Tonic water not just another soda pop

Authentic tonics have the same care and attention as the gin we pair them with

Local gin fans have been treated to a bevy of new and wonderful gins to choose from over the past five years. We’ve seen our selection explode and even had a few local gins hit our shelves. While many of these wonderful artisan gins are going on to make fabulous martinis there are also those that will go on to make that classic champion of highballs the G&T. So my question is simple: Why spend $50 on a killer bottle of gin only to sully it by mixing it with inferior tonic?”

It’s clear that gin quality and selection has travelled light years but isn’t it time we got some authentic tonic water made with the same care and attention as these wonderful gins? Well it looks like we finally have.

Tonic water is not just another soda pop — it’s carbonated water to which quinine has been added giving it a characteristically bitter taste. The original tonic water was medicinal and very bitter containing large amounts of quinine and no sweetener. Quinine which is used to help fight and prevent malaria comes from the bark of the South American cinchona tree which was originally found only in Peru until someone took some seeds and planted the trees throughout Holland.

When the British Empire was busy taking over tropical parts of the world tonic water was widely drunk to ward off disease by British troops. The now popular gin and tonic that we have come to love originated in British colonial India where people took to mixing tonic water with gin to help mask the bitterness.

But somewhere along the way tonic water and quinine went their separate ways as drink companies discovered a more cost-effective way to produce tonic water. Lucky for us there are finally some more authentic tonics available again. Fever Tree and Q Tonic are sold in Calgary so I tried them against the old Schweppes I grew up with to see if there was a discernible difference. Let’s start with the ingredients.

Q Tonic: purified water organic agave (for sweetening) Peruvian quinine lemon juice extract natural flavors.

Fever-Tree: spring water cane sugar citric acid natural flavors Rwanda/Congo quinine.

Schweppes: carbonated water high fructose corn syrup citric acid natural flavours sodium benzoate quinine.

Fever Tree is named after the tree that produces quinine and its source is the Congo where it claims to have found the world’s purest source. Fever Tree offers a number of unique tonics including original tonic lemon light and Mediterranean. Each one uses only natural ingredients and refreshingly they use cane sugar instead of the ubiquitous corn syrup we see so often in North America. The Fever Tree has a big citrus kick less bubbles and pronounced lime flavours.

Q Tonic is made from Peruvian quinine and organic agave and has the authentic bitterness that works so well with gin. There is more punch here so you need to mix it with more mellow gins but overall it has great complexity. Both these tonics seem like they could be consumed without booze and still taste pretty good.

The Schweppes was noticeably sweeter and less complex. This is what I remember tonic water being and perhaps the reason I never loved it — this really didn’t have the punch of the other two and was flat and boring in comparison.

If you want to source out better tonic water check out the many specialty shops in Calgary such as Community Natural Foods Cookbook Co. and Bridgeland Market. Of course tonic water is something you can make on your own if you have the time and energy to find the resources. For a great simple recipe from Portland bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler go to jeffreymorgenthaler.com/2008/how-to-make-your-own-tonic-water/ .