They’re called the dog days, this stretch of July and August, because now is when Sirius, the Dog Star, returns to the night sky. The dies caniculares are said to bring about bad luck, lethargy and thunderstorms. Not to mention, you know: cataclysmic national dysfunction.
Personally, I’ve always thought of this time as the dog days because this is when my dog Chloe becomes an inert mass, a catatonic thing most likely to be found passed out beneath the piano.
I try to make these days bearable for Chloe by putting ice cubes in her water bowl.
As for me, the best antidote is the cocktail that epitomizes summer itself: the gin and tonic.
When I spent my summers in Philadelphia, working as a bank teller, it wasn’t a soft pretzel or scrapple or a Wawa hoagie that I dreamed about as I made my way out of the dense, humid city at the end of the day. It was a G&T made with Tanqueray, fizzed up with Schweppes, garnished with a hearty green wedge of lime and served in a tall glass filled with so much ice that it crackled as you poured in the gin.
I can see it now, the beads of perspiration shimmering on the glass in the 95 degree heat, the bubbles of the tonic roiling around the cubes that had already begun to melt in the swampy twilight. From a neighbor’s yard, the sounds of boys playing baseball: the crack of a bat, the leathery sock of a ball landing in a glove. From the stereo, Miles Davis playing “Summertime.”
Has there ever been a cocktail that so evokes the heat of summer as the gin and tonic?
The history of the G&T is the opposite of refreshing. It was born out of colonialism, from British outposts in various tropical locales, back when malaria was widespread, and the antidote was quinine, dissolved in fizzy water. (The choice to add gin came later.)
But ugly history aside, there’s no denying that it is ridiculously easy to make. Two ounces gin, four to six ounces tonic (to taste), a lime, and you’re done. It is easier to make one than it is to scramble an egg.
Or, if you wanted, you could make one that’s very complex indeed. When my wife and I went out for our 30th anniversary dinner several years ago, the waiter put a whole menu in our hands that was just gin and tonics. There were a dozen different gins from around the world; fancy tonics that contained things like elderflower; and garnishes of lemons, or grapefruit, or flower petals.
The gin craze of the last decade has brought us spirits like Magellan, a gin the color of a robin’s egg, the result of crushed iris blossoms. Or Hendrick’s, from Scotland, with its taste of cool cucumbers. Or Death’s Door, from Wisconsin, containing faint notes of fennel. And then there’s my personal favorite, Dingle, made near my cousin’s house near Ballyferriter, Ireland, with its juniper, rowan, fuchsia, bog myrtle, heather, chervil, hawthorn, angelica, and coriander.
Meaghan Dorman is bar director at Raines Law Room and Dear Irving in New York, as well as a “cocktails educator.” She serves a G&T that evokes what she calls the “Spanish style,” containing AMASS gin from Los Angeles; touches of cinnamon and vanilla from Licor 43; Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao; and Fever-Tree tonic. They’re served in wine goblets, with a lot of ice and garnished with a lime wedge and a dehydrated orange wheel.
It sounds spectacular — but Ms. Dorman also sings the praises of the drink made simply. The important thing, she told me, is to make sure the tonic is fresh and cold. And always to add lime; if you don’t have some citrus to counterbalance the bitterness of the quinine and the piney earthiness of the juniper berries, she says, don’t bother.
A gin and tonic is not a meditative drink, like a Negroni or a single malt Scotch. It’s a restorative drink, that refreshes after a long day. It’s a drink that, for many people, evokes days of youth — it is, Ms. Dorman observes, one of the first cocktails you make when you decide you’re going to make “a grown-up drink.”
If many people’s first experience with liquor is sweet or salty drinks designed to cover up the taste of alcohol — margaritas and daiquiris, piña coladas and screwdrivers — a gin and tonic is one of the first drinks you might mix not to avoid the bitterness, but to meet it head on.
It’s one more reason the gin and tonic is the perfect drink for this long, miserable summer, some of the doggiest days we’ve ever known. I asked Ms. Dorman if she felt the gin and tonic, as a cocktail, was appropriately bitter enough for this dark, miserable era we’re all still struggling to survive.
“Yeah,” she said. “I feel like, ‘Actually, I’ll take two.’”
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