A gin and tonic is the workhorse of a good night out. It is a reliable order that rarely disappoints, and its simple formula — one part gin to one part tonic, a squeeze of lime, then stir — is quick to make, so your order gets to you faster, even on a crowded Friday night. The low ABV classification of this fizzy, bracing libation means you can have more and get merrier too (but we’re obliged to caution that this must be done within your limits).
There is truly little to fault. This is why a gin and tonic remains the default order for many once they have settled on a bar stool.
Still, a gin and tonic crutch can get a little repetitive in the long run. It may still be the ride-or-die option to quench your thirst, but there is a wide, multi-dimensional world of cocktails out there to embrace as an alternative to your usual order.
We’re not asking you to dive into the deep end and sling back extra-dry gin martinis from this point on, though you can if you want to, since that is a delicious league unto its own. This is simply a call for you to look beyond, to set your favourite classic aside and try some other cocktails that are a notch up from the cup full of gin and quinine you love.
Don’t panic if you’re resistant to change, though, as most of these gin and tonic alternatives still retain a taste profile that is similar to the original.
Not to be confused with the Ramos or Silver gin fizz, this old classic is egg- and cream-free but retains the effervescence that its name suggests. Gin, lemon and simple syrup are shaken, poured into a glass, and topped up with soda water to create a cool, long drink that has all the makings of a gin and tonic, with a strong citrus influence.
Sake, Japan’s delicate rice wine, is beautiful to drink on its own, and that is the way most people would take a glass of the stuff. But the floral, dry characteristics of a junmai daiginjo sake offers a softer alternative to gin that holds its own against a dash of bitter tonic.
Most think of vodka as the spirit to reach for when making a gimlet, but prominent juniper spice hints from a quality gin elevate the combination of lime and liquor to another level.
A gin gimlet is traditionally made with two parts gin, one part lime cordial, topped with soda and sweetened when needed, so for those partial to more citrus in your gin and tonic, this is your ticket to change. Navy-strength gin is preferred as the high ABV ensures the taste of the liquor is not swamped by the lime cordial, and Plymouth’s version is traditionally used.
A relatively unknown import from Italy is the limoncello tonica, a lively pick-me-up during aperitivo hour.
Limoncello, made from the infusion of Italian lemon skins in a neutral spirit, is typically drunk after meals, but the addition of bittersweet tonic and a few crushed mint leaves causes the syrupy lemon liqueur to evolve into a quenching long drink that will be your best friend on a warm day. Limoncello tonica is also a worthy substitute to those who fancy their gins served with a lemon wedge, or a citrus tonic.
Gin attains its depth from botanicals, and one crucial flavour offered by these unique mixes of herbs, berries, roots, fruit peels and the like is spice. Tinges of freshly cracked black pepper, cardamom and clove discernible in spicier gins might be the magic that makes some return to this spirit, and if you count yourself as someone in this group, then tequila is what you should turn to when looking for an alternative.
Tequila is typified by vegetal and black pepper notes, and with the addition of tonic water, it becomes a picante drink that will put hair on your chest.
White vermouth and tonic
The vermouth we know and love from Italy is a sweet, red fortified wine that owns a spot in classics like the Manhattan and Boulevardier. On the other spectrum is white vermouth, its dry, aromatic sibling from France that is a key ingredient in martinis.
White vermouth, like the popular Noilly Prat, has a medicinal and slightly floral taste because it is flavoured with botanicals like nutmeg and chamomile. On top of that, its dryness and acidity make it a suitable, albeit more herbal counterpart to gin. With tonic and a squeeze of citrus introduced, you get a bittersweet sundowner that will become your new go-to. It’s easier to make than a negroni or martini too.
Gin and bitter lemon
If you are just looking for a quick swap that you can even make at home, then cast your sights on gin and bitter lemon. Made with quinine and lemon juice and pith, this mixer is a sweeter alternative to acerbic tonics and is a natural friend to zestier gins (think Tanqueray, Lidl, and other London Drys).