Rethinking the G&T

The gin and tonic (G&T) is a classic alcohol beverage – clean, crisp and light on calories, making it a ubiquitous favorite for many occasions. One might immediately think this cocktail as being a simple pour of any standard gin, ice, sparkling toxic and a splash of lime.

“Not so fast!” says Nader Chabaane, mixology director of the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City. The complexities of each of the drink’s components: the gin, the tonic water and even the citrus garnish provide an opportunity for endless variations. Such is the fact at the recently opened Bar 1608 which serves as the primary watering hole for this 611-room iconic Canadian property.

The G&T, like so many other classic drinks, is in dire need of an upgrade. The typical G&T isn’t hard to make and therefore most restaurant or bar patrons will have a certain expectation when ordering one. Hence, any action you take to exceed one’s expectations will have a profound effect. It doesn’t just have to be for a G&T either; it can be for a vodka soda, a screwdriver, an old-fashioned, a martini, a margarita or a seven and seven. For now, let’s continue with our current example, and I’ve leave the applications up to you. 

As Nader explains, “Gin is a very complex beverage that can be produced in many different ways. While typically all use juniper berries, many other botanicals can be included. Each producer has a unique recipe resulting in a different flavor palette.” He continues as he pours me another stiff one, “The Ungava Gin, unique to Canada, includes juniper, of course, but also wild rose hip and crowberry. This leads to its slightly yellow color and unique taste sensation.”

Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac actually makes their own tonic syrup under the SAM name, “SAM” referring to Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Quebec, and the name given to their adjoining bistro. Mixed in proper ratio with soda water, my experience is that the SAM-branded tonic imparts a very tart taste, far more interesting than the traditional bottle/can pre-mix. Nader says that a good mixologist should be able to make their own tonic water and syrup. And of course, there are many commercial brands of tonic water available.

Variation also extends to the garnish. While lime is considered the traditional garnish, my first G&T was served with star anise; my second one with a combination of limes, lemons and herbs. My daughter asserts that frozen blueberries are the real winner.

As excited as I was in consuming the highly potable concoction, it is Nader’s commitment to his craft that was most impressive. His responsibilities and position of bartender has been elevated to craft status. Seeing Nader and his team in action brought to mind all of the positive attributes of modern day hotels: breaking new barriers, educating the guests and providing an impressive series of “tweetable” moments, not to mention increased revenue opportunities.

Aside from the leadership shown by the Chateau, mixology is something that you can easily replicate with your beverage team with the overall objective of boosting the guest conversation and heightening brand stickiness. Not only with the gin and tonic, but look at other cocktails and ask your bar team what they can do to differentiate your property’s offerings. Encourage creativity and get other departments involved. Can you cite any other mixology success stories to help others get the ball rolling?