The basics of tonic water

Tonic water is an essential component of both traditional and alcohol-free home bar carts. The same qualities that make tonic a bar cart staple for mixing with traditional gin also make it a natural pairing for cocktails made with Sobrii non-alcoholic gin. But what makes tonic water different from other clear, fizzy mixers like club soda and seltzer? And how did it become a standard in gin-based cocktails?

What is tonic water?

Tonic water, club soda, and seltzer all have a base of carbonated water. The difference between the three, however, is that seltzer is pure carbonated water, club soda adds sodium, and tonic water features sugar, quinine, and occasionally other flavourings.  

Quinine is to tonic water what juniper is to gin: it’s fundamental to tonic water’s characteristic taste. The origin story of the gin and tonic cocktail is also tied to quinine. Quinine, which is made from the bark of the cinchona tree, was widely used to treat malaria beginning in the 17th century. 

According to the legend, British armies stationed in colonial-occupied India were given quinine to help ward off malaria. To help counter quinine’s bitter taste, the soldiers began mixing it with some of their other ration items, which included soda water, sugar, and gin.

The amount of quinine added to tonic water today is significantly less than would have been found in these original, medicinal gin and tonics; however, the sharp, earthy flavour of quinine mixed with the refreshing, herbal notes of gin has remained an enduring pairing. 

 What types of tonic water are best for cocktails?

It’s easy to overlook the impact that a mixer like tonic water can have on the taste of a traditional or alcohol-free cocktail. When you consider, however, that tonic water might comprise up to half of a cocktail like a gin and tonic, you can start to imagine the influence your tonic water choice can have on the flavour of your cocktail.

Although tonic water has been commercially available for over a century, it’s only been in the last decade that the craft cocktail movement has spurred a growth in the variety and quality of tonic water options available.

While there’s nothing wrong with mixing mainstream tonic waters like Schweppes or Canada Dry into your Sobrii cocktails, it can also be enjoyable to experiment with adding different tonic waters to your home bar cart and noticing the new dimensions they can add to your go-to drinks.

These are a few of our favourite tonic water options to help fuel your inspiration:

Double Dutch: Our go-to tonic water, which we include in our Sobrii-Gin G&T Sampler set. Their All Natural Indian Tonic is an excellent bar cart staple, particularly for those who prefer a more mellow tonic water. The light carbonation and slightly fruity flavours of Double Dutch’s Indian Tonic help to balance the tonic water’s natural bitterness. With 38% less sugar than a regular tonic, the Double Dutch Skinny Tonic Mixer is a great option for those looking to cut back on sugar without comprising on the taste of their cocktails.

Fever-Tree: Fever-Tree was one of the first premium tonics to hit the market, and it continues to set the bar for craft tonics today. Interestingly, the brand’s name is a reference to the cinchona tree’s anti-malaria qualities, a nod to the history of tonic water and quinine. Fever-Tree comes in a wide range of flavours, spanning from the traditional Premium Indian Tonic Water to Sicilian Lemon and Elderflower variations, all of which can make lovely complements to the taste of Sobrii.

Tonic Syrups: Tonic syrup is an alternative to tonic water that offers the flavours of tonic concentrated in syrup form. Tonic syrups are designed to be mixed with sparkling water and give you more control over the intensity of the tonic element in your cocktail. A number of local brands produce craft tonic syrups, such as Ottawa’s Split Tree and Montreal’s 3/4 OZ Tonic, which means you can pair Canadian-made Sobrii with a Canadian tonic.


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