Gin and tonic, a quintessential summer cocktail, gets refreshed with basil, lemon juice and St-Germain elderflower liqueur. Recipe below.
The artisan cocktail movement has turned happy hour into an adventure—part grownup playdate, part science fair. Bartenders are now alchemists, creating inventive, flavorful drinks from small-batch craft spirits, housemade bitters and all manner of herbs, fruits, vegetables and more. We embrace this trend. These days, we’re as likely to ask for a cocktail menu as we are a wine list, in a bar or even out for dinner. An imaginative, well-mixed cocktail just seems to amp up the fun and the elegance.
At home, this cocktail renaissance has us taking a fresh look at our classic go-to drinks. What is more summery than a gin and tonic? The original, made with gin, tonic water, lime and ice, is bracing and fresh, driven by gin’s signature juniper berry taste. But on a recent evening when I thought of gin and tonics, another archetypal taste of summer popped into my head. Basil.
Adding herbs to cocktails is nothing new—think mint julep or mojito. Basil’s distinctive flavor, a mix of licorice, pepper and mint, anchors pesto and caprese salad, two favorite seasonal dishes. I thought it might add something special to a gin and tonic too. Of course, lemon pairs beautifully with basil, so it stepped in for the lime.
We first sampled St-Germain at a tasting a couple of years ago. The sweet liqueur, made from elderflowers handpicked in the French Alps, has been a staple of our liquor cabinet ever since. It is often mixed with sparkling wine, but is also delicious on its own. Mixed with gin for this cocktail, it adds summery fruit and citrus notes. The St-Germain is optional in this gin and tonic remix, but a delicious option. For the gin, I stuck with French and chose Citadelle. We’re also fans of Hendrick’s, but any good gin will do.
Basil Lemon Gin and Tonic
Makes 2 cocktails (or more—see Kitchen Notes)
4 to 5 large fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) gin
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) St-Germain liqueur
Tear 4 to 5 large basil leaves into pieces and place in a cocktail shaker. Add the lemon juice and muddle fairly forcefully—you want to break up some of the basil and release its oils. Add the gin, St-Germain (if using) and some ice. Shake. Strain into ice-filled rocks glasses. You’ll probably get a few stray bits of basil in the glasses when you do. That’s a good thing. Top up the glasses with tonic water, garnish with basil leaves and serve.
How many fingers am I holding up? With 1/4-cup of alcohol in each drink, these are fairly potent. For a lighter, refreshing cocktail, you can pour the shaker contents over ice in three or even four glasses and top with tonic.