World Gin Day: How to master the much-loved gin & tonic and top tips for shaking up your cocktail game

Composite of imagery of gin recipes against an orange-toned background with a basket of lemons
Photo credit: Photo illustration - Newshub; Images - Getty Images, Supplied

It's World Gin Day, so if you needed an excuse to enjoy a tasty tipple on your Saturday evening (or afternoon, no judgement), here it is.

For the uninitiated, World Gin Day is an international celebration of the much-loved juniper berry beverage, held annually on the second Saturday of June. The occasion encourages its observers to raise a glass to the humble and versatile spirit, whether it be neat, with tonic and lemon, or in a classic cocktail. 

To help commemorate the event, New Zealand's first female head distiller, Rachel Hall -  the woman behind Aotearoa's oldest craft gin, Lighthouse - has shared her top tips for achieving the perfect pour, as well as a few creative ways to shake up your cocktail game. 

Having handcrafted the spirit since 2010, Hall certainly knows a thing or two about mastering the perfect G&T - which makes her our new best friend. 

Top tips for a perfect pour

It's important to start with a great base spirit, but what a lot of people don't consider is the ice, Hall said. 

"You need really fresh, big ice. Use large, solid cubes because small, hollow ice melts too quickly and you get a lot of dilution in your drink. Add lots of it - fill your glass with as many cubes as it allows, then pour the gin," she explained. "Pour as much as you like, as it's based on personal preference. Only you know how much you like."

Then, top it off with a tasty tonic - and while it's tempting to pick up the most budget-friendly bottle, particularly amid the cost of living crisis, Hall says the perfect pour shouldn't be compromised by scrimping and saving. 

"Always get a good-quality mixer - not something that's cheap. Anything below par or overpowering will drown out all those beautiful gin flavours that you've just spent all that money on," she said. 

For extra flavour, she suggests running a wedge of lime around the rim of the glass, before giving it a good squeeze into the G&T. Finally, pop the wedge into your drop for an extra hint of bitter zestiness. 

"Lemon is also great if you don't have limes, but you can also try orange and a sprig of mint for a refreshing twist," Hall suggested.

Lighthouse Gin head distiller Rachel Hall.
Lighthouse Gin head distiller Rachel Hall. Photo credit: Supplied

Shaking things up

Now you've mastered the basics, you can start to shake things up with some fun twists on gin-based cocktails.

"Making cocktails at home is the best way to experiment. For a seamless and fun experience the ingredients need to be accessible and not fussy. If you want to impress someone, you don't want to be sitting there fiddling with lots of different ingredients and instruments," Hall said. 

A favourite at the wine, food and music festival Toast Martinborough's annual Lighthouse Gin Garden Party is the Dash and Pash: a mix of pineapple juice, passionfruit pulp, and lemonade with a dash of gin for a tropical treat. 

If that doesn't tickle your fancy, Hall also recommends whisking up an apple sangria: in a jug, combine your choice of gin with rosé and apple juice before topping with lemonade and mint sprigs. 

"It's really important to use a good apple juice because if you get one that's been made from reconstituted juice, it doesn't have the same flavour and often has many preservatives. You really need those fresh apple juice flavours."

For those who fancy a heartier drop or a tomato-based beverage (Bloody Mary fans, rejoice), a Red Snapper could be your new go-to: simply mix your favourite gin with tomato juice, lemon juice, sriracha, salt and pepper.

"The key to a good Red Snapper is salt. Just like when you cook tomatoes and salt helps bring out the flavours, the same goes for when making a tomato cocktail, so add quite a good amount. There's no exact recipe so balance it based on your personal preference," Hall said. 

Left to right: Mulled gin, apple sangria, Red Snapper.
Left to right: Mulled gin, Apple Sangria, Red Snapper. Photo credit: Photo illustration - Newshub; Images - Supplied

Amid the current conditions, you might be after something a little less light and bright, a little more warm and cosy - and according to Hall, a mulled gin is the ideal winter warmer. 

While she recommends using Lighthouse Gin (particularly if you want to recreate the traditional recipe enjoyed at the annual Greytown mid-winter Christmas Festival in the Wairarapa), you can use any gin that tickles your pickle, whether that be Bombay Sapphire, Gordon's, Seagers, Roku or Beefeater. 

To make your mulled gin, put two cinnamon sticks, three whole cloves, one star anise, two slices of orange and the zest of half an orange into a large pot and warm until fragrant. Add one tablespoon of honey, two chamomile tea bags, one litre of apple juice and continue to warm on low for one to two hours, Hall said. 

At this point add 100ml of your gin of choice and gently warm, making sure not to overheat as the alcohol will burn off. Strain into a mug or heat-proof glass, garnish with slices of orange or more of your favourite spices, and enjoy.