Fact: A gin and tonic is the quintessential summer cocktail. My grandmother Margaret knew this and would serve the iconic drink from a gallon handle of Gordon’s gin topping it off with a lime and Schweppes tonic water. She made the switch over from Rye Manhattans after Memorial Day and it was gin and tonics at every family affair until Labor Day. How did this strange pairing of juniper and quinine-based grain spirit, sweetened carbonated water, come to existence?
The origins of the cocktail can be traced back to British-controlled India circa 1825. According to the abridged history of the gin and tonic from the Q-Tonic site, British officers found a means to use their anti-malaria medicine (quinine extract) for cocktail hour by mixing it with soda water, sugar, and gin. In a clear case of necessity-breeding-innovation, the gin and tonic was born and soon became the signature drink of the Dowager Countess, Connecticut Yankees, Country Clubbers, and my Grandmother Margaret.
How does one improve a tried-and-true classic? Well, the beauty of tweaking a classic recipe like the gin and tonic is the original’s simplicity. One can add ingredients that introduce new flavors yet retain the core taste profile. So let me introduce you to the Saigon Correspondent.
The year is 1966. The place is the Paris of the Orient -- Saigon, South Vietnam. Deep in the confines of The Caravelle Hotel, a beaux-arts hotel noted for its Italian marble, modern air conditioning, and bulletproof glass, lays the Saigon Bar. The place is packed like a can of sardines and no amount of fans can dispense the layer of cigarette smoke that envelops the room. Network newsmen, red-eyed journalists, and adventurous freelancers fight for bar and table space with CIA spooks, Aussie mercenaries, ARVN Generals, and American officers in from MACV (US Central Command) down the street.
The Caravelle Hotel doubled as the Saigon bureau for big American news outlets like ABC, NBC, and CBS; the Saigon Bar is where most of the “journalism” is happening. Young, up-and-coming Saigon war correspondents the likes of Morley Safer and Dan Rather are in the house throwing back gin and tonics with their British counterparts from the BBC. They ogle some Navy nurses in from Da Nang. They gawk at the “local talent” who are surrounded by a platoon of US marines in Hawaiian shirts. They laugh, carouse, and carry on. They drink lots of gin with a measure of tonic “to stave off malaria.” You would never know there is a war raging outside.
The Saigon Correspondent cocktail is a classic with a spicy edge like its namesake city. Domaine de Canton, a ginger-infused cognac, parlays the flavor of old French Indochina. Sriracha chili sauce lets you know you are still alive while the gin, cucumber, and tonic keep you well lubricated and “healthy.” Why the gin and tonic Saigon style? Simple -- any war correspondent worth their ink was a gin man.
Plymouth original strength gin (41.2 %ABV) is a gin from Plymouth, England that has been in production at Back Friars Distillery since 1793. Handcrafted in original copper pot stills at since 1885, Plymouth remains England’s oldest working gin distillery. Plymouth gin is made from a unique blend of botanicals and sources water from the local Dartmoor reservoir. Simple yet significant, Plymouth keeps its botanical portfolio seven ingredients; juniper berries, lemon peel, orange peel, angelica, coriander, orris, and cardamom. It has a unique flavor, which is less crisp than its London cousins. Prominent on the palette is a smoother taste of juniper, citrus, and subtle earthiness.
Domaine de Canton (28% ABV) is a ginger liqueur produced in Jarnac, France for the Maurice Cooper & Company (the folks that brought us St. Germain Elderflower liqueur). The inspiration for this spirit is the French tradition of elixirs fortified with eaux-de-vie and cognac. Orange blossom honey, gentian, and Chinese baby ginger are the key ingredients added to the mixture. However, the ginger flavor is not overwhelming at all and lets the other flavors take their turn.
Q-Tonic water is artesian tonic water. It contains all natural ingredients that include spring water, organic agave, quinine from Peru, and lemon juice extract. The aroma is fresh and citrus forward. The taste is clean and refreshing with a subtle sweetness -- a bit of fruit and botanicals and a soft bitter quinine finish.
Sriracha is a Thai hot sauce made from sun-ripened hot chilies mixed with sugar, vinegar, and garlic. It is quite spicy so a healthy dash will suffice in bringing the spice forward in the cocktail.
The limejuice keeps to the classic recipe and is the tart citrus is a natural partner with both the gin and the tonic water. The muddled cucumber softens the spicy bite of the Sriracha.
Adapted by Fredo Ceraso
2 oz Plymouth Gin
1 oz Domaine de Canton Ginger liqueur
1/2 oz of limejuice
4 slices of English cucumber
Dash of Sriracha pepper sauce
3 oz Q-Tonic water
Tools: Mixing tins, Hawthorne strainer, fine strainer, muddler, bar spoon, jigger, Collins or large rocks glass
Method: Gently muddle three cucumber slices with limejuice in mixing tin. Add dash of Sriracha, Gin, and Canton and dry shake. Fine strain over into a chilled Collins or Rocks glass over ice. Top with tonic water. Garnish with lime wedge, lemon wedge, and cucumber wheel.
Bonus: if you actually make it to the actual Hotel Caravelle Bar – order this cocktail and send me a picture and we will post it. If they ask the name, probably better to call it the Ho Chi Minh City Correspondent if you know what I mean.
*Got a cocktail question? Reach Fredo on twitter @loungerati, email me at fredo(at)loungerati(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below!
**Fredo Ceraso is the editor-at-large of the lounge lifestyle blog Loungerati.com. Fredo is a member of the USBG New York chapter and rolls drinks at many Lounge, Swing, Jazz Age, & Burlesque events in New York City.