I don't know what reception I'm at, but for God's sake give me a gin and tonic.
Memorial Day is the traditional start of summer, even though summer doesn’t technically begin until the summer solstice around June 21. But who cares, I’ll stick with the unscientific start date. Now that summer is officially under way, we can bring out our seersucker suits, white shoes, and….gin and tonics.
The gin and tonic is the ultimate summer drink. (Though I was told by an Englishman in college that a gin and tonic can be consumed in the winter as long as it is during the weekend.) While the focus is on the gin and everyone has their favorite—mine is Tanqueray—most folks forget that the tonic is just as important, if not more so. Nothing destroys a good G&T than bad tonic. Unfortunately, most store-bought tonic is atrocious. It is nothing more than carbonated sugar water.
But what is tonic water?
British officers stationed in India invented tonic water by mixing soda water with quinine. Quinine is an anti-malarial substance derived from the bark of the cinchona tree. (During a safari in Africa, our guide told me that, based on my daily intake of gin and tonics during happy hour, I had obviated the need for my anti-malarial pills!) Being good Englishmen, the officers countered quinine’s bitter flavor by adding gin, sugar, and lemon or lime. Thus, in the land of the Raj, the gin and tonic was born! Eventually, the gin and tonic made its way back to England, yet another contribution made by the Pax Britannica.
Because Britain was the home of the Industrial Revolution, there should be no surprise that Schweppes, a London-based sparkling-water company, added "Indian" tonic water to its line of products in 1870 and began the mass production of tonic water. Canada Dry stepped in and began making tonic water around 1890. Since then, these two companies have produced most of the world’s tonic water. And it is a far cry from the original. Until now.
In recent years, three companies have stepped in and halted the malaise, producing tonics that will certainly take one back to the glories of the British Empire. The sun will never set on these tonics. They are Fever-Tree, Q Tonic, and Stirrings.
Fever-Tree is made with Rwandan quinine and cold-pressed orange oil from Tanzania. It is more fruity than Q Tonic or Stirrings, but it is my favorite. It is not cheap, but worth it. A four-pack costs about $5-7, depending on from where you hale.
Q Tonic takes a New World approach, using handpicked Peruvian quinine, sweetened with Mexican agave. This tonic is a bit drier and more bitter than Fever-Tree. Its price point is comparable to Fever-Tree’s.
Finally, we having Stirrings, which offers tonic with a potent burst of bubbles. This one is the more “commercial” of the three, but still vastly superior to the big commercially produced stuff. It is a tad bit more reasonable too. A four-pack will put you back about $5 or $6.
One final note. It would be helpful to us gin and tonic drinkers if restaurants would take note of this trend in artisan tonics. Stop using that Barbarella soda gun machine-thingy! This is especially true for high-end restaurants charging me $8 for a gin and tonic. Hell, make your own tonic—gin is a jealous mistress!