If you’ve only had tonic poured over gin, with a lime squeezed in there, you might not be familiar with the flavor of tonic on its own. Good tonic water has a sharp bitterness—thanks to quinine, from the bark of the cinchona tree, the ingredient that was found to combat malaria—but that bitterness is well-balanced with sugar, often citrus, and an array of other botanicals.
So we’re all familiar with tonic water. Tonic syrup, on the other hand, is a little newer on the cocktail scene—essentially all of the flavors you’d get in tonic, in a concentrated form; just add sparkling water.
A few advantages are obvious. Since you only add soda to the syrup you’re using, there are no bottles of tonic to go flat in your fridge. And since the carbonation and tonic flavor come from separate ingredients, it’s possible to dial up (or dial back) the intensity of the syrup however you like.
Every tonic syrup is different. We’re using the version from California-based Small Hand Foods, which we like for the rich, earthy quality it derives from cinchona bark. Try it out in these three recipes.
Easy: Gin & Tonic, Two Ways
Okay, we don’t need to tell you that tonic pairs well with… gin. But tonic syrup gives you a lot of ways to play around with the classic. If you generally find a G&T too sweet, the first recipe is for you—light and refreshing, with just a whisper of bittersweet tonic and a big squeeze of lime. Almost halfway between a G&T and a gin and soda—this is definitely a juniper-lover’s cocktail.
For a second version, we turn up the tonic considerably. The drink is notably richer and more substantial as a result. And making this Spanish-style, we’re dialing up all the garnishes—lime, orange, cinnamon, and allspice all amplify different notes of the gin and the tonic syrup.
Lighter: In a tall glass with ice, combine 1 1/2 ounces of gin (we’re using Plymouth), 1/2 ounce of tonic syrup, and three ounces of club soda and stir gently. Garnish with a big lime wedge, and squeeze it into the glass before drinking.
Bigger: In a large wine glass or double rocks glass with ice, combine 1 1/2 ounces of gin (we’re using Beefeater), an ounce of tonic syrup, and two ounces of club soda. Stir briefly. Garnish with lime wedge with a clove pierced in it, a slice of mandarin orange, three allspice berries, and a long cinnamon stick.
Intermediate: Tonic Spritz
Sometimes when you’ve got rich, earthy flavors, it’s nice to lighten them up—and there’s no easier way to do that than a spritz. Sparkling wine and sparkling water add the bright bubbles, and a little bit of vodka slides in, almost imperceptibly, to stiffen it up.
Instructions: In a wine glass with ice, combine an ounce of tonic syrup, an ounce of vodka, two ounces of sparkling wine, and two ounces of club soda. Stir briefly and garnish with a lemon wedge — and maybe a straw and an umbrella if you’re so inclined.
Advanced: Mint & Tonic
There are plenty of drinks we love that could use the bitter edge of tonic. Case in point? A mojito. A classic mojito with tonic swapped in for club soda would be way too sweet—but a bit of tonic syrup in the mix works perfectly. Every bit as refreshing as a G&T, but with mint and lime to boot.
Instructions: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 1 1/2 ounces of light rum (Brugal Extra Dry is great here), an ounce of fresh lime juice, an ounce of tonic syrup, and a half-ounce of simple syrup, plus 8 mint leaves. Shake up until well-chilled, then double-strain (through a fine mesh strainer, as well as through the shaker’s own strainer) into a tall glass with fresh ice. Top with two ounces soda and stir briefly. Garnish with a few mint sprigs, and maybe add a straw in there.
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