Last Updated on September 6, 2021
How to improve perfection – picking a garnish for the perfect gin.
There is, of course, no right or wrong garnish for the perfect gin and tonic. It’s all about personal taste – as, for that matter is the choice of gin and of tonic water. If like me, you have a new bottle or two of artisan gin to try, the first thing to do is to open the bottles, pour a small amount into a glass and then swirl and smell, before you sip a little neat. A good artisan gin should be easy to drink by itself. Once you’ve done that, check out the botanicals that have been used in your gin. That should give you a clue about potential garnishes for the perfect gin. Then, for me at least, it’s a question of test and try. The perfect garnish may also depend a bit on the time of year and what else you might be consuming. At Christmas, for example, the perfect garnish might just need to stand up to mince pies!
I’ve been trying NB London Dry and NB Navy Strength. Now, all gins are distilled and then diluted with water to an appropriate ABV. Just as London Dry gin has to be over 40% ABV, Navy Strength gin is diluted to no more than a specific ABV – 57%. There are various stories about the rationale behind this powerful drink, ranging from the Royal Navy legislating to prevent them being ripped off by gin and rum being brought on-board that had been over diluted to a need to have a high percentage of alcohol so that if any of it spilt on the gunpowder that was stored alongside it wouldn’t spoil the firepower!
The resulting Navy Strength gin means that you get more flavour and more kick in a single measure. It should stand up to the tonic better too.
Launched in 2013 in North Berwick, Scotland, NB Gin has an award-winning range of spirits all of which started from a kitchen experiment. Husband and wife Steve and Viv Muir, previously lawyers, started out to develop the perfect gin, getting a distilling license in 2011. Their 42% ABV London Dry gin is made in-house using grain spirit with 8 botanicals: Juniper, coriander seeds, angelica root, grains of paradise, cassia bark, lemon peel, cardamom, orris root. I’ve learnt that ‘grains of paradise’ is a spice from Africa, prized for their similarity in taste to black pepper but with floral attributes and aromas. The complex flavour is that of pepper, coriander, ginger & cardamom with a hint of citrus. I’m intrigued and will be looking out for some to try at home.
The London Dry gin itself won the Worlds Best London Dry Gin award in 2015 and the Navy Strength is also a gold award winner.
Focussing on the London Dry, I lined up a range of classic garnish finishes.
- A range of citrus slices and peels – lemon, orange and lime
- Cucumber slices
- A selection of herbs – rosemary, lemon verbena and mint.
I’m currently drinking Double Dutch skinny tonic water, in some vain attempt to lose my lockdown pounds! It contains less sugar than a standard tonic and also has a little pink grapefruit and juniper berry. And, it is very pleasant to drink by itself. Though much better with a measure or two of gin. Again, the choice of tonic is entirely personal. I’d suggest that if you are trying to find the perfect garnish, it’s a good idea to avoid a strongly flavoured tonic, but other than that, you should use what you know you like.
I enjoyed four different combinations of garnish – mint with lime, orange with lemon verbena, rosemary, and cucumber.
My favourite garnish turned out to be a mix of orange and lemon verbena. The rosemary was too strong for me and added nothing to the gin. Mint with lime was delicious but made a drink where the flavours of the garnish meant the delicate notes of the gin vanished. The cucumber added nothing at all for me. But, a little lemon verbena and a slice of fresh orange was the perfect complement for the smooth, fragrant gin.
NB Gin can be bought from their own online shop, with free delivery throughout the UK. We’ve also reviewed their unique School Night limited edition low-alcohol based spirit at 21% abv which is packaged in a recycled paper bottle(!). I’m particularly intrigued to find that you can buy a bundle of School Night and Navy Strength gin – presumably for when you find you really need more!