The Gin Sonic, Switching & Draft Cocktails

Make sure you’re up-to-date with a few interesting booze & cocktail articles from the inter-web that have come across our radar this past week.

By: Tiff Christie|September 23,2019

How Climate Change Is Helping British Bubbly To Rival Champagne

If I were a French winemaker and someone called me up and asked if I’d like to put my bottles up against a dark horse in a public tasting I’d balk.

You can’t blame me given the results of the so-called Judgment of Paris, where California wines trounced French ones in 1976 and, in the process, introduced America’s nascent wine industry to the world. I’d then politely request that they lose my phone number.


Perhaps Gallic optimism knows no bounds, which explains why in the spring of 2016, there was a tasting at a Paris bistro called Juveniles, where French Champagne makers faced off against vineyards in a relatively new region about which not much fuss had been made before. As I’m sure you can guess, the underdog prevailed.

But the winners weren’t from Napa or Sonoma or any well-known wine region but from England.

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Wine-Finished Whiskeys Have Custom Flavors And Old-Fashioned Appeal

All whiskeys, regardless of provenance, require a period of oak aging before release. The duration and type of casks used differs with regional regulations, but the process is crucial to providing the spirit’s caramel color and signature flavors like vanilla, baking spices, dried fruits, and more.


Within the past 20 years, some distillers have adopted a new aging process, quietly revolutionizing the whiskey category. Called cask-finishing, the technique sees a fully mature whiskey aged a second time, in a used oak cask that once held another alcoholic beverage. Scottish distillers, including Belvanie and Glenmorangie, pioneered the technique, repurposing old sherry butts for limited-edition releases.

When any beverage ages in oak, it draws flavors from the wood, while simultaneously imparting its own notes on the oak. By using former sherry casks, the distillers could introduce these flavors to their spirits — without falling foul of local regulations controlling the beverage’s production. (Scotch whisky regulations do not allow distillers to add any type of flavoring, ever.)

Distillers have since expanded their experimentation, using barrels that once housed everything from Port to Madeira to beer and wine. Wine barrels, in particular, are an incredibly versatile resource, as they are abundant in wine-producing regions of the U.S. and Europe, and provide a range of different flavors.

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Is The Gin Sonic Even Better Than The Gin & Tonic?

Whether it’s a symptom of the low-carb, low-calorie beverage blitz or a result of our ceaseless affection for Japanese cocktailing, one thing seems certain: These are high times for the highball. The spirit-soda mix is sweeping the country, one cocktail menu at a time. Enjoying its own rise is Japanese gin, with brands like Kinobi, Nikka Coffey and Suntory’s Roku, gaining popularity stateside. So it’s unsurprising that more people today are enjoying a new low-sugar version of the Gin & Tonic, the Gin Sonic.


The name suggests something big and powerful. But at its chiseled core, the Gin Sonic is a somewhat healthier version of the Gin & Tonic, comprising 1 1/2 ounces of a quality gin with 2 1/4 ounces each of soda water and tonic water. It not only reduces the amount of sugar and some of quinine’s inherent bitterness but also allows for the botanical flavors to shine through.

“Gin & Tonic can be too sweet,” says Victoria Vera, the general manager of sake and shochu bar and restaurant Tsunami Panhandle in San Francisco. “When you do half soda, it balances it and brings out the flavor of the gin.”

Vera first tasted a Gin Sonic at Bar Trench in the Shibuya ward in Tokyo last summer and was immediately taken by it. So much so that when she returned to San Francisco, she added a Gin Sonic, made with Roku gin, to the cocktail offerings at Tsunami.

“People don’t get that correlation of ‘sonic’—soda and tonic—right off the bat, but when they do, they want to try it, especially gin and highball lovers,” says Vera. “It’s one of my favorite cocktails. I like to recommend it to my guests.”

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The Draft Cocktail Divide

Toby Cecchini doesn’t mince words when asked about the sudden ubiquity of cocktails served on tap. “I think draft cocktails are shite.” He’s neither alone nor unchallenged.

Devotees of the technique, which involves creating shelf-stable batches of a given drink—the Gin and Tonic, for example—to be carbonated and dispensed via sometimes as many as a dozen tap lines, cite efficiency, sustainability and, in certain instances, the capability to make a better drink as the primary reasons to implement the practice. “Draft cocktails have the ability to significantly reduce cost and waste due to not having to use juice, when properly made,” says bartender Aaron Polsky, most recently of Los Angeles’s Harvard & Stone. “By using extracts, acids and infusions, one can make a stable keg that has effectively an infinite shelf life.”


In other words, advances in cocktail-making techniques such as clarification (which strips juice of particles that interfere with carbonation), infusions (which add flavor without adding particles) and acid solutions (which mimic the taste of fresh citrus) have enabled bartenders to create large-format, shelf-stable simulacra of popular cocktails that can be served in mere seconds.

The advantages of this practice are far-reaching and easy to side with. The ability to pull a cocktail the way one pulls a pint of beer takes the potential for human error out of the equation almost entirely. “The ease of service obviates training, which allows craft cocktails to be served anywhere there are draft lines,” explains Polsky. It also enables bartenders in high-volume settings to meet the demands of their customers in a timely fashion. “Consistency and timing are the biggest things for us,” says Stephanie Andrews, bar manager at Chicago’s Billy Sunday and Charlotte, North Carolina’s Spindle Bar, both of which serve a selection of cocktails on tap. “In such a high-volume craft cocktail setting, you shouldn’t be waiting 10 to 15 minutes for a drink,” she says. In theory, a bar manager could prep an entire night’s worth of cocktails before the bar opens its doors for service, and for the rest of the evening, bartenders would simply pull a lever to dispense consistent cocktails for their guests.

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Goodbye Fat-Washing, Hello “Switching”

university ice cream program doesn’t sound like the type of place where the next great cocktail innovation would be spawned. Yet, that is precisely where bartender Iain McPherson began realizing that the outer limits of freezing might one day revolutionize the drinks world.

The Scotsman took the famed Science of Ice Cream course at the University of Reading and went on to advance his skills at Bologna’s Carpigiani Gelato University. In 2015, McPherson launched Señor Scoop, a liquor-infused ice cream brand available throughout the U.K., including via a vending machine at his Edinburgh bar Hoot The Redeemer. But that was just the beginning.


“I’ve always been fascinated by the flavors that freezing creates,” he explains of the impetus behind his latest cocktail technique: “switching,” a process that involves freezing the water content of a given spirit so it can be separated from the alcohol, then replaced with something else entirely, like clarified juice. “My main catalyst was a real determination to create a new technique that was completely bar-focused,” he says, describing his frustration with how reliant the bar industry has become on co-opting techniques designed primarily for culinary use.

Late last year he began to experiment with fractional freezing (also known as freeze concentration or freeze distillation) at his speakeasy-style cocktail bar, Panda & Sons, also in Edinburgh. The practice of skimming off frozen water from alcohol wasn’t itself a new idea—German eisbock beer and American applejack have long used the process to create more intense, alcoholic products. But McPherson took it a step further when he translated the technique for a cocktail bar setting.

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