There’s nothing like a refreshing gin and tonic at the pub after a long day’s work! It’s the first drink that comes to mind, probably because it’s not a stiff drink that’ll knock your senses out of orbit, nor is it too light that it doesn’t warm your aching body. It’s the perfect pick-me-up at your local cocktail bar or cocktails at home that both raises your spirits and relaxes you at the same time.
How exactly does this gastronomic pairing work better together than apart? And why do gin’s sweet mouthfeel and taste complement the slightly bitter, fizzy texture of tonic water? We’re here to study the science behind this cocktail bar favourite, starting with how it smells!
Gin is a beverage made from a base of fermented wheat or barley, which is then distilled to purify the liquid. Juniper berries and other botanical extracts are thrown into the mix during the distillation process. The molecules from these botanicals produce an alcoholic drink with a woody, fruity bouquet of flavours.
When combined with tonic water, which contains quinine molecules with distinct odourless quality, the molecules combine to form a bittersweet drink with a botanical aroma. While its taste (which we’ll look at more later) does not match its scent, our olfactory senses amplify the overall flavour since most of the taste receptors reside in the nose, not the mouth!
These chemical and sensual reactions result in a dynamic gastronomic experience. While ice does add a particular crisp to the flavour, adding too much would neuter the fruity scent and simply overpower the bitter taste of the beverage. As they say, less is definitely more.
How do our mouths taste a sip of gin and tonic? As explained earlier, it does so with the help of our noses, where most of our taste receptors are. The moment a drop hits our tongues, the molecules of gin and tonic reach protein receptors and trigger signals to our brain that register taste and smell. They are why you delineate the fruity scent and its bitter taste.
What’s even more interesting is that the molecules don’t just travel individually to these receptors. When these particles look very similar in structure and pattern, guess what happens? A chemical attraction forms aggregates or a group of molecules with a larger particle composition than their regular variety.
The combination of botanical aromas, bitter taste, and aggregate molecules all make a beeline for the taste and protein receptors. However, this isn’t a polite queue where they take their turns. It’s a free-for-all, with millions of these large and small particles dashing madly to every single receptor and sending brain signals to the parietal lobe, the centre responsible for sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing.
These signals fire, triggering the brain to recognise all of them at once! Due to its distillation and multi-faceted profile, our minds do not register it as one flavour or bouquet. It perceives gin and tonic as all of these characteristics at once!
This confounding chemical experience can be further enhanced by adding certain ingredients. Sugar in tonic water removes the bitterness and matches its fruity aroma. Lime juice or a hint of lemon brings a zesty punch to the recipe. Other unique inclusions can elevate the rich flavour and deepen the perplexing mystery behind this delicious drink.
The Last Call
The next time you try a mixed drink for cocktails at home or a cocktail bar in London, remember the science behind them. What gives its unique flavours and aromas are the molecules in their composition. When delivered to our taste receptors and parietal lobe, we experience all of these beautiful sensations at once and regard them as meaningful comfort from life’s troubles.
Check out Jim and Tonic for more information on gin, tonic, and other gin varieties! We’re a gin distillery with more than one cocktail bar in London and direct-to-consumer service for those who prefer cocktails at home. Visit our website now for sweet Christmas packages and offerings!