Breakfast Gin

From Longtime Friend & Reader Colly Wobble (his real name) comes a letter:

A friend is partial to gin & tonic drinks (my attempts at indoctrinating him into the benefits of Macallan, Glenmorangie et al. have failed miserably) and I’d like to offer:

  1. A good gin; I know enough “gin” to begin at Bombay Sapphire and work up from there, but I don’t know the increments, nor do I want to go broke appeasing this guy’s palate – he’s a friend, not a boss, neighbor or benefactor.
  2. A proper addition to the drink; “gin & tonic” implies a decent tonic water (Canada Dry is readily available and seems acceptable, but I’m open to suggestions) but seems bland and uninteresting to me (which may be the Macallan talking….). Plus, a bit more effort at “adding a bit of spice” to the drink is something a reasonable host should strive for.

Edumakate me, please.

With pleasure, Colly.

I’m going to say at the outset that I’m not as knowledgeable about gin as I am about Scotch, but I know enough, I think, to turn what is quite an ordinary spirit into something fairly unusual.

And as always, please feel free to add your favorite gin drink in Comments.  If you hate gin, feel free not to express your alternatives.  This discussion is about gin.

First off, let’s look at the simple things about gin.  In the main, the minute you add a strong mixer like tonic or similar, there’s no point in spending a lot of money on some premium brand of the lovely stuff (vodka is the same, by the way).  Gin is and always has been a working man’s drink, so don’t let the trendies start with their silliness:  keep to the program, which is “the simpler, the better”.

That said:  you have to be careful about gin, especially in countries outside the Anglosphere, because in those places there often aren’t controls on its manufacture.  Gin, in fact, can be made simply by taking any tasteless clear spirit — distilled from grain, sugar cane, potatoes, whatever — and adding a tiny amount of diesel fuel (!!) to the vat.  (I was told this by a very knowledgeable man from Gilbeys, and it was confirmed by a totally separate source.)  So don’t get super-cheap (budget) gin because there is always that risk:  stick to the known brands.  (That’s true of almost every kind of booze, by the way:  vodka, for example, can be made simply by taking the cheap distilled liquor as above and filtering it through activated charcoal a few times until a vodka flavor emerges.)

Basically, if you’re trying to save pennies I think you’re safe with the usual suspects (Gordon’s, Gilbey’s, Beefeater and so on) but I have to warn you that as you become accustomed to the taste of gin, as with Scotch, you’ll start moving up the food chain, so to speak, and that’s when you’ll start to prefer brands like Tanqueray and Bombay Sapphire.  (I should also point out that a couple years ago I failed a blind taste test, preferring Gordon’s to Tanq, so there you go.)

I’m not going to go into serious detail about how gin is made, because other people have done it already, and much better than I ever could, so go there for background.

What I am going to go into is my favorites among this wonderful type of booze.  As with all my preferences, they have come after an inordinate amount of testing (oy) and over time I’ve come to settle on the following:

Sipping (i.e. drunk neat, mostly without ice, but preferably chilled in the fridge for a few hours beforehand):  Sipsmiths, Hendricks.  The latter is sometimes called “cucumber gin” for its strong cucumber flavor, and I find it quite refreshing, in very small doses.  I’ve ranted about Sipsmiths before, and it’s seriously wonderful stuff.

Many people find Plymouth Gin a better sipping gin, but I think it’s a little flat-tasting (but still good — just watch out, though;  the “Navy Strength” variety will kick you on your ass).

Mixed:  I’ll drink any of the following brands with Angostura bitters and 7-Up/Sprite (my thirst-quencher of choice) or with tonic, but in this order of preference:  Tanqueray (green bottle), Bombay Sapphire, Gordon’s and Beefeater — mostly, whichever’s on sale at the time.

Before I go onto other mixer choices, let me make a quick detour.

I want to talk about tonic water for a moment, because while the right stuff can turn your G&T into a sublime experience, the wrong stuff will make your head ache and your taste buds disintegrate.

I have found that I prefer Schweppes over just about all other brands, with the exception of Fentiman’s, which will turn your G&T into something of a sublime experience as referenced above.  The only problem with Fentiman’s is that it’s super-expensive and not easily found.  Most other brands e.g. Canada Dry are somewhat watery for my taste and should be avoided.  There are quite a few exotic tonic waters out there — Fever-Tree Indian comes to mind, and it’s lovely but overpriced — so be my guest.

What few people understand is that tonic water, even when stored in the fridge, has a very short shelf life — something like three to four months refrigerated, less on the shelf — so when you buy it, check the sell-by date carefully because nothing will screw up a G&T quicker and put you in a worse mood than stale tonic.  Ugh.  Just the thought of it as I write makes my mouth screw up like I’ve been offered a quickie with Madonna.

Other mixers you can consider with gin — as per Mr. Wobble’s request above — are ginger beer* (which I love) and ginger ale (here, Canada Dry actually is the best;  walk away from all others, even  Schweppes).   Just stay away from all “light” or “sugar-free” mixers, and we can still be friends.

There are any number of gin cocktails (other than martinis, of course — stirred, not shaken because Ian Fleming didn’t know shit about martinis, or guns for that matter).

I’m particularly fond of gin & blood-orange soda, and gin & lemon (with just a dash of water or on the rocks, with just the tiniest dash of sugar because pure lemon makes my mouth screw up, as above).


*Ginger beer, inexplicably, is not a popular drink in these United States but it should be.  It’s a fantastic drink by itself — unlike tonic water, ugh — but there are only about three that I’ve found which make me want to drink lots:  Fentiman’s (UK), Bundaberg (Australia) and Reed’s (Jamaica).

I don’t have any ginger beer on hand at the moment, but just writing about it has caused a powerful thirst for the lovely stuff, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Total Wine.

Might as well get some gin too, while I’m there.  It’s gonna be a long four years…


  1. I agree with every word in this post, and have also failed the taste test of Gordon’s vs. pricier others, multiple times.

    So I drink Gordon’s, neat, or with Schweppes, sometimes with bitters, and lately, diet tonic.

    The only thing I could possibly add is a suggestion that you try the Fee Brothers bitters, most especially the Grapefruit. Not cheap, but worth it.

  2. Gordons is my daily tipple with Tanqueray as my step up. Be careful. Gordons is 80 proof and the Tanqueray is 94. Thats enough of a difference to knock you on your ear and make you dance on your host’s coffee table. I take mine straight over ice. The spousal unit won’t let me keep it in the fridge. I have noticed that the first glass out of a bottle has good vapors of juniper, but as the bottle goes down these overtones evaporate even at the rate that I consume the stuff. At the beginning of the Chink Flu panic I obtained a bottle of supposedly original colonial recipe tonic concentrate. In order to get more quinine in my G&T I overdosed it and it was too sweet. I still have half the bottle.
    I notice no one mentioned Martinis. Good.

  3. I tried gin and ginger ale the other day out of desperation. (Read: out of other mixers and not in the mood to drive.) I was shocked at how good it was. Add another drink to the rotation.

    1. I should add that I too have failed the blind taste test. A clear preference for the more citrusy gins emerged, with the more expensive brands falling to the bottom. Beefeater is my go to right now. I’m looking forward to trying some of your other recommendations here.

  4. Personally I’ve always thought gin was too aromatic, but then I discovered Aviation American gin, owned by Canadian non-pilot Ryan Reynolds. They go light on the aromatics and it’s much easier to drink straight or neat.

  5. I got a taste for Salty Dogs in Montenegro back in the early 90’s. Fell in love. When I and the Misses go out, I order that, and bartenders look at me with questioning eyes and like I got three heads.

    I explained it many times, and got them, but they don’t taste the same as way-back. Pity. And, Yugo-land isn’t the same as it was back then…

      1. Yep, sadly. But it was a lovely vacation. Nice hotel, good food, the people were wonderful.

        Only downside was the beach, or lack of it. Pea gravel is not soft on the feet, terrible on a towel\blanket, and the Adriatic (then) was cold. The upside was the spectacular views and scenery was breathtaking – even for this Mid-Atlantic boy.

        But, you could go dancing at nite, and drink relatively cheaply…

  6. Over here, it’s all about the posh tonics now, started by Fever Tree Different types, for different types of gin.

    As they say “if ¾ of your drink is the mixer, then you should use the best.”

    The proliferation of different gins is like the vodka flavours craze of the 90s. There’s a lot of dross, but some are lovely. But it does also mean there are more ‘plain’ gins which are good when you’re bored of the normal 4-5 brands. Finding out what is a bathtub gin, rather than a proper distilled gin, can be quite difficult though…

  7. A fun get together idea: Get some friends and a bunch of different gins and do the blind (better: double blind) taste test. Record your impressions and compare notes as your objectivity is slowly diluted. We have had fun with this with different beers, as well as a recent Bourbon test. I forget the results, but it provoked many surprised taste comparisons.

  8. My girlfriend has gravitated to using tonic syrup and club soda in her G&T rather than buying premade tonic water.

    Since I eat low carb, I don’t drink tonic water. It has more sugar in it than most sodas.

    re: Martinis. Don’t hate on them. If you don’t like them, don’t drink them. There’s enough room for all of us.

  9. Ditto, Tanq and tonic at 1:4 ratio. Tanqueray’s flavor stands up to mixers IMO. Also add a slice of lime. I prefer Schwepps because it doesn’t seem as sweet as other non-pricey tonics. I always pour some tonic first to see if it has the fizz of freshness. If it’s flat get another bottle or, if it’s the last one, go to another drink.

  10. I have found that Brockman’s Gin, along with good tonic and a fresh lime, makes the best G&T in my opinion. The stuff was made for just that drink I think.

  11. …what Kim said.
    I WILL say that, for me, the botanicals in Tanqueray can be likened to a swift kick in the teeth.
    Whether neat or mixed, I prefer Hendricks. Very pleasant.

    Recipe I was introduced to in Singapore….at a German burger joint no less!

    VERY tasty and refreshing. Make a pitcher full!
    Hendricks Gin, Thai basil, lemon, sugar & sparkling water

  12. 55 years ago when I got married, I picked up a couple of bottles of Harrow and Harrow 101* gin for the reception. IIRC we didn’t get any complaints from the gin drinkers that day. I also remember that a few years later when I went looking for it again I couldn’t find it in any of the alcohol stores.

        1. Use one of the concentrates with soda water. You could get yourself a seltzer bottle and go really authentic.
          When I was a lad, you could still subscribe to a seltzer sercive which delivered a flat of refilled seltzer bottles and took away the empties. This was in NYC where my maternal grandmother lived.

  13. I heartily endorse the Fever Tree upgrade. There are also a lot of good small batch gins out now that don’t break the bank. In fact, I would say avoid any gin that breaks the bank, which I put at about $50. Even then, it needs to be an exceptional gin, like Botanist, to touch $50.

    Right now, my favorite G&T is Greenhouse Gin and the Fever Tree Citrus Tonic. Greenhouse is very citrus forward, and it blends amazingly well with a good lime and the citrus tonic (much in the same way as Kim’s blood orange soda.)

    Because of all the citrus, it comes in a little less bitter in feel that most G&T, but still isn’t getting close to sweet.

    For other “good gin” options, I would reinforce Hendricks (my choice for Negronis), and also Botanist, which is my favorite martini or pink gin option. All three of these are great in G&T, although Botanist is starting to get a little too subtle for the tonic.

    (I’ve given Botanist as a gift to two gin drinkers, and haven’t gone wrong yet.)

  14. While I am not a gin drinker whatsoever (Macallan 18 or Ardbeg Corryvrecken, please and thankee), my wife adores the stuff. Tanqueray is her go-to, but whilst on vacation in Ireland last summer, she discovered a gin that’s won numerous awards globally and has skyrocketed to the top of her list: Dingle Gin. If you ever get the chance, give Dingle a sip if you can.

    And speaking of my wife’s love of gin, she discovered a great mixed cocktail while visiting Helsinki that’s called a Long Drink. It’s a big thing in Finland, and apparently quite tasty. It’s comprised of a good aromatic local gin and grapefruit soda. The official version is available in cans at better liquor stores here as well.

  15. When I was a young man my preferred drink was Tanqueray and sprite with a twist of lime. The first sip was reminiscent of biting into a pine tree but it tasted better with each subsequent sampling. I grew out of it when I was exposed to the world of German beer. That ruined my taste buds for any beer made in the USA. I have been into whisky’s for the past 20 years.

  16. We operate a small organic teaching farm near the outskirts of Eugene Oregon.

    A thirty-minute country drive up the way from us is Corvallis, home of many fine craft brewers and distillers.
    Although I consume less than an ounce of alcohol annually, I have some favorites…

    One is Vivacity ‘Native’ gin.
    Organic and created from local ingredients, the flavor is bright and clear to me.
    This’s a sipper; a mixer would pollute the clarity for me.

    I mentioned I rarely drink.
    I acquired a bottle from the distillery owner at her booth at a Home&Garden show a couple-three years ago.
    I have two-thirds remaining.


    Another Corvallis sipper is an award-winning ginger liqueur from Spiritopia.
    Nicely spicy, a mixer would ruin the experience for me.

    That bottle, with batch number signed by the owner-distiller, also has two-thirds remaining.


    Thank you for the Aviation recommendation (made in Oregon).
    We prefer supporting local businesses.

    A telephone call to Big Y liquor store — at the ‘Y’ — confirmed they carry it!

    1. LM. Around these parts consuming that little alcohol is grounds for cancellation, however, since you didn’t go all Carrie Nation, we will this one slide.

  17. I will admit up front I know nothing of gin, and the only thing I use it for is making French 75s.

    Gin, champagne, simple syrup, and lemon juice.

    Like it’s namesake against infantry in the open, it will get you blasted right quick. Especially since you can’t re-cork the champagne (and my preferred opening technique is with a sabre anyhow), so repeat rounds are coming.

  18. +1 on the Gordon’s and the Sapphire.

    Tank is a fallback.

    Schweppes diet tonic.


    Add slice of fresh lime from the garden.

    BTW, Bundaberg do a range of other soft drinks including a very good bitters lime and Skoda and a pink grapefruit drink. If you come across them well worth a try.

  19. Ok. So in breaking free of my teetotaling upbringing, I’m exploring the world of spirits and the myriad of ways they are served, mixed, whatever. However, I like to start from where others have found success rather than feel around in the dark spending the next 10 years figuring out how to make a potable drink (nevermind decent or good). I found this particular post an excellent intro to gin drinks. However, while this post serves well as a good starting point from which I can go hit the liquor store and make sure I come home with the right ingredients, I end up feeling like I’m standing at my kitchen counter with a glass, ice, and a couple bottles in front of me but not knowing how much of each to pour.

    So building on the foundation that our benevolent host constructed, please help me take the next step. How do I make your favorite gin-based drink? Doesn’t need to be exact measurements, just an idea of how much of each ingredient.

    1. Start by removing variables. This is just my way, but see what works for you.

      I like a tall thin glass. I like to fill it with ice.

      Put 3 or 4 good splashes of bitters in there. Hold either side of the glass and work your hands back and forward. The idea is to coat the inside of the glass with bitters. Discard the ice, or tip it into the next glass if you are making two.

      Add half a dozen fresh cubes and add two capfuls of Gordon’s.

      Fill the glass with tonic. Schweppes. Worry about diet tonic later, it has a slightly different taste.

      Get a fresh lime. Cut it in half, lengthways. Cut the half in half again. Squeeze one quarter into your drink and then drop the slice into your glass.

      The object is to get balance and consistency. When you get it right, there should be no dominant taste, just a nice refreshing drink.

      My wife doesn’t like bitters in hers. I prefer mine stronger so I add two extra capfuls.

      Don’t drink gin if you are prone to depression.


      1. My only addition would be to wipe the jest on the rim of your glass before depositing it in your concoction.

  20. Gin. Blargh.

    When I was 15, my high school roomie and I split a fifth of gin in the woods, an act that destroyed my stomach lining and sent me into acute gastritis for one of the most physically miserable days of my life. Haven’t touched the stuff since. (shrug)

  21. My sister and her husband introduced me to G&Ts with a slice of cucumber. Quite tasty.

    And I second and third the Fever-Tree tonic. (I should probably add that I am odd and actually like the taste of tonic by itself.) Right now I’m working through a bottle of Bombay Sapphire, and next is a bottle of Aviation I picked up on sale last year. I gave a bottle of it (boxed with martini glasses) to my sister and she says it is quite, quite good.

  22. You are singing my song with Gin. It has been my favorite liquor for most of my adult life. I will admit though that I am not a fan of the G&T. I guess it is the quinine that is too tart for me. I prefer Gin & Ginger Ale with (or without) a splash of cranberry. Gin & 7 is also good. Gordon’s is my base, but I definitely prefer Bombay Sapphire or Hendrick’s (when the budget allows). CHEERS!!

  23. Wow! Over 30 replies!

    Not gonna lie, I’m half in the bag right now, I’m not gonna read them, and I don’t care about your opinions in any event. You’re entitled to them of course!!

    Schweppes tonic FTW! Absolutely.

    I never warmed up to Bombay Saphire, but I like Bombay dry (green label) just fine. I like Tanq, Beef and Bombay Dry about equally, and …

    Having tried several craft or “high end” gins, I have simply come to the conclusion that I cannot find anything better than Tanq or Beef or Bombay Dry. At least for my money or my taste.

    As scotch or other whiskies hold my attention better, here endeth my discussion.

    I suspect there are better gins, and a more intelligent discussion. I just don’t care. 🙂

    But, I love you guys! In a manly way, of course. So carry on.

    1. Holy shit! I am drunk, as I admitted earlier.

      I just realized I think I emailed Kim a couple weeks back asking him to do a gin thread to educate me.

      If that was the genesis of this thread, I am a collossal asshole, but, of course, Kim knows that, as we have met before.

      So if this is the case, I humbly beg forgiveness (being shitfaced, as I have mentioned earlier), and I will promptly go out and try SipSmith and whatever else you recommend, Kim!

      So much for making requests whilst sober and replying whilst drunk. I think this may have been instigated at my request, if my hazy memory serves me well.

      Kim, buddy if this is true, forgive me! And I promise to visit you to shoot again!

      If it wasn’t about me. Well. I’m drunk. Going to refill my Famous Grouse now.

      1. Wow, was I lit last night. The whole State of the Union got me in my cups last night, sorry for being grouchy.

  24. I like a good Aviation Cocktail made with Plymouth.


    2 ounces gin
    1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
    1/4 ounce ​crème de violette
    1/2 ounce ​lemon juice (fresh)
    Garnish: flamed lemon peel

    Good summer drink.

  25. No one has yet mentioned the fictional beach bum Travis McGee’s favorite cocktail, made with Plymouth Gin and dry (NOT cream) sherry – – the sherry is used simply to flavor the ice and dumped out, then the rest is just Plymouth Gin.

    McGee, when Plymouth went through a rough patch and cheapened their product, switched to Boodle’s – – is Boodle’s even made any more?

    1. Oh, it is. And a fine drink it is, too.
      I think I have a half-bottle somewhere in the depths of Ye Olde Liquere Cabinette, waiting for the day when some picky visitor liketh not the Tanqueray or Gordon’s.

  26. Kim,
    Now that this thread about Gin has earned a “deceased equine flagellation award”, I humbly request we have a complementary Vodka posting … grain vs. potato vs. “frog” vodka made from grapes or some such other nastiness. I myself buy a potato vodka at my local Trader Joes for about $13 a liter. Pop it in the freezer and serve over a bit of ice with a splash of orange bitters … hmmmmm. I have a Polish rye-based vodka which was ever-so-slightly aged in oak barrels … it was a gift … made an interesting Bloody Mary.

    And spiritually speaking, according to the good folks at Atlas Obscura, in Wisconsin, many bar drinks which call for some form of whiskey are often made with Brandy instead. The reason(s) for this swap are murky, but I might try it with my next Manhattan. Oh, and for any drink that calls for sweet (red) vermouth, I recommend Noilly Prat …

    Best regards …

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