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The Empirical, Imperial Gin and Tonic

If you go to your well-stocked local liquor seller, you might find yourself as I did, standing slack-jawed and salivating at the sheer volume of Maine-made stuff. While I knew that Maine is home to nearly 20 micro/craft/nano/independent distilleries, what caught me off guard was the number of gins among their offerings—nearly a dozen. From the wild and charming Chesuncook Carrot Gin from Maine Craft Distillery in Portland to the clean and citrus-y Back River Gin from Sweetgrass in far off Union, there’s a gin for you and a gin for me and more than enough gin for a summer's worth of G&T’s.


Let’s admit it: the Gin and Tonic is the perfect little drink. Simple and bracing, bitter, tart and refreshing all at once. Gin’s botanicals and tonic’s quinine are simpatico in a way that vodka and tonic can only dream of. The combination excites the appetite rather than suppresses it, making the old standby G&T the perfect summer aperitif, particularly for hot weather. Though it still gives off a whiff of WASP high-society—white shoes and G&Ts only after Memorial Day and all that—the granddaddy of the highball is an ecumenical, democratic refresher, equally at home on the “verandah” as on the porch. And why not? Its two constituent parts can be inexpensive and readily available while the recipe is simple enough for even the most timid of bartenders.


But give three Maine bartenders with some couth the task of making over the timeless G&T and, like the proverbial blind men and the elephant, they will concoct three iterations of the drink as different as chalk and cheese. 


In the hands of Trevin Hutchins at Portland’s Rhum Food & Grog, for instance, the Gin and Tonic gets “tiki-fied.” His Gold Coast pulls inspiration straight from the bottle with the almond orgeat and lemon highlighting Alchemy Gin’s more floral notes. Add a good quality tonic and a dose of pineapple and you have a refreshing summer quaffer.


The Kittyhawk from Nikaline Iacono of Brunswick’s Enoteca Athena is a mashup of classic cocktails. “It’s a crushable play on the Aviation,” she says, referring to another cocktail with which hers shares some ingredients. “Not that an Aviation isn’t crushable,” she adds, ever the inscrutable Romanian.


Just Mad About Me is my homage to the Gin and Tonic’s roots in the British Raj. It’s a classic G&T with a Brit-Indi twist courtesy of Brunswick’s Royal Rose Syrup Company’s Saffron syrup and Garam Masala bitters from Portland’s Coastal Root Bitters.    


The Gold Coast

Trevin Hutchins, bar manager, Rhum Food & Grog, Portland

2 ounces Alchemy Dry Gin

1 ounce pineapple juice 

½ ounce lemon juice 

½ ounce orgeat syrup

Tonic water to taste

Cocktail cherry


Combine all ingredients except tonic and cherry in an ice-filled cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Strain into ice-filled collins glass. Top with tonic and garnish with a cherry.


The Kittyhawk

Nikaline Iacono, bar manager, Enoteca Athena, Brunswick 

1 ounce Hardshore Original Gin

1 small bar spoon Rothman and Winter Crème de Violette

½ ounce Luxardo Maraschino

¾ ounce lemon juice

Tonic water

Twist of lemon

Small rosebud (optional)


Combine all ingredients except tonic, lemon twist, and rosebud in an ice-filled cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Strain into ice-filled collins glass. Top with tonic water, preferably Fever-tTree. Garnish with lemon twist and (optional) rosebud.


She’s Just Mad About Me 

John Myers, bar program manager at Stroudwater Distillery

1½ ounce Stroudwater Distillery Gin

2 teaspoons Royal Rose Saffron Syrup

4–6 dashes Coastal Root Garam Masala bitters

1 lime wedge

Tonic water

Lemon twist


Add the gin, syrup, and bitters to a collins glass. Squeeze the lime into the glass and drop the wedge in, too. Give everything a quick mellow stir and fill the glass a little more than half way with tonic. Stir again briefly. Top with ice, straws, and the twist of lemon.

John Myers has been tending bar in Portland for more than 15 years and today runs the bar program at Stroudwater Distillery on Thompsons Point.

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