Bark and Bite
Artisanal Tonic Water
In the beginning, in Peru, there lived the unremarkable looking, shrubby Cinchona tree, and the indigenous Quechua people who used its bark to combat the cold. Little could they, or the C.16th Italian Jesuit Brother Agostino Salumbrino who witnessed them, have imagined just how important that bark would become.
Contained therein was the compound quinine, which despite its exceptional bitterness, would prove to be the first fully effective medicine and prophylactic in the fight against deadly malaria. Now, whether you believe the Quechua ground the bark and added it to sweetened water thus inventing the world’s first mixer, or that the honour goes to the British in colonial India for adding it to their gin with a splash of soda to ‘take the edge ‘orf’’, the truth is, tonic water became one of the most important liquids on the planet. As its popularity spread, so the need for quinine outstripped supply, and while Peru tried desperately to protect its plantations, the Dutch and British with their usual insouciance simply stole seeds and planted their own trees. Eventually chemists were able to replicate quinine in the laboratory, manufacturers began to use cheap high fructose corn syrup and flavourings, and from the dizzy heights of life-saving in the C.19th, tonic water plunged into the C.20th doldrums of mass market ubiquity.
And then came the seismic foodie shift of the C.21st, with the rediscovery of and interest in all things artisan, and nowhere more so than in the alcohol and cocktail industry. Suddenly ancient vermouths and obscure bitters were catapulted back into the waiting arms of bartenders (who seemingly overnight became ‘mixologists’) and along with them the long overdue rebirth of tonic water was inevitable.
Whether you choose the old-fashioned tonic syrup to add to soda, or a ready-mixed version, there’s now a tonic water to suit every premium gin and vodka. And in case you were wondering, they contain real quinine once more. Chin, chin!
The UK’s runaway success has a delightful citrus-y top note and a perfectly acidulated and balanced bitterness courtesy of cane sugar, designed to complement premiums gins rather than swamp them. http://fever-tree.com
The one to choose if a ‘slimline’ tonic is what you’re after – sweetened with a splash of agave nectar, it has half the calories of many other brands, plus an audacious effervescence and sharp tang. http://qtonic.com
This old family business redux produces a range of ‘botanically brewed’ mixers – the tonic water features accents of juniper berry, kaffir lime leaf and lemongrass. http://fentimans.com
Pemberton Natural Gin & Tonic Syrup
Rich and robust, Pemberton tonic syrup’s sweetness is provided by Golden Cariboo Honey from Lillooet in British Columbia, while the soft citrus notes are lifted with organic lemongrass and lemon thyme. http://pembertondistillery.ca
Tomr's Handcrafted Tonic Syrup
In an homage to the colonial tonic waters of yore this delightfully dark and crisp syrup is tart and 100% organic. http://tomshandcrafted.com
John's Premium Tonic Syrup
Organic agave nectar, lemongrass, orange, lemon and lime, ‘secret’ herbs and actual cinchona bark rather than powdered quinine, giving the syrup a rich amber hue. http://johnstonic.weebly.com
Jack Rudy Cocktail Co.'s Syrup
Spicy, zesty and full of zing, Jack Rudy small batch tonic headlines a feisty blend of allspice, white pepper, lemongrass, clove and orange peel. http://jackrudycocktailco.com