Why does a G&T make the perfect aperitif just about anywhere? Philip Brocklehurst bravely embarks on a boozy journey of discovery.
I have recently been testing my long held theory that gin and tonic is the greatest of international travellers and will always hit the spot wheresoever in the world you find yourself. Despite its decidedly northern European origins gin magically feels perfectly at home just about anywhere, in a way other drinks never quite manage. So from the ultra slick Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, to the slightly shabbier chic of the Foreign Correspondents Club in Phnom Penh, and even the ‘crab shack’ bars of Kep on the south Cambodian coast, I have been downing gins and tonics with abandon, purely in the interests of journalistic rigour you understand. And just like their [many, many] predecessors before them, whether consumed on another continent or back in my own kitchen come six o’clock, each and every one of them has always delivered. Even at 38,000 feet, where the plane cabin’s lower pressure and humidity are said to reduce our taste buds’ capacity to function by 30% to 40%, a G&T always brings its predictably familiar pleasures.
Some drinks are far more rooted in their local terroir. Which of us hasn’t brought home a souvenir bottle of a local brew whilst from a holiday, only to be disappointed – or quite horrified – by drinking it when we get home? A pastis can be perfect with a southern French sunset in the eucalyptus heavy breeze. We can love an ouzo when the dusk darkens between the olive grove and the quay on a pretty Greek island. An ice cold limoncello after dinner in Amalfi, surrounded by lemon groves – why not? But back in Twickenham or Tonbridge Wells the effect is never quite the same.
So why does gin just work, everywhere? I can’t help but wonder if it’s not somehow connected to our colonial past. When the sun never set on the British Empire it was always six o’clock somewhere, so the clatter of the cocktail trolley and the chink of ice could always be heard in some far flung corner of the globe. Did we perhaps, consciously or otherwise, adapt the subtle blends juniper, angelica and other aromatics which are at the heart of gin? Did we tinker and tweak until we produced recipes which pleased from Nova Scotia to New Zealand and all points in-between? Certainly the perfect partnership of gin with tonic water, containing the anti-malarial quinine, helped boost its popularity with the travelling classes of the time. It’s an excuse I never fail to make use of when I’m in the tropics, please feel free to borrow it anytime.
Wherever you drink your aperitif the most heated debate in the world of the G&T must be the garnish – to lemon, or to lime? No-one can agree, nor is there any discernable logic linked to region or country. It seems I was born before limes were invented, certainly before they were commonplace, so I’m sticking with lemon, and there’ll be no budging me on this one. Bartenders of the world take note however, one should always ask.
As you’ve probably gathered by now, I’m quite a gin fan. And I don’t believe it should be confined to the cocktail cabinet when it can be such a friend in the kitchen. I’m indebted to my old friend Karl Cook for introducing me to the pleasures of gin and tomato soup and Nigella Lawson has a splendid recipe for a grown up G&T jelly. Maybe it’s because I’m an Englishman that I love G&T, and I will continue my search for locations where it fails to fascinate [space maybe?] until I’m too frail to travel, when I will happily sip it in my rocking chair at home. But for now, it’s almost six o’clock…
Also worth your attention:
Nigella Lawson’s G&T Jelly
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