According to a recent study, people who love the taste of tonic water—make that the quinine in tonic water — may have bigger brains. At the risk of inviting speculation on the size of our own brains, we’ll admit that on a sweltering day, we much prefer a gin rickey to a gin-and-tonic. To us, tonic water’s distinctive sweet-bitter flavor of quinine and sugar detracts from the zing of the lime and the prickle of carbonation. A traditionally unsweetened rickey is more refreshing and equally easy to make: Just combine gin, lime juice, and club soda in a glass with ice, garnish with a lime wedge, and commence quaffing like a wildebeest at a watering hole during the migration season. Still, we’re always happy to mess with perfection and experiment with an intriguing cocktail technique when we come across one, like the way Long Island Bar’s Toby Cecchini muddles sliced peels from spent limes with gin in his signature gin-and-tonic recipe.
The technique, which extracts the aromatic oils in the peel and also yields plenty of juice from the remnants of fruit still attached to it, reminds us of the method for making a caipirinha and a favorite nonalcoholic refresher from way back: the lemonade at Pyramida, a long-gone Upper East Side falafel joint that threw whole fruits into the blender, skins and all. So we decided to try out the Cecchini method on a gin rickey and got to work muddling lime slices. Applying the technique to an unsweetened rickey created certain challenges, though. The acidity of limes can vary dramatically, and our first attempt resulted in a too-bitter drink even for our bitter-loving palates. (The amount of juice might also have been a factor; our regular rickey recipe calls for only a half-ounce, and our lime muddling yielded more than that.) So we tweaked our next try with some simple syrup, which might have brought us into Collins territory if Tom Collinses weren’t typically made with lemon. Not bad. A third effort, however, using a different batch of smaller limes that turned out to be sweeter, and no simple syrup, achieved gin-rickey nirvana. It was super-fresh and fragrant with a flavor that was complex and bitter but not too. And even absent a sweetener, there was still a kind of austere balance between the botanicals of the gin, the sharpness of the lime, and the mild saltiness of the club soda. Now, we practically look forward to warm fronts, heat waves, and hot spells.
1. Juice half a medium lime and reserve the juice for another use.
2. Cut the spent lime half into thin slices.
3. Add the lime slices to a mixing glass, then add 2 ounces of your favorite London Dry gin and, optionally, a half-ounce of simple syrup.
4. Muddle the lime-gin mixture for a minute.
5. Add cracked ice to a double rocks glass until 3/4 full and pour in 4 ounces of club soda.
6. Strain and float the lime-gin mixture on top of the club soda by pouring it over the back of a barspoon.
7. Spoon the muddled lime slices on top of the drink.
8. Push the barspoon up and down a few times to lightly mix the lime-gin mixture with the water without losing carbonation and serve.