Drink This Now: Boutique Tonic Water

No drink says summer to me quite like a Tanqueray and tonic with lots of lime. And until very recently, I never paid much attention to the tonic part of the equation, assuming that tonic was just tonic, all the same whether from a can, a bottle, or a soda gun. Not so.

At its most basic level, tonic water is simply carbonated water flavored with bitter quinine, an anti-malarial originally derived from the bark of the cinchona tree. The whole gin and tonic craze began in the 1800s when British soldiers on the malaria-plagued Subcontinent decided to mix their quinine-based medication with carbonated water, sugar, and, of course, gin. Eventually, scientists figured out a way to make quinine in a laboratory, and tonic water manufacturers went with this much cheaper synthesized alternative. They also added good old high fructose corn syrup to the mix.

But recently, a few folks have popped up with boutique tonic waters, among them Fever Tree and Q, all-natural alternatives to the standard Schweppes and Canada Dry. You won’t find any corn syrup here: Fever Tree is sweetened with cane sugar, Q with organic agave. As for the quinine, Q says it uses “handpicked Cinchona bark grown in its native habitat, the slopes of the Peruvian Andes” (how romantic!), while Fever Tree lists “the highest quality quinine … sourced from the Rwanda Congo border” (how adventurous!). Both products mix very well with gin — though more herbaceous gins, like Hendrick’s, might be a bit too much for these subtle tonics — and are also refreshing simply poured over ice.

While the boutique tonics are pretty easy to come across at bars in New York, the trend hasn’t really made it down the Turnpike yet. Q is served at Buddakan and at APO, and the only local spot that Fever Tree’s website lists is the Borgata. I checked in with the folks at the new Franklin Mortgage & Investment Company, who like all this old-school booze stuff, and was surprised to hear that they are still pouring Canada Dry.

Fortunately, if you want to enjoy a nice Tanqueray and tonic at home, Whole Foods and Wegmans both carry Fever Tree (four packs are around $5), and Q is available at Kress Wine in Cherry Hill. Or, if you really want to go crazy, you can make your own tonic water at home.

Happy drinking!