Last updated: 09/29/21. Published 10/19/18.
The Gin and Tonic is a quintessential summer cocktail. At its simplest, this classic drink requires just two components. But choose high quality ingredients and finish with some thoughtful garnishing and you can make this simple gin cocktail truly extraordinary. Often regarded as just a warm weather drink, with a few tweaks, this refreshing G&T transitions easily to fall and winter happy hours.
Start with quality ingredients
There are plenty of opinions about what makes the gin and tonic perfect, but I think everyone will agree that you need to begin with a quality gin and a quality tonic water (or tonic syrup).
Like any cocktail, it will only be as good as the sum of its parts, and poor quality ingredients can ruin the entire experience. This doesn’t mean that you need to spend a lot of money, but don’t use bottom shelf gin or store brand tonic water. Tip: if your gin or your tonic water are packaged in plastic, chances are they’re not the best choices.
The best gins for G&Ts
With the incredible number of gins on the market today, the possibilities are virtually endless. And unlike some gin cocktails, just about any gin can work in a Gin and Tonic. If you enjoy the flavor of the gin, it can work.
When selecting a gin, pick one that has a flavor profile you enjoy, and one that is unadulterated. This means skip sweetened gin products, like most pink gins. Keep things simple and go with a clean-tasting, bright, crisp gin.
For a classic take on the Gin and Tonic, choose a London dry gin. I recommend Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire, Beefeater, or Sipsmith.
If you’re a fan of modern, new wave gins, go ahead and experiment with something like Malfy Con Limone, Barr Hill, FEW Breakfast Gin, Hendrick’s, Gin Mare, Citadelle, Uncle Val’s Botanical, or Nolet’s!
Some gin fan favorites include Plymouth, Monkey 47, The Botanist, and Empress 1908.
- Top pick for classic flavor and budget price point: Bombay Sapphire.
Tonic water vs. tonic syrup
Now that you’ve got your quality gin, it’s time to pick a quality tonic water or syrup.
Although the soda aisle in the local grocery store has plenty of tonic water made by big soda companies, these tend to be overly sweet, have an artificial taste, or a combination of the two.
In fact, I hated Gin and Tonics as a twenty-something until I was finally introduced to the high end tonic waters from Fever-Tree and Q Mixers. In addition to these well known craft brands, other high quality tonic waters are made by Fentiman’s, Regatta, and others.
Tonic syrup is a concentrate that you can mix with carbonated water to make your own tonic water. Tonic syrups can be much more economical because a small bottle of relatively inexpensive syrup can make many glasses of tonic. Also, using a syrup allows you to decide how strong or weak (and as a result, how bitter) your tonic tastes.
There are a number of tonic syrups available in stores or on Amazon, and you can even make your own pretty easily with cinchona bark! Try the tonic syrups from Liber & Co, Jack Rudy Cocktail Co, or the craft syrups from Free Pour Jenny’s.
Ratio of gin to tonic
My preferred ratio is 1:3, or 2 ounces of gin to 5-6 ounces of tonic water. Brands like Fever-Tree typically come in 6 oz bottles and I find this to be the perfect amount. Some prefer a bit less tonic water with a ratio of 1:2. This makes for a stronger cocktail and it’s a bit less balanced in my opinion.
Choose ripe limes (or lemons)
A squeeze of fresh citrus adds freshness and balances the bittersweet flavor of the tonic. Depending on your gin and tonic water of choice, you can choose to use lemon or lime. Lime is classic, and lemon is really nice paired with Fever-Tree Elderflower Tonic. Try a squeeze of grapefruit juice with Empress 1908 Gin or the herbal Gin Mare.
To choose the best citrus for your cocktail, you want ripe, juicy fruits. A good lime or lemon will feel heavy in your hand, have fairly smooth skin, and give a little when you squeeze it. If it’s hard as rock or has very lumpy or patchy skin, it’s not going to give you the best tasting (or very much) juice.
I choose an average-sized lime and squeeze half of its juice into my gin and tonics (roughly a half ounce), but you can use less if you prefer. Some like to just top their G&Ts with the juice from a lime wedge. Tip: I don’t know if there’s any truth to this, but rolling the citrus on the counter before cutting into it is supposed to yield more juice.
Use plenty of quality ice
Whenever you’re making a highball, you want to use a LOT of ice. Yes, fill the glass with ice. Contrary to popular belief, more ice will actually mean that your drink is less watered down, rather than more. It will also be colder quicker and stay colder longer.
If possible, use large pieces of ice in your drinks. Visit my craft ice guide for more about how to make the best ice for cocktails.
Gin and Tonic glassware options
Glassware for a G&T is all about personal preference. A classic presentation is in a tall Collins glass, or a stout double rocks glass. More modern options are a large balloon glass or perhaps a stemless wine glass.
There’s no right or wrong here, but different glass shapes will affect the drinking experience. A rounded, balloon glass will funnel the aromatics of the gin to your nose, which can make for a more flavorful drink. Large balloon glasses are also excellent for garnishing with a variety of botanicals to further emphasize the flavors and aromas of the gin.
A tall and narrow highball glass will preserve more of the carbonation, keeping your drink more effervescent for longer. Try a couple of different glasses with your favorite gin and see which works best for you.
The final component to your perfect Gin and Tonic is the garnish. A simple lime wedge or lemon wheel will do, but consider adding herbs, fruit, or spices to accent your gin of choice. Garnishes can also help add seasonal flavors to the drink, making it an easy and fun cocktail for holiday parties.
In addition to garnishing with fruits or herbs, you can also infuse your gin with these botanicals for an even more flavorful G&T! Try my Blueberry-infused Gin and Tonic.
- Try adding a sprig of fresh mint and a slice of mandarin orange to citrusy gins to accentuate the bright, fresh flavors.
- A sprig of rosemary and a grapefruit twist in a winter G&T with a London dry gin.
- Basil and strawberries with a modern gin like Uncle Val’s Botanical.
- Cucumber and mint or edible rose petals in a Hendrick’s Gin and Tonic.
- Pink peppercorns, frozen cranberries, and blood orange for a holiday Gin and Tonic.
How to build the cocktail
- Select your glassware, considering size and shape
- Fill the glass with plenty of quality ice
- Pour 1.5 to 2 ounces of a high quality gin over the ice.
- Add a squeeze of fresh lime or lemon juice, and stir to chill.
- Top with 4-6 ounces of ice-cold, premium tonic water.
- Garnish to accent the botanicals in your gin (and the season!)
You may also enjoy these other classic gin cocktails:
How to Make the Perfect Gin and Tonic
- 2 oz gin
- ½ oz fresh lime or lemon juice
- 6 oz premium tonic water (such as Fever-Tree or Q Mixers)
- Fill a highball or balloon glass with plenty of ice.
- Pour the gin and citrus juice over the ice, then stir to chill.
- Top with chilled tonic water and garnish with botanicals to accent the flavors of your gin of choice.