The past month has been bit busier than usual for us here at Novella, what with prepping for the JUNOs and various other projects and photoshoots, not to mention the daily refreshing of these very pages. So when we were given the opportunity to let loose a bit for happy hours this past Thursday with Bombay Sapphire East in celebration of International Gin and Tonic Day (today, April 9th), we realized how much we were in need of a nice little break with a botanical note, ready and, oh so shamelessly, eager. And to don us with his gracious and full-of-personality bartender skills and witticisms was Nick Kosevich of Milwaukee’s Bittercube Bitters (don’t let the imposing promotion photo fool you, in person he is just the kind of man you’d want next to you or behind the bar).
Nick walked in with two suitcases that opened to neatly packed set of what seemed to be the ingredients for a cocktail cornucopia; a dozen or so individually labeled tonics, glasses, stirring sticks, science-class reminiscent equipments, and lots and lots of Bombay Sapphire. Some of us began to visibly radiate happiness. He proceed to take the whole team through tasting and understanding various botanical essences that constitute a tonic and later helped us make our very own Novella Tonic — accented notes of grapefruit, ginger, and sassafras.
After we were all nice, relaxed, and giddy, we had a chance to ask him a few questions.
Novella: What would you say are the essential qualities of a good gin?
Nick: I think the combination in a good gin is uniqueness and versatility, which I think are two hard things to do at the same time. Bombay Sapphire East was made to be the perfect gin for a specific drink, yet it’s extremely versatile because of its use of black peppercorn and Thai lemongrass that harkens back to Asian cuisine; it opens up a door to another world where gin works really well. With gin, you are taking botanicals that grow all over the world and putting them together in one bottle, so each bottle tells a different story. But when I think about the home consumer specifically, they might only want one or two bottles of gin. And Bombay Sapphire East is a great choice for a number of reasons; it’s perfect for gin and tonics; it sits well with other classic gin cocktails; and it’s an approachable gin for people who are afraid of that pinewood gin-experience because it’s a very citrus forward and energetic gin.
Novella: And what are such qualities for a good tonic?
Nick: What’s important in a tonic is that it uses natural flavors and ingredients and natural sugar. If you are using a tonic that uses artificial flavors and has high fructose corn syrup, then it’s just a conventional tonic.
Novella: What’s your favorite gin drink?
Nick: My favorite drink is whatever is in my hand [laughs]. But some other favorite gin drinks are Tom Collins with our cherry bark vanilla bitters; I also love a gin martini and, even better, a Gibson.
Novella: In your professional opinion, how early in the day would you say we can start drinking gin?
Nick: I make this joke all the time that since gin has botanicals in it, it’s technically a salad [laughs]. Therefore, of all of the spirits, we should be able to drink this one earliest. I don’t know if you’ve ever done good day drinking, but it’s a lot of fun.
Novella: Like you mentioned before, some people really dislike gin for its pinewood-like taste. Did you always like gin? Do you remember the first time you tried it?
Nick: I do. This is real — it’s not really a story for promotions, but I remember not being 21, using my fake IDs… this is a long time ago, so I can tell this story, right? [laughs] You’re at a bar for the first time, you’re 21, and for some reason you think you should say, ‘I’ll have a Sapphire tonic,’ because it sounds mature. And when I’ve said that to people, everyone’s like ‘I did that too!’ You think, ‘What do I order what do I order?… A sapphire tonic.’ [laughs] So for years of my life, that was just the thing that rolled off the tongue. So my first gin experience was in my college years, ordering Sapphire tonics because I thought it was classy. And it is.
The awesome tonic kit experience is currently limited to finding full cocktail bars that use the wide range of tonics, which Toronto will have a dozen of starting next week. But Nick, who will returning to Toronto to participate in the Most Imaginative Bartender Competition as a judge, has bigger plans in the making wherein consumers will be able to receive tonic kits and make their own tonic syrups. For now, Shameful Tiki among others are the bars to go to to try drinks that use great tonics.
Try Bombay Sapphire East for your next gin and tonic or other drinks, which should be right about this very Sunday afternoon to round out the week. Check out Bittercube Bitters website for more information on Nick’s bitters, recipes, and cocktail ideas. And continue following our arts & culture coverage on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.