With the huge increase in the popularity of gin, so too has there been a dramatic rise in the amount of different tonics on the market. Suffice it to say that these two components together have become a big deal. If you’re as serious about your G&T, this is the list for you.
011 Dainfern by The Baron (Dainfern Square)
Though a little removed from the Rosebank-Parkwood concentrated gin belt of Jozi, they sure know their gins here. Their G&T of the moment is the beautifully balanced Inverroche Amber, finished with orange zest and a rosemary sprig, and served with Fitch & Leedes Light. 011 has a range of over nine tonics to choose from, the Fever-Tree range generally being the tonics of choice. Among the many cocktails is a standout 1934 Cosmopolitan. It calls for Bulldog gin, Cointreau, raspberry coulis and the juice of a whole lemon. Shaken with ice, it’s finely strained into a chilled coupe glass and finished with orange zest. The Gin Cocktail o’Clock of 011 recommends dishes at various gin times of the day. For lunch, a strong negroni goes perfectly with the traditional lamb curry. Dinner might mean a classic martini with Norwegian salmon, enoki mushrooms, pea purée and lentil couscous.
4pm at MESH (Rosebank)
MESH has Bloedlemoen gin – the exquisite, handcrafted, gin distilled by Hope on Hopkins – on tap. It’s paired with Fitch & Leedes tonics. MESH is known for its stupendous art-related cocktails, but what they really love to mix is their classically beautiful negroni, pairing it with their Thai fried pork belly with ginger jam.
55 at Workshop 55 (Parktown North)
Adjacent to Workshop 55 is 55, the restaurant’s bar and lounge with a 1930s theme and it claims the widest selection of gin in Johannesburg, ranging from the well to the little-known gins. A gin and tonic could be the divine Malfy with pomegranate, or Malfy with a pineapple cube and a smoking cinnamon stick as a swizzle. All the best tonics abound here, including Fentimans and Fever-Tree. The cocktail menu amounts to a collection of drinks you’ll want to add to your list each time you visit. Pair with their tapas.
Hell’s Kitchen (Melville)
This spot is regarded as one of the best gin offerings in Johannesburg. Their biggest brag is that they have eighteen local and international gins, all of which have been thoroughly tested and tasted. As if that’s not enough, Hell’s Kitchen has its own gin, Mother’s Ruin, from the Dead Rabbit Distillery. Only a month old, it’s already flying off the shelves and into glasses. They love the Fitch & Leedes tonics here, even going on to say that the best current drink is, without a doubt, the Mother’s Ruin with Fitch & Leedes pink tonic.
Sin + Tax (Parkwood)
Much-awarded and applauded bartender Julian Short says his favourite gin-and-tonic combination right now is Geometric gin with Symmetry Spice tonic. Both local products, they make the perfect duo because of the big juniper notes from the gin and the lovely clove from the tonic. Julian recommends having it with Sin + Tax’s sriracha-and-lime flavoured popcorn. The bar currently features a Japanese-themed drinks menu called Bonenkai, inspired by Asian flavours. The favourite signature gin cocktail on it is ‘Chodo Momo’ (Just Peachy). It’s made with Star of Bombay gin, a Szechuan and pink peppercorn syrup, fresh peach juice, verjuice and a dash of soy sauce.
Social on Main (Bryanston)
Gin is the big drink at Social on Main and they offer their own homemade syrups like vanilla, cherry bitters, cranberry rooibos, rosewater and apple-cinnamon for their G&T cocktails. Then they love to add fresh fruit. A good example is a double Star of Bombay with grapefruit and pomegranate flavours, topped up with Fever-Tree tonic water. That is one of the favourite tonics here, along with Fitch & Leedes pink tonic, which can be paired with one of the 15 gins on offer. The cocktail they enjoy making the most is their Social negroni cocktail of gin, Caperitif, sweet vermouth and Campari, with its slightly old-school taste for the real gin lovers. They recommend you have it with a rump kebab marinated in oregano and chilli, served with flatbread, a melange of peppers, hummus and a Greek-style salad.
Time Anchor Distillery (Maboneng)
A popular haunt, this turret of a distillery could not be left out of this gin guide because, for every last weekend of the month from March, they’ll be open for gin cocktails, like ones made with Mirari blue and pink gins. They’re crafted from such botanicals as cardamom, grapefruit, grains of paradise, jasmine, vanilla and rose water, and are naturally coloured with dark pea flowers. But Time Anchor also uses five more of their own craft gins, like the popular Gincello and Sloe Gin.
This is probably the most rewarding and fun gin experience in the city. Upping the homemade botanicals with G&Ts to incredible heights is The Crown Jewels, made with crushed blueberries, thyme and Hope on Hopkins Mediterranean gin. Also try The Spiced Fig, made with dehydrated figs, chai spices, juniper berries and Step 5 gin. Not called Tonic for nothing, you’ll find about 20 of them here, including Symmetrical botanic tonic syrups, Fentimans and Toni Glass tea tonics. If Instagram is anything to go by, the most famous drink here is the Mother Fluffer G&T, a marshmallow-infused gin and tonic with toasted marshmallow and candy floss. Match it with the yoghurt ice cream dessert made with rosewater and Musgrave pink gin.
The Union Pop-Up Bar (Rosebank)
The Union Bar will be at The Trumpet on Keyes for every First Thursday. Here you can expect cocktails made with a mystery gin crafted in the 1860s. Expect the usual showmanship, fantastic hospitality, and an array of fresh and interesting ingredients mixed into whoppingly creative cocktails. Or you could just have a regular old G&T if you feel like it. And if you don’t feel like it, have you had a peach and basil one, or the Collins, which is made with pickle juice?