The Drunken Vegan, a.k.a. Patrick J. Hurley, is a full-time barman at the Civil Life Brewing Company and cocktail enthusiast about town. He's an unapologetic drunkard, a vegan and a bon vivant, and, no, he doesn't think those last two terms contradict each other.
Natasha Bahrami is as passionate about her mixers as she is about her gin. It makes sense. Why mix a great gin with an inferior tonic? She makes her own and is getting ready to offer classes in how to do it at the Gin Room in Café Natasha's (3200 South Grand Boulevard; 314-771-3411). She recently gave the Drunken Vegan a private tutorial. It turns out making tonic water is a lot easier than you might think.
"The better tonics on the market are concentrated syrups that tend to dominate the gin, or lighter varieties like Fever Tree [a type of "premium" tonic water] that have a little citrus and a little lemongrass, but that's about it," Bahrami explains. "Why make your own tonic? It just makes gin more fun ... and it's easy."
Bahrami also likes to make her own tonic water because she can concoct special blends to pair with the individual flavor profiles of the gin.
On our visit, Bahrami shows the Drunken Vegan how to make a very Persian-influenced tonic: Saffron-barberry, which she says is a perfect match for big, juniper-forward gins.
"Most commercial tonics contain quinine, lemongrass and allspice," she says. "Beyond that, you can add what you like."
The two main natural sources of quinine are cinchona bark, which is dark and bitter, and cassia bark, which is lighter and even more bitter. The bark looks like small wood chips and needs to be ground into a fine powder -- a coffee grinder will do the trick. This is the one ingredient that is tough to find in a local grocery store -- we found some on Amazon.
While most of the ingredients can be eyeballed, Bahrami advises carefully measuring the cinchona bark.
"The more you add, the more the bitter aspect of the tonic," she warns.
Some people would probably add a sweetener to this recipe, but Bahrami prefers to add simple syrup to the cocktail afterward. "I like to sweeten the drink to the taste of the individual customer," she says.
Now you're all set to make the best gin and tonic you've ever had. Feel free to experiment with your tonic. You can use gentian root, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, any citrus zest or peel, peppercorns or Sichuan peppers, cloves, or star anise.
There's also a whole lot more to learn at Bahrami's tonic class at the Gin Room on Wednesday, September 24th at Cafe Natasha's. For more information or to RSVP, contact Natasha Bahrami at firstname.lastname@example.org or head to the Facebook page.