilleries can sell unlimited bottles of liquor direct to customers and may also serve mixed drinks. Here are a few we sampled:

Sutler's Gin, produced in Winston-Salem, defines itself as an American gin and is appropriately less juniper forward on the nose, with notes of lavender and coriander up front, anchored by a lovely base of juniper that puts the G in the GnT. Aromas of citrus, specifically orange peel and lemon zest, offer a lift to the cocktail, with a clean, robust finish that cools the palate and prompts another sip. Sutler’s also makes for a smart martini.

A bit more overtly aromatic, Mother Earth Gin from Kinston calls itself an American Botanical Gin. It also places herbs and spice a bit forward of the juniper, but this time the blend features cardamon up front with its classic floral spice nose and a bit of coriander. These aromas lift out of the glass with the bubbles of the tonic and mingle with herbs like fennel and sage. A hint of licorice might be angelica root or maybe anise. Either way, it blends delightfully and is quite refreshing.

End of Days Distillery in Wilmington crafts gin from a corn base distilled six times and then infused with juniper and other botanicals. The nose is heady with volatile spiritus notes elevating spices such as juniper and cardamon, plus a wiff of rose and a hint of lime. On the palate, delightful orange peel and resinous piney notes are present, with undertones of finely ground black pepper. Really quite a pleasant gin that offers a fine kick to a GnT.

Conniption American Dry and Conniption Navy Strength, produced by Durham Distillery, are some of the most highly regarded gins in the nation. It’s easy to see why. Conniption is balanced and complex. It has some darker, more subtle aromas, including juniper, cucumber, coriander, and cardamom, as well as pink grapefruit pith and orange zest. When blended with tonic, the cucumber is present with a light honeydew melon note bringing both richness and levity. Delightful.

Cardinal American Dry Gin, produced by Southern Artisan Spirits in Kings Mountain, is one of the oldest legally produced gins in North Carolina, and according to the ABC salesperson I spoke to, one of the more popular. The first impression is a floral nose of cardamom, followed with a light tarragon or an almost sassafras note. Juniper is present but spices, such as cool spearmint, even frankincense, angelica root, caraway, and some limey citrus notes swirl in the glass. It melds nicely with tonic and creates a very refreshing GnT.

Reflecting on the distinctive palette of cool, icy flavors each of these locally crafted gins offers gave me a greater appreciation for the artistry of gin and confirmation of the simple pleasure of a good gin and tonic and its inherent ability to refresh. It’s a just match made in summer. Cheers!

Ann Marie and her husband David are the owners and cidermakers at James Creek Cider House in Cameron, NC. Ann Marie holds certifications from the Court of Master Sommeliers, the American Cider Association, and the (UK) National Association of Cider Makers. jamescreekciderhouse.com

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