The first cocktail I ever had was a gin and tonic. I was 14 (no judgments) and slipped into a bar in Queens with my "older" date. When he asked me what I wanted to drink, my knee-jerk reaction was to rattle off what I had seen my father order many times before -- a gin and tonic.
I took a sip from the plastic cup with a sad piece of lime floating inside and prepared for a burn or some horrible experience. I was pleasantly surprised that the drink tasted slightly sweet, a little bitter, and completely unremarkable. Which is how most gin and tonics still are described, I suppose.
Long relegated to being the drink of sorority sisters and dads, the gin and tonic gets a bad rap -- mainly because the typical way to make one is to pour whatever gin is lying around into a highball, then add some (probably flat) tonic, and finish it off with a squeeze of juiceless lime. It's a shame, because the gin and tonic is a fantastic cocktail for Miami weather.
Which is why Khong River House's versions are delightful. The restaurant makes its own tonics using exotic fruits and florals and pairs them with the gin of your choice. And there's a choice, all right.
Khong's bar is gin-centric, stocking nearly 50 gins from all corners of the world, each with a distinct flavor profile. There are gins bursting with bright citrus notes and ones with pepper or even pine essences.
Confused over which gin works best? Josh Holliday (yes, he is related to Doc Holliday, by the way), Khong's head bartender, will steer you in the right direction after feeling you out with a few questions. I chose Plymouth gin, and selected the hibiscus flower and Galanga lime for the tonics. The other flavors are orange tamarind and Pandanus leaf with coconut.
The drinks were colorful, especially the hibiscus, which had a beautiful rose hue. The lime, obviously, was crisp and refreshing. It was a classic G&T the way it should be made -- with fresh ingredients and a quality spirit.
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The hibiscus, however, was the standout. Bold and floral, with just a hint of tartness, it quite cleverly combined two of the most proper English drinks -- tea and gin -- into one glass. I imagine this hibiscus flower G&T would be the drink of choice for flapper girls and Zelda Fitzgerald -- if only it were around then.
With Spring here and warm weather on its way, by reworking a retro classic with new flavors, Khong's gin and tonics might just be the new "it" drink for Summer. At $12 each, they're affordable enough to have two or more.