Fifty Shades of the Gin and Tonic

One of the most constant and enduring of the highball cocktails, the gin & tonic has hid for years in plain sight. Until now. Regan Hoffman from PunchDrink tracks its rise and reincarnation.

The gin and tonic gets in your nose first. The snap of carbonation sends lime oil directly into the sinuses, where it lingers with the sweetness of the tonic and the top notes of whatever gin you’ve chosen: juniper, coriander, the obscure orris root.

Then it gets in your head. Genteel British accents and crisp white linen, manicured lawns and the sweat of the tropics—images flash by at the speed of the first sip. It’s refreshing and comfortable; energizing and restrained; very, very proper and just a little bit louche.

All that from two ingredients and a piece of fruit.

Of all the highball cocktails, the gin and tonic has long managed to hide in plain sight. In the U.K., the G&T is as ever-present as London fog; in the U.S., it has drifted along, untouched by national trends. And in Spain, where it’s widely acknowledged to be “having a moment,” it’s become the first step toward a cocktail culture for a historically wine-centric country.