Tonic water was originally fashioned in the early 1800s by adding soda water and sugar to mellow the ultra bitter quinine powder that was taken to ward off malaria. The British who were colonizing India realized that adding gin and lime to this beverage made it even better, and the immortal gin and tonic was born.
Since then, tonic water has been used mainly in that drink and, sadly, mainly in the form of dull, mass-market brands. But as with other ingredients, our modern cocktail revival transformed the landscape. Better bottled tonics are available now, along with imaginative tonic syrup. With tonic syrup, you can control the syrup-to-soda ratio, providing a high level of drink-creation craftsmanship.
Want a lighter drink after a hot day? Simply add another ounce or two of soda water. Looking for a more serious flavor bang?
Pull back on soda, or add another 1/4 ounce of syrup. With our rich local cocktail culture, it’s not surprising that we have three companies making worthy tonic syrups: Bradley’s Tonic Company, &Tonic and Meriwether’s. Try them out in these drink recipes to cure what ails your summer drinking.
Photography by David Bell/Studio 3. Scratch G&T-style Gin and & Tonic Syrup.
Scratch G&T-style Gin and & Tonic Syrup
Putting together two ingredients created with the classic G&T in mind delivers in a manner purists will love. The drink’s time-honored coupling of bitter and juniper is tinged with grapefruit, tangerine and floral highlights from the Seattle-based tonic syrup. A delicate lemon twist adds the final touch.
1½ ounces Scratch G&T-style gin
½ ounce &Tonic syrup
4 ounces club soda
Lemon twist, for garnish
Fill your glass halfway full with ice cubes. Add the gin and tonic syrup. Stir briefly. Add the soda, and stir to combine. Garnish with the twist.
Traditionally, the G&T comes in a highball, or an old-fashioned glass. But in Spain—and even in the U.K. the last time I was there—“gin tonics” were served in a glass with a balloon bowl and stem, to funnel aromas from the main ingredients and the garnish. I like a brandy snifter, but a wider wine glass works.
Photography by David Bell/Studio 3. BroVo Pretty Blanc Vermouth and Bradley’s Kina Tonic
BroVo Pretty Blanc Vermouth and Bradley’s Kina Tonic
Already a European hit, vermouth and tonic is making inroads here with good reason—it’s an ideal sipper, cheerful and flavorful, especially with slightly sweet blanc vermouth. The lightness and breadth of flavor in Bradley’s flagship tonic partners with local BroVo Pretty vermouth’s floral essences, creating something a little like sunshine in a glass.
1½ ounces BroVo Pretty blanc vermouth
3/4 ounce Bradley’s Kina Tonic
3 ounces club soda
Wide orange peel, for garnish
Fill your glass halfway full with ice cubes. Add the vermouth and tonic syrup. Stir briefly.Add the soda, and stir to combine. Garnish with the orange peel.
Photography by David Bell/Studio 3. Sherry and Meriwether’s Fancy Drinking Tonic.
Sherry and Meriwether’s Fancy Drinking Tonic
Meriwether’s tonic makes a mean G&T when matched with Batch 206 Distillery’s Counter Gin, but I also like it mixed with sherry. Sherry and tonic is a favorite as the sun goes down on a warm day, and the botanicals and tang of this tonic are a refreshing match with fino sherry’s nuttiness. It calls for a savory garnish, and I find a sprig of fresh rosemary to be perfect.
1½ ounces fino sherry
½ ounce Meriwether’s Fancy Drinking Tonic
5 ounces club soda
Rosemary sprig, for garnish
Fill your glass halfway full with ice cubes. Add the sherry and tonic syrup. Stir briefly. Add the soda, and stir to combine. Garnish with the rosemary.
Photography by David Bell/Studio 3.
All local tonics start with cinchona bark as their main ingredient, which is where the quinine—and the bitter tinges and darker coloring—comes from. From there, however, each has a distinct personality. Try a tiny solo sip first, then with just soda, and then in a gin and tonic (see proportion recommendations below). After that, experiment with the suggestions below—and your imagination.
Bradley’s Kina Tonic, 8-ounce bottle, $10
Brad Feather, creator and past operations manager and distiller at Sound Spirits, says his tonics are “a very simple and clear representation of what a tonic would have been like a few hundred years ago.” That equals six secret all-natural ingredients and a lush orange burst that stands out, with heady spices and a bit of bitterness underneath. Feather has enjoyed it paired with a wide variety of spirits, including sloe gin and aged rum. This tonic is available at Total Wine, Whole Foods and at the Bradley shop (which, of this writing, is planning to be open for tours and tastings by August). Georgetown, 708 S Homer St.
Bradley’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Kina Tonic, 8-ounce bottle, $12
The second release for Brad Feather (he’s working on others—including a Kola tonic to change how people think about rum and Cokes), this tonic is aged in barrels that once contained Kentucky bourbon and Big Gin’s gin. The aging softens the citrus and bitterness while adding tones of oak and botanicals. It makes a really intriguing G&T when used with bourbon-barrel-aged Big Gin, and also is worthy of single malt Scotch and a grapefruit peel. Available at DeLaurenti in Pike Place Market and at the Bradley shop. Georgetown, 708 S Homer St.
Meriwether’s Fancy Drinking Tonic, 490-milliliter bottle, $16
Having access to Batch 206 Distillery’s gin-making botanicals spurred the company’s master distiller, Whitney Meriwether, to create his own tonic. The botanicals—lemongrass, allspice, orange—shine alongside an easygoing bitterness. Beyond cocktails, he likes to “float a shot of espresso in a glass of fizzy tonic with large ice cubes.” Find it at the distillery, the neighboring Batch Bar, and soon at liquor stores and bars. Interbay, Batch 206 Distillery, 1417 Elliott Ave.; 206.216.2803
&Tonic Syrup, 8-ounce bottle, $16
The taste of his first G&T made with tonic syrup was a revelation for former engineer Robert Stone; after lots of experimentation, it led him to start &Tonic. The resulting tonic syrup has an inviting herbal aroma and a flavor balancing bitter and spice with rich lemon and citrus. In addition to mixing it with spirits, Stone recommends it with dry hard ciders, meads and even Prosecco Italian sparkling wine.