Vodka is boring and, let’s face it, dark spirits like rum, whiskey, and bourbon just aren’t suited to Houston’s hot summers. Small wonder then that gin—long sidelined as a senior citizen’s tipple—is making a comeback on cocktail menus across the city, much to the delight of bartenders like Kimberly Paul of Osteria Mazzantini, who’s thrilled the spirit is being rediscovered. “I’ve always liked gin and been a gin person,” she says.
In fact, Paul is on a quest to make the best gin and tonic possible at Mazzantini, where her signature cocktails have been drawing crowds to the new eatery as much as chef Paul Lewis’s updated Italian food. “There are people who want a 1950s-style gin and tonic with the corn syrup and the whole bit,” she says, “but the younger generation is getting into homemade stuff.” These customers lap up G&Ts made with Paul’s own tonic (see recipe below), which is definitely not what grandpa drank. Complex with only a touch of bitterness, it has a perhaps unfamiliar orange hue, thanks to the addition of allspice berries.
Which brand of gin goes best with this elixir? In addition to your standard Tanqueray, Paul suggests Citadel (“the citrus notes go well in brighter cocktails”), Bombay Sapphire (“very juniper-based, with pine, oil, and resin notes”), or a local Texas gin called Waterloo, a small-batch spirit popular among craft-cocktail fans.
Possibilities, of course, go far beyond the G&T. “Each gin speaks to you and tells you what it wants to be mixed with,” insists Paul. And Houston bartenders are heeding the spirit’s call, with creative gin cocktails popping up on drink menus all over town.
Even if you’ve never had a G&T that you liked, Paul’s could change your mind. It’s an utterly refreshing summertime treat, and at Osteria Mazzantini’s happy hour (5 to 7 daily), you can try it for only $5.
Kimberly Paul’s Tonic
- 4 cups water
- 1½ cup chopped lemongrass
- ½ cup powdered cinchona bark (available on Amazon.com)
- Zest and juice of an orange, lemon, and lime
- 1 tsp whole allspice berries
- 1/8 cup citric acid
- ¼ tsp salt
Combine ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Once mixture starts to boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and strain. Stir until combined. Once cool, use a funnel to transfer to a glass bottle with a stopper or cap. (Be sure to sterilize the bottle with very hot water before putting your precious new tonic in there.)
To make a G&T, lightly stir the tonic and gin in your preferred ratio (some like half and half, others a smoother two parts gin to three parts tonic), then pour over a highball glass filled with ice. Garnish with a lime wedge.