Is there anyone out there who doesn’t remember their first drop of gin and tonic?
Love it or not, it’s a singular experience for sure: the kick of quinine in the tonic, the gin’s vegetal blast, the lime’s juicy finish.
We were even drinking gin and tonics on the night we met! But then we went years without touching the stuff again: Blame it on Jersey Shore (although you have to admire the congruence of a “GTL” doubling as both a drink order and a to-do list) or on the uninspired tonic options filling supermarket shelves.
This year we got back on the highball. Our interest was piqued first by Jack Rudy Cocktail Co.’s Small Batch Tonic (essentially a quinine concentrate combined with other toothsome botanicals) and then by the resurgence of garden gins on the market. For example, there’s the Botanist by Bruichladdich, with 22 wild plants (mugwort, lady’s bedstraw) handpicked from “the windswept hills, peat bogs and Atlantic shores” of the Scottish island of Islay. Closer to home, Ballast Point’s Old Grove Gin is a dry London-style that, in addition to the requisite juniper berries, includes rose petals and fresh coriander in its profile.
Our favorite from this garden gin genre is Sage, a spirit crafted by Philadelphia-based Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.
Our friend Pearce Combest — dig the handsome blond from the peach story — turned us onto it (as he did Jack Rudy!) when he visited on the Fourth of July. After whipping out a bottle of the herbaceous booze, Pearce took over our kitchen counter to mix up Sage and Tonics for everyone in the house.
The cocktail was one of the most refreshing that we’d ever had, green and aromatic, light but complex. Inspired by the gardens of Thomas Jefferson and his nurseryman Bernard McMahon, Sage is a spirit soaring with USDA-certified organic botanicals like dandelion, fennel, thyme and, of course, sage. The ingredients are sourced from small family farms.
Over email, Art in the Age founder Steven Grasse serves us a glassful of history:
“I really wanted it to taste like it might have come right from Jefferson’s garden at Monticello,” says Steve, who also helms ad agency Quaker City Mercantile. “We use the word ‘herbalicious’ on the poster we created for Sage. Jefferson and the other founding fathers were great dabblers and loved experimenting in many different fields of endeavor. This is what inspired me. [To] create a spirit inspired by what was on hand in the garden — the garden that was inspired by what Lewis and Clark brought back from the west, a journey [Jefferson] was obsessed with, which is why he funded it.”
Here’s how we make our Sage and Tonic:
2 oz. Sage gin by Art in the Age
.75 oz. Jack Rudy tonic
4 oz. soda water
Combine gin and tonic in a collins glass, add ice, top with soda water and stir. Garnish with a sage leaf.
That’s right, we skipped the lime! The garden gin and tonic is so subtle, so interesting that introducing a citrus wedge would have been like hanging a neon sign above a Zen garden. Or above Monticello, for that matter.
Which raises the question: Why is gin choosing this moment to get back in the garden?
Steven doesn’t mince words. “I think it is a rejection of the industrialized crap that the big multi-national spirits conglomerates make,” says Steven, who adds that Art in the Age has finally broken ground on its distillery/”test kitchen” in New Hampshire. “Spirits, if done right, are literally horticulture in a glass.”