This time of year, gin sidesteps vodka as the go-to spirit in tonic-based cocktails—and little wonder. Bright, botanical, and easy-drinking, the Gin and Tonic is a refreshing antidote to summertime heat. But beyond the G&T’s seasonal appeal lies a storied history based as much in medicine as in happy hour.
In the nineteenth century, British troops in colonial India—a mosquito-laden tropical climate—dissolved quinine, a known anti-malarial compound, in carbonated water and then combined it with gin to mask quinine’s bitter flavor. The resulting buzz was a purely accidental—albeit not unwelcome—side effect. “It wasn’t popular [as a cocktail] back then,” says Charlie Mauney, a co-founder of Southern Artisan Spirits in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. “But it’s become more and more popular over the years as the quality of the liquor has improved.”
To celebrate the ultimate summertime cure, we called upon a few of the South’s best bartenders to share their favorite Gin and Tonic–inspired cocktails. Up first: Todd Thrasher. The James Beard–nominated mixologist behind PX and Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Virginia, has been slinging spirits since 1992, when he took up a bartending job while attending Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Today, Thrasher embraces a farm-to-table approach to cocktails, complete with house-made tonics and syrups.
An Englishman Went to Kentucky is a G&T riff that traces its roots to Derby Day. “A lady came in and asked me to make her something with mint that was not bourbon or rum based,” Thrasher says. “This is what I came up with.”
If you’re really looking to impress at your next summer party, try one of Thrasher’s homemade cocktail mixes, available through Society Fair.