Hendrick's Gin and Tonic

Harvest, 1059 South Big Bend Boulevard; 314-645-3522.

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In the immortal words of the Undertones, here comes the summer. Summer, season of morning sweat and grogginess. Soon, the first fireflies will light their golden asses. Ladybugs, too, will strut their stuff. Fruit flies are awakening, packed with energy to dive-bomb our chardonnays.

And we will welcome them all with open arms, because here comes the summer: gin and tonic season. Specifically, we urge all of you to swallow your preconceived notions of gin and order a Hendrick's and tonic. It will single-handedly change your mind. Truth be told, we've recommended Hendrick's and tonic before, in the guise of the Bastante gin and tonic, the "specialty" of the Watson Road tapas joint. But we did that in the wintertime -- and we all know that a gin and tonic is best served in the summer. Plus, we don't think people believed us.

And as long as we're being honest, we'll admit that our recommendation of Hendrick's is the first phase of an attack on the silly designer-vodka trend. Vodka, by definition, is a neutral spirit. One judges the success of vodka by how little taste it has. Rather than drop extra cash on less flavor, why not spend the money on a more complex spirit? Like Hendrick's gin, which you will like. You might even someday decide to order a Hendrick's martini, and when enough people do, we as Americans will close the book on a tragic chapter in our history. For now, though, we start with a simple cocktail.

Hendrick's is an infused gin, the kind that doesn't seek to alter a spirit's natural characteristics as much as temper them. Hendrick's is a distillation of coriander, citrus, rose petals and, most distinctively, cucumber. The combined creation simply softens the blow a little bit without removing the sweetened pine.

You don't usually associate gin with "subtle" and "smooth." Rather, normal gin, even the best brands, pinches the tongue with evergreen bitterness and a solid smack of alcohol. Granted, it's a taste we happen to enjoy. But this confident -- some would say overwhelming -- flavor is one reason why the martini has, over the past decade, morphed into a vodka concern. People don't like the harshness. Hendrick's and tonic has a little natural sweetness to it, and a general lightness that screams summer. It's both quenching and substantial. It will make you tipsy without feeling like you overdid it. And its taste will blow you away.

"I don't even like gin, and I like Hendrick's," testifies Steve Gontram, Harvest's proprietor and executive chef. If Gontram, whose taste buds are some of the most delicate in the city, can do it, so can you. Harvest is moving into its ninth year in St. Louis, and if you haven't been lately, summer is the time. On weeknights from June through August, the restaurant has some pretty great deals. And Harvest, unlike many bars and restaurants, carries Hendrick's gin, which -- we'll remind you once more -- makes an excellent gin and tonic, perfect for the summer.

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