A gin & tonic is a popular cocktail using gin, tonic water, and often a twist of lime. Gin is made from juniper berries which lead the way at the forefront of the flavor profile. There are various types of gin that feature different botanicals and spices but all gins have a detectable juniper flavor.
Tonic water is seltzer with sweetness and a chemical compound called quinine added. The unique flavor you taste in tonic is the added quinine.
The juniper berries in gin impart a peppery, fruity flavor with a hint of woodsy pine while the quinine in the tonic brings a bitterness similar to hops or citrus peel. Gin does not taste like vodka or any other clear liquor but has a taste that is unique and identifiable. Tonic does not taste like regular seltzer or club soda with its added sweetness and bitter quinine. The combination of gin with tonic creates a refreshing flavor that is slightly bitter, faintly sweet, floral, and zesty.
Variations in Gin
Flavors are imparted into gin by either steeping botanicals in the alcohol in the same way you would steep a tea bag, or by vapor distillation. Adding flavor to the gin changes the profile slightly but juniper always shines through.
Some gin flavor variations include crisp citrus, warm spiciness from cardamom or coriander, and sweet licorice from anise.
Gin is always aged in barrels and the type of wood the barrel is made of will alter the flavor as well.
Variations in Tonic
Tonic water will vary slightly in flavor depending on the level of sweetener added, what type of sweetener, and if there are other infusions added, like lemon or lime. Some tonics source quinine from cinchona tree bark and others use synthetic quinine.
Some budget brands of tonic will use corn syrup as a sweetener making the product sweeter than other brands that may use cane sugar or added botanicals for sweetness.
Tonic with bitter lemon, lemongrass, lime, or other citrus will be aromatic and slightly bitter which will add a citrusy zing to your gin & tonic.
Final Thoughts on Gin and Tonic
A gin & tonic has a flavor unique unto itself. The juniper flavor of the gin pairs excellently with rosemary, as a garnish or in a meal, to be accompanied by your cocktail. Tonic always goes well with any sort of citrus twist, like an orange peel.
An alternative to traditional gin is sloe gin. Sloe gin is made with sloe berries in place of juniper berries. Sloe berries look similar in color and size to blueberries but their flavor more closely resembles blackcurrant or dark plum. They aren’t to be eaten as is but make excellent gin or flavoring for other recipes.