Picture this: you’ve just arrived home after an excruciating day. You walk in, drop your bag/briefcase/backpack/gym bag and make a beeline to your home bar.
In the train on the way home, all you could think about was a G&T; refreshing, bubbly and a definite cure for what ails you. You slip off your shoes, take off your jacket and pad into the kitchen to take the Tonic Water from the fridge (unless you have a bar fridge as part of your home bar, in which case, we commend your organisation).
You grab a tall glass, drop the requisite number of perfectly formed, clear ice cubes into it. You’re about to grab the gin and then it hits you. Staring at the cute little bottle of boutique Tonic water you ask yourself, ‘Isn’t there anything else I can make other than just a G&T?’
What Tonic Is
Tonic water was first drunk as a medicine.
Its active ingredient, quinine, which relieves fever in malaria sufferers, comes from the bark of the cinchona (known as the fever tree) in South America.
By the 17th century, quinine had pretty much gained global recognition as a useful therapy. Around the Mediterranean, malaria was rampant and the authorities, including the Catholic Church, were desperate for medicine.
The cinchona tree had long been used to treat fever in Peru. According to Fiammetta Rocco, author of The Miraculous Fever Tree, news of its life-enhancing properties travelled to Rome, and from there to colonial outposts across Africa and Asia.
It was during the days of the Raj that the British Indian Army was told to take quinine powder in soda water.
Finding it unpleasant, they added sugar and lemon — and then a good slug of gin — to create the first G&T. But that doesn’t mean you need to be restricted in your choice of a Tonic Water-based drink.
Not long after, Johann Jakob Schweppe, whose company pioneered fizzy drinks technology, began to make Schweppes Indian Tonic Water. For years, the firm had the field to itself, with its original and, later, slimline versions.
In the early 1970s, surging sugar prices prompted most American soft drink producers to switch from sugar to high-fructose corn syrup. Since the sweetener is one of only four ingredients in most Tonics — the other three are citric acid, carbonated water and quinine, which gives the drink its characteristic bitterness — its quality of the sweetener can have a profound influence on the flavour.
In the mid-2000 there was a backlash against the quality of Tonic that was available. A new wave of Tonic Waters that sought to avoid artificial sweeteners, preservatives and flavourings, was born. Designed to be an upgrade from your standard supermarket Tonics, boutique brands such as Fever Tree really started to get things bubbling.
In Australia, companies like Capi looked to free Tonic drinkers from the sharp artificial flavours, and instead create a product that would complement rather than swamp any spirit with which it was teamed. Soon after, other labels such as StrangeLove following soon after, offer maximum respect to the spirits they have been designed to pair with. Most recently, Artisan Drinks have launched their Tonics onto the market, seeking to create a mixer range that reflects the quality and innovation of modern craft spirits.
There’s more to Tonic Water Cocktails
As early as the fifteenth century, people were mixing Tonic Water with alcohol other than Gin. In 1656, the Vatican received a batch of cinchona bark from Peru to distribute among stricken clergy and commoners, along with instructions that “it was to be given infused in white wine,” according to a 1928 article in The British Medical Journal.
Another clinical application, circa 1682, combined cinchona with anise seed, parsley juice and claret. Interestingly neither of these combinations stuck but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t others concoctions that will show you that Gin doesn’t need to be Tonics primary companion.
Now, we don’t have anything against a G&T, but it’s always good to know that you can skip the basic two-ingredient cocktail and try something a little more interesting
Adding a bright, bitter edge to cocktails, Tonic can be mixed with just about any Spirit or Liqueur. So why not give one of the cocktails above and give it a try or perhaps create something on your own. After all, Tonic provides dilution, it’s bitter, it’s sweet and it’s a little sour, too. When it comes to mixes, it really is everything wrapped up in one neat little package.