During her 8½-year tenure behind the bar at Drink, Josey Packard crafted many fine high-end cocktails. But the bartender — who recently departed the Fort Point establishment to join fellow Barbara Lynch alums at Bar Mezzana — believes there is no better summer refreshment than a classic gin and tonic. “You know, it sounds really pedestrian, but it can be transcendental. It’s tall and it’s cooling. It can be so great,” she says.
Packard is a fan of making her own tonic, but she’s no snob. Her favorite store-bought version (and this is based on blind tastings of both straight tonic and tonic mixed with gin) is Schweppes. “I find that really kind of shocking myself,” says the bartender, pointing to the trend toward artisanal mixers like Fever Tree.
Schweppes, she says, invented the style of tonic we use today. “Drinking gin and tonic came about because the English were colonizing India and malaria was rampant, and quinine, which is the active ingredient in tonic water, both prevents and cures malaria.”
Because quinine is so unpalatably bitter, people would mix it with sugar, water, and sometimes gin, to their own preferences. “And then the Industrial Revolution happened and people figured out how to start making these things into products that people buy,” says Packard. The formula hasn’t changed much since then.
There’s no need to get fancy with the gin, either. “I’m going to sound like I’m lying to you, but buy a bottle of Gordon’s. Do it. When you go to the liquor store, look at the very bottom shelf, because that’s where it’s going to be” — a fact she says is based more on strategic marketing (or lack thereof) than quality.
Despite dubbing it a “simple gin,” Packard speaks of it poetically. “You know, everybody is talking about gender these days, and I hate to use the word, but I would call it a masculine gin. And by saying that, I mean it’s got a very assertive flavor, a black pepper spice — definitely juniper forward, the way gin should be. But on the other hand, it has a feminine element to it in that it’s very soft. It’s not harsh; it’s not astringent.” The bartender wouldn’t mix it into a martini or sip it with bitters, but she finds it perfect with tonic and anything with citrus.
Now we’ve got the ingredients. Here are Packard’s proportions for the perfect gin and tonic at home: “In a 10-ounce glass, I would do an ounce and a half of gin. Fill the glass with tonic when it already has ice in it, and that’s going to turn out to be about 4 ounces. And I love a healthy squeeze of lime in there too,” she says.
Or you can ask her to make it for you from her new part-time post at Bar Mezzana. “I got so excited about that team that’s working together over there. When you look at the staff — say you are pulling a shift, or just enjoying your time there — you see all these people who have come up through the ranks of Barbara Lynch enterprises, and you know that they’ve been raised up right.”
Whether you make the drink at home or order it out, regardless of your pick of brands, Packard just asks that you skip the diet tonic in favor of the real stuff. “For the extra 30 calories you are getting with the tonic water, it’s 300 percent more delicious.”
Bar Mezzana, 360 Harrison Ave., South End, Boston, 617-530-1770, www.barmezzana.com.Catherine Smart can be reached at email@example.com.