There is a well-known law of physics that when summer arrives, as it has today, drinks with bubbles taste better. They cut through the sweaty, sticky air and manage to, however briefly, lift the spirits of anyone who might encounter them. This is why, for many people I know, summer is gin-and-tonic season. The simple combination of gin, tonic water and — if you like — a squeeze of lime, is one of the world’s great discoveries. It’s botanical, it’s bitter, and it’s dead-simple to make. (As with many of the world’s best recipes — mac and cheese, rice and beans, steak — the required ingredients are right in the name.) New York’s Adam Platt, a noted gin-and-tonic enthusiast, calls it a drink “in perfect harmony.” But I would argue there’s a way to improve on this combination: a quick, transformative way of approaching the drink that will not (I promise!) gild the lily, but will instead make all of your summer afternoons feel a bit more adventurous. This is my respectful argument that it might be time to try a gin-and-tonic-plus.
Why, you’re asking, would anyone want to improve something that already works so well? One need only to look to Spain to see that even within the limited parameters of “gin mixed with tonic,” there are all sorts of ways that people already mess with it: in a highball or in a wine goblet filled with crushed ice. Obscure, salty gins matched with artisanal tonics. Homemade tonic water that is an unappealing shade of beige. Dumping in an entire garden’s worth of garnish, or a fistful of fruit.
This, however, is not the idea behind the G&T-P lifestyle. To understand what I mean, it helps to know about a drink, served at the Hidden Pearl in Greenpoint, called Cloud Busting. (Points for the Kate Bush reference.) Created by bartenders Jeremy Oretel and Natasha David, it’s exactly what I’ve always wanted from a gin-and-tonic: plus. It’s the same foundation, accented ever-so-slightly to become a more interesting version of itself. (Much like a college sophomore’s music tastes after he discovers the 13th Floor Elevators.) In the case of Cloud Busting, that accent comes from the addition of yuzu: first, in the form of Ki No Bi gin — which is distilled with a variety of Japanese ingredients including gyokuro tea, sanshō peppercorns, and, yes, yellow yuzu — and, next, from Ume No Yado yuzushu. Made by squeezing a not-insignificant amount of fresh yuzu juice into sake or soju, the Japanese liqueur is slightly sweet, and noticeably floral, but stops short of making anyone think they’re drinking cologne.
The Cloud Busting is dreamy. It tastes like drinking a regular gin-and-tonic but somewhere fancy, where the air is perfumed with something other than the aromas of “New York during the summer.” (Contains notes of “concrete swamp.”) I can’t afford whatever lifestyle is in that fantasy, but I can afford to mess with my gin-and-tonics. Want to go full blast with the botanicals? Add some Chartreuse — the savory, herbaceous, and sweet liqueur. Go in other fruity directions with crème de pêche or take a cue from the French, with their calvados-and-tonics, and add a splash of apple brandy. Campari and Cappelletti will always work, especially if you’re looking to go extra-bitter. The gin-and-tonic is a great drink, yes. But it’s even better if you look at it like a starting point, something you can build up and tweak, ever so slightly, to suit your exact mood on a given day. Me? I’ll be making mine with yuzushu.