Schnöselgin Schnöseltonic

By the end of the last millenium, gin as a formerly important liquor was practically dead – at least from a German perspective. Having formerly been the main ingredient of the leading short drinks (Martini, Tom Collins), highballs (Gin Tonic) and even shots (Pink Gin), nobody was drinking it anymore.

This had to do with either new drinks which weren’t based on gin or, more interestingly still, gin getting replaced with vodka in classics such as the Martini.

An important influence was a big (and very successful) marketing campaign by the Smirnoff Company in the 60s. Their strategy wasn’t to get non-drinkers to drink vodka – the strategy was to get gin drinkers to switch to vodka and right afterwards, establish a generation who has never drunk a Tom Collins or a Gin Tonic let alone a true Martini, substituting that with vodka – in the case of the standard highball, replacing the Bitter Lemon-based one with Red Bull, long before they won their first Formula One Championship title.

So by the end of the last millienium, gin had died. Stores (say, your larger supermarket) typically carried Gordon’s Dry Gin, and if it was a really good market, maybe even Bombay Sapphire. Other brands, typically not widely available, were assumed to only be ingested by very old British ladies (royal family line or no).

That has changed, and as it seems, a certain part of it had happened not in England, but in Germany. People suddenly got interested in gin. They started to reestablish the gin tonic, and after doing so, started asking the bartender of their choice if they hadn’t something better than Gordon’s. And when the choice of that, or Bombay, or the various Taqueray variants, or even Hendrick’s (which before that resurgence, had been practically unknown) wasn’t enough, people started to found new distilleries.

Some of them in places that made sense (like Bulldog Gin in London), some however in completely odd places like Munich or the Black Forest.

And there’s a great variety here, too. Let’s start with Monkey 47, which, founded in 2008, started selling their characteristic half-litre bottles only in 2010, and immediately started to earn prizes all over the world. This is a hugely complex gin, from the traditional brands best comparable maybe to Hendrick’s but more complex, and also more well-rounded. On the other hand, it’s so complex that for me it doesn’t work in gin-based punches, a Tom Collins or even a Gin Tonic – but it is the best choice to go in combination with Noilly Prat for a classic Dry Martini. And they also have a sloe gin, which for me is a great choice for a Gibson.

Munich-based The Duke is a much more round and gentle affair, something like an in-between of a Taqueray #10 and a Bombay Sapphire. As such, it works great for almost all of those classic gin drinks like a Tom Collins, a Brighton, or basically whatever you like, and also makes an interesting Pink Gin with a nice Bitter.

Finally, Bulldog Gin to me is what Gordon’s should be: a gin with a very distinctive citrus-oriented taste, but also well rounded, fresh and not the least bit sharp or stingy – this is for the people who put a lemon in a Gin Tonic instead of a cucumber.

A household's collection of gins and tonic waters - including a retired bottle of that ugly Gordon's
A household’s collection of gins and tonic waters – including a retired bottle of that ugly Gordon’s

But this didn’t stop here. Now that there was such a big choice of gins, and people actually had started to garnish a Gin Tonic with a cucumber again (Hendrick’s as an example highly recommends that), they did what people always do when they are working a simple system and have optimized one of two important components: they start looking at the other one.

Café Neubau in Würzburg has a dedicated page on the menu for Gin & Tonic.
Café Neubau in Würzburg has a dedicated page on the menu for Gin & Tonic.

And before long, not only your specialty shop, but actually larger markets and even normal bars and clubs started to carry tonic water not by Schweppes, but by several other (often newer) manufacturers or brands. One that today you can already find in any larger supermarket or drinks store is Berlin-based Thomas Henry, a tonic water with lots of carbonic acid and a distinctively bitter taste. Another one, Le Roc, a (also relatively new) brand from the Warsteiner brewery, which usually is only distributed via gastronomy channels, is the exact opposite: very mild and round, with only a hint of bitterness and low quantities of bubbles, but a very pronounced (yet soft) lemon taste. There’s Fever Tree, which you usually find in mid-sized department stores, with a rather very complex taste – which makes it obvious that for a Gin Tonic, it works best with a rather well-rounded and gentle gin, such as a Taqueray #10 or the aforementioned The Duke. And there’s actually many more, and let’s not forget that the Schweppes original wasn’t that bad to begin with…

Of course, restaurants, cafés, bars and clubs jumped onto that bandwagon: having a minimum standard of Bombay Sapphire and Tom Henry has become more and more the norm. And even in smaller towns in Würzburg in otherwise unspectacular bistros, you can find a dedicated page on the menu for Gin & Tonic, offering six makes of gin, two of tonic, and of course choice between lemon and cucumber, while a club around the corner has the choice of Bombay, Taqueray #10, Monkey and Hendrick’s aligned behind the bar as well.

All in all, great times for the gin lover, and even more so for the Gin and Tonic lover. And to close that article, let me help you with your choice and offer not one, but two in detail recipes for your enjoyment for that most cultivated highball, the Gin & Tonic.

The Citrus Version

Put a few ice cubes in a highball glass. Add 5cl of Bulldog Gin and top off with Le Roc tonic water. Add a slice of lemon. Stir slightly, and serve with a straw.

Although the Gin & Tonic is not famous in that context, this makes for a perfect highball for a warm spring afternoon or summer evening. The pronounced lemon taste of the Bulldog sits excellently with the very gentle and soft taste of the Le Roc, and the low amount of carbonic acid in that soda actually makes it more, not less refreshing.

The Old Folks’ Version

Put a few ice cubes in a highball glass. Add 5cl of Hendrick’s Gin and top off with Thomas Henry tonic water. Add a slice of cucumber. Stir slightly, and serve with a straw.

This is more of the traditional variant. The Hendrick’s, which with its complex notes of herbs and spices, would overpower the taste of the Schweppes tonic and clash with the distinctive taste of the Le Roc, has found its perfect partner in Thomas Henry. And the Hendrick company’s recommendation to serve the drink with a cucumber doesn’t seem more logical ever than in this specific combo.

Old folks' version on the left, citrus version on the right.
Old folks’ version on the left, citrus version on the right.

All in all, enjoy the return of the Schnöselgin and Schnöseltonic. Drink responsibly, but be sure to enjoy yourself while doing it!

sidenote: a "Schnösel" is best translated with "whippersnapper". Yet, those new high-end brands can of course be enjoyed as well by people who are actually nice.

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