Joy's Favorite Tonics


It’s hard for me to believe now that when I drank alcohol I was happy to sip any old tonic water. Tonic is lightly sweet, lightly citrusy bubbly water that’s flavored with quinine, which comes from the bark of the cinchona tree. It’s pleasantly bitter and medicinal. If fact, quinine is medicine—it’s used to treat malaria and other diseases. 

Anyway, before I stopped drinking alcohol I sipped tonic only in the classic cocktail, gin and tonic. Apparently, alcohol covers a multitude of flavor sins, deadens your tastebuds, or perhaps both because I am here today to tell you that the most common tonic waters—Canada Dry, Seagram’s, Schweppes—taste pretty terrible. They are cloyingly sweet and full of artificial citrus flavors. 

This is one of the first things I figured out about not-drinking because there are many times when the best you can do for a booze-free beverage is tonic with a splash of whatever juice is around. And this amalgam can range wildly from the insipid to the delicious depending on the ingredient. 

In fact, when I visited ITV, a cocktail bar in Philadelphia, to write this story about Seedlip for a local publication, and the bartender pulled out crummy second-rate tonic from behind the bar, I ran out immediately to get us something better. 

What I bought then, and what I buy for myself at home, is Fever Tree Tonic. The bubbles are many, strong, and assertive. (Looking back, when I think of my ardor for sparkling wine, I believe it was the bubbles I loved so much, not the wine.) I like all the Fever Tree Tonics, but I will always snap up the Mediterranean flavor when I see it. It has a more floral, herbal quality I like.

Once a month, I’ve been hosting a nonalcoholic happy hour at my house. For that, I like to buy Q Tonic in a 750 ml size bottle. It makes a splashy presentation and like Fever Tree it has a clean, balanced, non-cloying flavor and good strong fizz. For the most part I mix it with ice, bitters, and fresh citrus (grapefruit is a particular favorite). 

If you’ve never tasted any of the higher end tonics, I urge you to pick some up. Your tastebuds will thank you and you’ll feel like your drink is as special as whatever everyone else is having. 

joy manning