The Daley Question
February 18, 2014
Q: I buy expensive gin but cheap commercial tonic water. What are the other choices? I've seen some high-end bottled quinine waters but have not tried them. Are they any good? Can I make my own?
—Curtis Tuckey, Chicago
A: "Adding crummy tonic to good gin is like cooking beautiful line caught fish in margarine," wrote Adam Seger, the mixologist who created Hum liqueur and is a partner in Rare Botanical Bitters Co., in a Facebook message.
He's not alone in feeling that way.
Charles Joly, beverage director at The Aviary in Chicago, agrees that tonic "can make or break the path" to a gin and tonic.
"There's no reason to pour corn syruped, artificially flavored tonic on perfectly good gin," he wrote in an e-mail. "I think a lot of people who say they don't like gin, actually don't care for tonic water. The stuff most bars serve off of soda guns tastes like flat 7Up."
Joly likes Q Tonic and Fever-Tree brands, both widely available, and notes there are a number of other good tonics sold regionally.
Bridget Albert, author of "Market-Fresh Mixology" and regional director of mixology for Southern Wine & Spirits, recommends Fever-Tree as well. "Great quality and delish,'' she writes in an email.
While Seger's favorite bottled tonic water is Q Tonic, he "loves" -- and he wrote that in all capital letters -- a tonic syrup by Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. (http://jackrudycocktailco.com). You measure out some of this syrup and top as necessary with seltzer water.
Do a little investigating, see what you like.
Tonic water is made with quinine, which, according to "The New Food Lover's Companion," is "an alkaloid that comes from the bark of the cinchona tree, an evergreen native to the mountainous areas of Central and South America. Quinine is the base flavor to most bitters and contributes the bitter essence to tonic water."
Albert does not recommend making your own tonic water.
"Unless you are a skilled beverage professional it is very difficult to balance a good recipe,'' she writes.
Joly agrees with her.
"I think it is a stretch for the home bartender,'' he believes. "With good options commercially available, I wouldn't spend the time, money and effort. If someone is a hard core enthusiast, they may find themselves experimenting, which is great for those wanting to take the plunge. Be aware, that homemade tonic will always have a cloudy, brownish hue to it. I've always been fine with this when I've made tonic, but some find it off-putting."
Still, if you insist on making your own, try the recipe below for homemade tonic syrup from "Frontera: Margaritas, Guacamoles, and Snacks" by Rick Bayless with Deann Groen Bayless.
Homemade tonic syrup
Makes: 2 cups
From "Frontera: Margaritas, Guacamoles, and Snacks."
1 1/4 cups sugar
Finely grated zest from 1 lime
1 1/2 stalks lemongrass, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon cinchona (quinine bark)
1.In a small saucepan, mix the sugar with 1 1/2 cups water and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the lime zest, lemongrass and cinchona. Let steep for 20 minutes.
2.Strain the syrup into a glass container and cool. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to a month or two.
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