Tonic Water: The Unsung Hero

Q tonic and fevertree tonic | When I was much, much younger and drinking G&T’s in pubs (well before I ought to have been if truth be told),  I was given the secret of the how to make the perfect version of this classic and why the choice of tonic is so important.  I’ll get to that in a minute.  But first,  as I’m writing this I’m struck by a couple of things 1) I thank the barkeep for introducing me to this elegant spirit;  can’t imagine cocktails without it and 2) wonder how on earth I would ever have been served, given the fact I was probably about 14 or 15 at the time. Well, s’pose times were different back then. I chalk it up to one of many adventures abroad.

So why was I in England drinking in pubs you ask? Well, my English Mom and her family are partial to this drink and it was often the beverage of choice when stopping in at the “local” or as an end-of-day-tipple before we sat down to our evening meal with my grandparents.  Whenever I think of my late Grandad, three fond memories come to mind:  Scrabble, Altoids and Gin & Tonics.
fevertree and Q tonic waters |
martin millers westbourne strength gin |

plymouth gin |
dirty gin and tonic |

Ok, back to the secret.  It was on one of those such times when our family was frequenting the local, that the barkeep noticed my intent enthusiasm for the drink-making process. He showed me (insert best British accent here) the “proper way”  to make a Gin & Tonic.

  • always serve in a rocks glass, never a high-ball
  • no more than 3 ice cubes
  • ALWAYS pour a splash of tonic water over the ice first, NEVER the Gin first as it will “bruise” upon touching the ice
  • 1 & 1/2 parts (no less) Gin of choice- British of course!
  • complete the drink with just a splash more of the BEST QUALITY tonic water.  The flavors of the tonic are just as important as the Gin itself
  • Twist of lemon, never lime

His mixology lesson has stayed with me over the years, and as a true G&T snob (yes I admit it),  thought I’d take the opportunity to share my favorite tonic waters with you. These are just a few, but there are dozens of small-batch blends out there. I chose the ones most accessible throughout the country. These are classified as “premium” tonics. Which means they are generally sold in beverage retailers or gourmet groceries. Yes, they are more expensive when compared to their non-premium counterparts, but there is NO comparison in taste, and how it shapes the final flavors of the cocktail once married with Gin. Splash out and try these. Heck, if you’ve spent the money on a really good Gin, then spend it on the tonic too…it will make a difference.
fevertree tonics |

Listed in order of preference:
Fever-Tree Premium Indian Tonic- fresh, clean with citrus aromatics. The flavor is soft and subtle. The citrus and fruit notes are balanced but the bitterness of the quinine. The finish is also clean, slightly sweet but not saccharin-sweet like so many other non-premium tonics. Pair with Martin Millers, Hendrick’s, or Junipero.

Fever-Tree Naturally Light Indian Tonic-  citrus and fruit notes. The flavor is soft and subtle and fruit notes balance the bitterness of natural quinine. Slightly less sweet than Fever-Tree Indian Tonic Water, the finish is clean & low calorie at only 21 calories. Pair with Tanquery No.10, Aviation, or Vivacity.

Q Tonic- clean and crisp with the quinine flavor much more prevalent (which I quite like). Finishes with a gentle rounded sweetness. I recommend you pair it with a strong floral Gin such as Plymouth or Damrak. The softer gins will be overpowered by the Q if you’re looking for a “gin” taste to come through.

Fentimans Tonic– this is pricy stuff (about $10-$12 for four 275ml bottles) but this is a treat. Organic grain base, milled quinine bark and lemongrass. It has a distinctly zesty flavor with the sharpness derived from the bitter, woody aromas of quinine bark. It’s mixed with a light dose of cane sugar to temper the strong flavors. Pair with Beefeater Burrough’s Reserve, Bloom, Hayman’s 1850 Reserve.

When I feel like bending the rules a bit, I make my G&T “dirty” by adding a bit of olive juice and a couple of olives.  And of course I choose my tonic carefully, dependent on the Gin being used. Serve along side a bowl of cashews and I’m one happy gal!
Pip, pip cheerio!
olive juice |

Note: photos retouched from original post

One thought on “Tonic Water: The Unsung Hero

  1. Pingback: Spirit Works At The Barlow | whiskandmuddler

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