I spent some time traveling the other week, and at the end of it I found myself in Charleston, SC. Perhaps no other city in the United States holds the same allure for me. I mean this as no snub to New Orleans, about whom I’ve waxed romantic in this column before. Charleston, though – refined, elegant, cultivated, and steeped in history – has a thriving food scene and an even more vibrant drinking culture.
I am fortunate enough to be friends with several people who work in the service and tourism industries there, and as such have been able to get off the beaten path to discover a bit of what the locals are doing when they hit the town. You may have heard of Husk and it’s famous Manhattan, or the Gin Joint with its selection of craft cocktails, but Charleston contains multitudes. From dives that reek of stale beer and hipster sweat to sophisticated but small watering holes, there’s a place to cater to every drinking mood.
I’d started my day slightly before noon with a rack of ribs outside of town, and then slowly meandered back to King Street to begin what became an hours-long session of drinking that would not conclude until shortly before dawn. With the right company and good pacing, this is hardly an impossible feat in Charleston.
Early in our wandering, before I had consumed too much to appreciate it, my friend insisted we duck into a little place on Upper King Street called Proof. He enthused over the quality of the drinks there, and since my schedule was clear for the next several days I gladly followed him.
The proprietor, Craig Nelson, has a fine little place in Proof. It’s a small space, very low-key, but miles beyond ordinary in its offerings. It should definitely be on your list to visit the next time you’re in the Holy City. One of their most popular drinks is the Proof Gin & Tonic, and so I ordered it. Astute readers of a historical bent will note the connection between the drink’s initials and Confederate General Pierre Gustave Toutante-Beauregard.
You’re never far from a reminder (or, indeed, a protracted discussion) of the Civil War in Charleston. Beauregard commanded the Confederate forces at Charleston when the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter, and emerged from that engagement a Southern hero. He went on to survive the war and prosper as a Louisiana railroad executive. While my band of dissolutes argued 1860s politics over a plate of boiled peanut hummus (delicious), our drinks arrived.
The first sip was heavenly. Smooth, yet crisp, it was uncommonly refreshing. Flavors of citrus and hydrating cucumber came through powerfully, bolstered by the Hendrick’s Gin and large citrus rind floating in the glass. Perfectly suited for coping with heat and humidity, it’s the sort of drink you can sip on all day. If you’re not paying attention you’ll easily lose count. I knew I’d found a drink to add to my repertoire.
Proof Gin & Tonic (P.G.T.)
Thankfully, the bar staff was accommodating of my request for details of the drink’s preparation, and I was even able to get a few pointers from Mr. Nelson himself. What follows is the recipe for one of the foremost Gins & Tonic you will ever be lucky enough to imbibe.
- 1 1/2 oz Hendrick’s Gin
- 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
- 2 dashes Bitter Truth Lemon Bitters
- tonic water
- cucumber slices (not English cucumber)
- citrus rind (orange and lemon)
- Collins glass
Before adding ice to the Collins glass, express the orange and lemon peel onto the rim. Throw in a few large ice cubes and the citrus peels and set aside.
In a shaker, muddle a few cucumber slices with the Hendrick’s, lemon juice, and lemon bitters. Add ice, then shake. Double strain this mixture into your Collins glass. Top off with tonic water. Garnish with a cucumber slice, and enjoy!
I’ve had a Hendrick’s gin and tonic before, but the citrus notes really make this variation stand out. The gentlemen at Proof have determined that ready made tonic water works best with this mix, which means it’s that much easier to prepare yourself.
My evening in Charleston did not actually conclude until the next morning, which is an increasingly rare adventure for me. You can pack a lot into one night in Charleston, and I did. Even so, I’m glad I got to sample this stellar gin & tonic early enough that it wasn’t lost in the fog. If ever you’re wandering King Street looking for an innovative and modern bar, you’d be well-served to pull up to Proof.