Poor gin. It's so often associated with our first, ill-conceived alcohol adventures: nips from Mom and Dad's liquor cabinet, cloying drinks at frat parties. Handled properly, however, gin is one of the most complex and delicious spirits. Gin gets its taste and aroma from botanicals steeped into it--predominantly juniper berry, though many distillers add other ingredients to get a spicier or more floral product.
The increasing range of gins calls for a diversity of tonics. At New Heights in DC's Woodley Park, house-made tonics such as the #4, flavored with mango, are paired with 50-odd gins. Co-owner Kavita Singh says the #3, scented with lime and orange flower, brings out the stone-fruit qualities of the West Virginia gin Smooth Ambler and complements "aromatic, fresh" Old Raj. The list of tonics keeps expanding--bar manager Nicole Hassoun recently concocted a ginger-and-cracked-pepper tonic inspired by the notes of grapefruit peel and ginger in the newly available Breuckelen's Glorious Gin from Brooklyn.
Gin-and-tonic lovers who want to elevate the drink at home should look for artisanal tonics like the subtle Fever-Tree, which works well with gentler gins such as Plymouth or Broker's. New York-made Q Tonic tastes great with the muscular Tanqueray. Both tonics, along with an array of gins, are stocked at Ace Beverage (3301 New Mexico Ave., NW; 202-966-4444). One more way to experiment: ice. New Heights freezes rosemary and lime into its cubes, adding yet another layer of flavor to the cocktail.
This article appears in the May 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.