This week on Fetch, I’m delighted to announce a new feature, Fetch Bar, that will be written each month by Brooks Reitz, a brilliant mixologist and extremely nice fellow who grew up in Henderson, Kentucky.  I met Brooks at a party at Charleston’s Heirloom Books where he sells his Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. Small Batch Tonic. Not only was he great company, he was mixing some mean cocktails, and by the end of a well-lubricated and very pleasant afternoon, the idea of Fetch Bar was born.

Brooks has a “real” job as manager of front-of-house operations at Mike Lata’s much-lauded Fig restaurant in Charleston. Before that, he ran the beverage and cocktail programs at a restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky, which is where Jack Rudy originated. “I began to think about ways to make our drinks menu special, using things we could produce in house,” he told me. “My biggest fear was making something ourselves and having it turn out not to be delicious—just because it’s homemade doesn’t always make it better.” But the homemade tonic was indeed better, and when he arrived in Charleston and introduced it as an ingredient in one of Fig’s “Daily Cocktails,” it became so immediately popular, he decided to bottle the stuff.

For this he should receive the accolades of a grateful nation. American tonic water is ghastly stuff, vapid and overly sweet, as well as deep insult to decent gin. The first time I tasted a homemade tonic, it was at a newish place on Rampart Street in New Orleans’s French Quarter called, fittingly, Bar Tonique.  As soon as I took a long and bracing swallow of Plymouth gin (a favorite of John D. McDonald’s intrepid beach bum Travis McGee) mixed with the heavily quinine-y house-made tonic, I understood why all those Brits were content to brave the heat and live out their days in India perpetuating Her Majesty’s Empire.

Brook’s tonic is not just bracing but delicious, made with quinine, of course, but also lemon grass, orange peel, and the appropriate amount of sugar. He uses it in a variety of cocktails (as does the bar manager at Sean Brock’s hot new Husk in Charleston), some of which you might be reading about in the coming months. Still, there are times when only a G&T will do. My friend and fellow Garden & Gun columnist Roy Blount writes this month of drinking them while floating in the river that border his Massachusetts backyard (and which flooded his basement during the recent hurricane). Last winter, when Roy and I were on some panels at the Key West Literary Festival (an event I highly recommend), we repaired every evening to the tower of the beach condo where we were ensconced to watch the sunsets with his wife Joan Griswold and assorted other friends.

Clearly, the only thing to drink on that occasion was a G&T, which is the way my husband feels about the weekend afternoons he has been spending watching his alma mater LSU annihilate pretty much every team in the SEC. He has been producing his own tonic too—first he makes seltzer with the aid of a Penquin, an excellent contraption available at Williams Sonoma that was given to us by Roy and Joan as a house present, and then he mixes it with Jack Rudy according to the directions on the bottle.

Since it’s a tad chilly for sunset watching, and since I prefer to spend my own weekends doing almost anything besides watching football, I am going to be making the Jack Rudy French 75 Brooks writes about in his inaugural column.  It is beautiful, perfect for the season, and so delicious that it has replaced my formerly favorite champagne cocktail. That one, another invention of Bar Tonique, involved dousing a sugar cube with Fee Brothers Grapefruit bitters at the bottom of the flute. Brook’s is equally refreshing, a lot more complex, and ridiculously easy to make. Your guests from now until New Year’s will thank you, and for the Super Bowl crowd, there’s always the Jack Rudy G&T to fall back on.

About Julia Reed

Julia Reed is a columnist at Garden & Gun magazine and a contributing editor at Elle Décor. She also contributes to The Wall Street Journal, Architectural Digest, and The New York Times, and makes frequent appearances on MSNBC. She is the author of five books, including But Mama Always Put Vodka in the Sangria, Adventures in Eating, Drinking and Making Merry and One Man’s Folly, The Exceptional Houses of Furlow Gatewood.

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