London is known for many things — its rich history, the royal family and the city’s chic style. It’s the British capital for getting a good drink. Although Brits are known for their beer culture, London is also home to gin. And while some will tell you that sipping it straight is a satisfying option, many will opt for the gin & tonic instead.
Gin was initially inspired by the Dutch and their Jenever, a juniper-flavored liquor that’s known as Dutch gin. But what we know as gin today did come from the UK. And before people enjoyed it during happy hour, both gin and tonic water were previously used for medicinal purposes. The Royal Navy blended gin with lime cordial to prevent scurvy while the spirit mixed with angostura bitters would help you through sea sickness. Then the quinine in tonic water was found to have anti-malarial properties. So a G&T a day could keep the doctor away?
Well, not quite. Because people saw the “health benefits” of gin in the 18th century, it became a very common drink. Londoners drank it all day, every day and would treat its drinkability like chugging a pints of beer. But since England didn’t have many laws regulating gin consumption, adults and children, especially in poor communities, were hooked on gin. And soon London started to experience higher crime rates and violence. Then, what was known as the trendiest drink of its time, was deemed “mother’s ruin“.
Despite its dark past, regulations and different drinking practices eventually eased gin’s negative reputation and it gained popularity again. And now, longtime brands like Beefeater and Tanqueray, and younger names like Bombay Sapphire and the Scottish contender Hendrick’s, have introduced new generations to the juniper berry flavor. Gin’s resurgence has also challenged bartenders to redefine the perfect G&T.
The cocktail is simple — gin, tonic and a garnish of choice. And despite its no frills approach, here are five London bars that show the cocktail’s simplicity and also know how to innovate your G&T experience.
5.) City of London Distillery
With 315 distilleries in Britain, let’s start with a place that serves a solid gin & tonic and makes the spirit in-house. Since London was home to many distilleries during the genesis of the gin craze, you would be surprised to know that many gin makers moved out of the city limits. That was until The City of London Distillery opened its doors in 2012. Located in the Square Mile, visitors can walk into the middle of the action. The cocktail bar has a great view of the copper stills that make the gin. Managingdirector and master distiller Jonathan Clark fondly calls them “The Three Girls” — Clarissa, Jennifer and Elizabeth, after the Queen of England.
Aside from seeing how its made, you can also try the City of London Gin & Tonic. It’s made with Lamb & Watt tonic and garnished with a grapefruit slice, for £8.50. After the cocktail, you can participate one of the distillery’s experiences including tours and gin-distilling classes.
City of London Distillery, 22-24 Bride Ln, London EC4Y 8DT
Nearest Tube Stop: Blackfriars