It’s the 19th of May, do you know what that means? It means summer is right around the corner, pals, and that we are in the thick and warming part of spring, both of which combine to mean that you’d better start stocking up on your cooling drinks, your lighter liquid assistants that make the warmer and sunshine-y-er days hum hummingly. Drinks like Lillet Rouge and Tonic. Lovely in flavor, lighter in alcohol than those winter warmers being currently shed like so many woolly sweaters, this treat utilizes here Lillet Rouge, the orange-berry-and-spice member of the Lillet family, though both Lillet Blanc and Lillet Rose would be absolutely smashing, too. You might want to adjust the amount of tonic syrup, if you went one of the latter two routes. That’s right, we’re going tonic syrup here, specifically &Tonic tonic syrup (made in WA, dontcha know). For one, it’s bursting with flavor. For two, and this is the joy of tonic syrup, you can maintain control the amount of it and soda, changing easily to taste and occasion. You can find the right balance of it and whichever Lillet you’re using, the right balance for your taste, or the day, or the occasion. Neat, right? Right! And now you have one more (or multiple more, really), slings in your summer drink quiver.
1. Fill a brandy snifter or tumbler (I really like my whathaveyou-and-tonic drinks in a snifter, cause it looks cool and maybe helps the scents flow into your nose, and helps the poor dusty snifter glasses come out year round) halfway with ice cubes. Add the syrup and Lillet. Stir briefly.
2. Add the soda, stir to combine, and garnish with the twist.
I mean no disrespect at all to my old friend gin-and-tonic (with whom I’ve shared many a fine morning, afternoon, and evening, and with whom I plan to spend many more), but I hope in today’s modern drinking age (which should be the name of a magazine, just saying), with our influx of better tonics (and many bottles items), that drinkers are expanding their horizons and sipping other-things-and-tonic, too. Especially as we roll into springtime with eyes all bright and sunshine all jaunty in the sky during more and more days, expanding your things-and-tonic list provides a nice range of refreshing flavorful sippers. Take example A: the Lillet Rouge and Tonic I’m drinking as I type. First, let me say that I think Lillet Blanc and Lillet Rose would both be dandy with tonic, too. But today it’s Lillet Rouge. Like all Lillets, it’s a French-wine-based aperitif (here it’s Merlot and Cab Sav), one with deep ripe fruit (dark berries, orange, a little cherry) notes accented by vanilla spice and just a whisper of bitter. For the tonic side of things, I’m a proponent of tonic syrups when available (I like the rich flavors and ability to control the amount), and went with locally-made-in-WA &Tonic tonic syrup, which has a lovely citrus panache (it’s made from hand-zested organic limes, lemons, and oranges) backed by the traditional tonic water tang, provided by Peruvian Cinchona bark. Combined with the Lillet Rouge, and a little soda, we end up with a springtime hit that’s both effervescently-packed with flavors. So, I’m not saying get rid of your G-and-Ts, but augment them with some L-and-Ts – you’ll be happier for it!
1. Fill a brandy snifter or tumbler (I really like my whathaveyou-and-tonic drinks in a snifter, cause it looks cool and maybe helps the scents flow into your nose, but you be you) halfway with ice cubes. Add the syrup and Lillet. Stir briefly.
2. Add the soda, stir to combine, and garnish with the twist.
A Note: The beauty in tonic syrup is you can really control the amount of it and soda to taste and occasion. I might go 3/4 of an ounce instead of a half, and 5 ounces soda? More soda on a hot day is nice! And the flavors still shine. Play around with it all, have fun – that’s what drinking is about!
I gotta be straight with y’all. I tend to not be into flavored boozes – pre-flavored, that is. Too many taste, to me, like chemical-ized messes. Though, to flip flop, I can say that in our modern world of boozes, with more small, focused distillers using high-end and natural ingredients, there are more and more of these types of bottles that do taste better than in the dark days of yore. And, we are luckier for it. Speaking of lucky, I myself received a bottle in the mail (don’t be upset at me, just be happy for me) just the other day, Prairie Organic Cucumber vodka, and you know what? It’s darn delicious. The cucumber flavor is very natural in essence and personality, smooth, and not overwhelming, approachable and in a positive way, delicate. Nice (well, unless you don’t like cucumber). The base is Prairie’s normal vodka, made from organic corn from a co-op of Minnesota farmers. Also, nice! Their products are becoming more and more available, even in spots as remote as the one I’m typing from, Seattle W-A. Triple nice!
Prairie’s Cucumber vodka is just perfectly ideal for summer, too. And you know what, summer is (by the calendar at least – it may feel already here for some!) only days away. With this in my mind, I recently whipped up a tasty tall treat using said vodka, one that’s a mighty match or summer, easy to make (as you want in summer to reduce sweating), and sure to become a favorite under that bright summer sun: Cucumbers and Tonic. Seems simple, and it is. In it, I up the vodka’s cucumber quotient with a little fresh cucumber, and the rest is much as you’d think it. Go forth now, and enjoy that sunshine.
Sometimes, when you’re at home for a while, you want to get nutty and make drinks with, say, peanut butter, or utilize a whole giant bouquet of ingredients, or some such. Sometimes, when you’re at home for a while, you just want to keep things lovely and simple. Today is one of those times. Don’t be confused, you still naturally want tasty tastes, so I’m reaching for WA-state-made Brovo Pretty vermouth. A blanc vermouth, it has a layered fragrance and taste, with some light (meaning, light on the feet, like an angelic dancer) spice, vanilla, floral notes bursting out – hey, it’s sorta like a bouquet! And goes perfectly with tonic, in a simple V&T. I went with Fever Tree tonic, which is a solid choice. Though, staying local with one of our swell WA tonic syrups would be better, but sadly I’m out! I need to get onto my ordering, so I can practice what I preach, which is: support your local makers.
Well, the world is in a mad place right now as you I’m sure you know. But not too long ago (honestly, the world was in a mad place then, too, just not as much, perhaps), I was in the U.K. (or “ol’ blighty” as was once said), having a fine time as one does when there, and also as one does, tasting a wide range of delicious gins, mainly in delicious Gin & Tonics. So many great gins are being made in the world; we should feel lucky for that, if nothing else. While, as mentioned, the range was wide, one of my favs – and now one of many folks’ favs, as it’s made phenomenal inroads worldwide since the first time I had it like, oh, five years ago? My memory might be wrong there, as sometimes happens – was and remains Sipsmith London Dry. As the madness continues, I find sipping a nice Sipsmith and Tonic, while not removing the madness, sure makes a day it taste better. Hopefully wherever you are, the supply lines of Sipsmith (and other great gins) haven’t been slowed down. Oh, the below pic as you’ll see, has a cucumber garnish – and that’s a treat! But a lemon is also, just in case you’re cucumber-less. And a lime is, if you’re both-less.
Here’s a question that I’m curious about – in our modern (and here, I’m thinking super modern and recent, in the last years) drinking world here in the U.S., why hasn’t genever become more of a regular base spirit for drinks? I mean, I understand it wasn’t widely available until said recency, and sometimes it’s hard to change, and for a while, even I only really knew about one brand (Bols Genever, which is a dandy spot to start, and which I used recently in a Genever Julep recipe). But recently, I was able to sample a whole range, and it’s really interesting that there are many variations on the theme. If you don’t know (and again, don’t feel bad if you don’t – recency and all. But now you will), genever has been consumed for health and happiness since the 1500s, and is made from malt wine. Think malty-ness a bit like whiskey, but a juniper and herbal profile like gin, with all the variations therein. It was used more, I think, way back in the day, and so I’ve been going the classic route, and it’s still late summer, so I’ve also been hitting the G&Ts (I don’t need to tell you how G&Ts and summer go together). Then it hit me – why not Genever & Tonic? I used Bobby’s Schiedam Jenever (side note: sometimes you see Jenever as well as Genever), which utilizes that malt wine base and then a juniper, cubeb pepper, lemongrass, cardamom herb package. Yummy! But, admittedly, not super available over here yet – don’t worry! Other genevers, and I think Bols, for example, would be delicious here. But you need to have a great tonic, and I used locally-made &Tonic, a tonic syrup (if you’re not on top of tonic syrups, read this tonic syrup article), handcrafted and ridiculously good. Try this drink, as soon as you can!
If you haven’t had tonic syrup (as opposed to just pre-bottled tonic water), well, I feel pretty optimistic about your future. Because tonic syrups will change your life. Really! The good ones deliver so much more flavor, and give so much more control, that things from the classic G & T to the should-be-a-classic Sherry & T and many, many more combos and trios and whatevers-you-can-think-of-a are raised to new heights. And naturally Washington state makes the finest tonic syrups. But enough of my palavering here – I wrote all about our local tonic syrups (and gave some recipes for using them) in a Seattle magazine tonic syrup article you need to read now. And then, I went onto New Day Northwest to talk tonic syrup (it’s the swell-est show in town). So watch that, too! Tonics on!
You may think this the title refers to some sort-of ear-bursting occurrence, but actually, it’s a taste-exploding occurrence, because it refers to the new tonic syrups available in Washington state – which are awesome and which will change your life. Not just for G&Ts, but for many more drinks, these crafted-with-care ingredients are swell. So well that I wrote a tonic syrup Seattle magazine article, which you should read, so you can be swell, too. So, get your Tonic Boom on.
The Man Behind the Evening's PlansA.J. Rathbun is a freelance food and entertainment writer, poet and author, a frequent guest on the Everyday Food program (Martha Stewart Living/Sirius satellite radio), and is a contributor to culinary & entertainment magazines such as Every Day with Rachael Ray, The Food Network Magazine, Real Simple, Wine Enthusiast, and many others. Of course, there's so much more to it than that...Read More