Gin & Tonic
Make your gin and tonic (or vodka tonic) taste even more divine with a great tonic water
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KAREN HOCHMAN is Editorial Director of THE NIBBLE.



June 2008

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Cocktails

Q Tonic Water

Artisan-Crafted Tonic Water For A Superior Gin & Tonic (Or Vodka Tonic, If You Will)


CAPSULE REPORT: If you care enough to seek out the best gin or vodka for your gin and tonic or vodka tonic, here’s the tonic water to go with it. Each 6.3-ounce bottle is “perfectly proportioned for one proper drink,” according to the gin and tonic experts at Q Tonic. It stands alone as a soft drink, too: refreshingly effervescent and minimally sweet, with a touch of quinine and a broader hit of lemon.


If necessity is the mother of invention, Q Tonic is necessity’s child. One day, its creator happened to notice the calories in the bottle of tonic water he enjoyed with his vodkas and tonic. He then noticed some other ingredients on the bottle that were not necessarily as pure and fine as the top shelf vodka he enjoyed. Then, he became a man with a mission: to make an artisan tonic water from the best ingredients he could find. That journey went from Brooklyn to the Peruvian Andes for hand-picked quinine, and to the Mexican countryside for organic agave. On the way, he commissioned a bottle so elegant, it could be served to royalty on a silver tray. Then, as most artisan producers do, he opened up shop and looked for bars, restaurants and retailers to carry Q (for quinine) Water.

Q Tonic will actually change the way you think about tonic water. If  you’ve grown accustomed to the heavily-sweetened commercial products, Q Tonic takes some getting used to because it’s so light and elegant (and can easily be enjoyed as a soft drink by those refraining from alcohol). Schweppes, our favorite of the commercial brands, is more sweet and tart.

But Q Tonic—and other gourmet tonic waters, including Fever Tree and Stirrings, which we reviewed previously—aim to retrain the palates of those who like the heavily sugared and flavored mass-marketed products. To quote its creator, Q Tonic doesn’t overpower your spirit of choice, it enhances it—like Scotch and water, except here, it’s with the deft flavor of real quinine and the gentle sweetness of agave nectar.

For those not familiar with agave nectar: It is a sweetener produced from the core of several species of the Mexican agave plant. Agave is sweeter than honey, a bit less viscous and lower on the glycemic scale than both honey and maple syrup. In fact, many diabetics can use it as a sweetener. But lest you think it’s a lesser-flavored health food, it is a delicious product.

About Quinine

Before it was a cocktail mixer, quinine was a lifesaver. The beneficial compounds are found in the bark of the cinchona tree (a genus of some 24 trees), which grows on the slopes of the Andes Mountains. For centuries, the bark was stripped from the tree, dried and powdered, then mixed with a liquid and drunk. The tree was given its name in 1742 by the botanist Linnaeus, who named it after a Countess of Chinchon, wife of a Spanish viceroy to Peru. As the story is told, the countess contracted malaria in Peru in 1638, was successfully treated with the local remedy made from the bark of the tree and then introduced it to Europe in 1640.

It took 177 years, until 1817, for medicinal quinine, used to treat malaria, to be isolated and extracted from the bark by French researchers Pierre Joseph Pelletier and Joseph Bienaimé Caventou. The name is derived from the Quechua (Inca) word for the cinchona tree bark, quina or quina-quina, which translates to “bark of bark” or “holy bark.”

Even as a cocktail mixer, tonic water, or quinine water as it was first known, was created not for better mixology, but to save lives. In 1825, British officers of the Indian Army mixed quinine with sugar and water as a prophylactic to ward off malaria; to make the tonic more palatable, they added gin to the mixture. Thus, the gin and tonic—the archetypical drink of the British Empire—began as a medicinal drink. (The quinine levels in the original quinine water were very high. Today, they are miniscule—the FDA limits the quinine content in tonic water to 83 ppm.)


Comparison: Q Tonic & Schweppes

Q Tonic Water
Tonic water began in 1825 as a true medicinal tonic, to save British Army officers in India from malaria.

Compare Q Tonic to Schweppes Tonic Water, a mass-marketed brand that actually does contain real quinine and is augmented with natural flavors:

Q Tonic Schweppes Tonic Water


  • Triple-purified water
  • Organic agave (sweetener)
  • Peruvian quinine (hand-picked in
    the Andes Mountains)
  • Lemon juice extract
  • Natural Flavors


  • Carbonated water
  • High fructose corn syrup
    and/or sugar
  • Citric acid
  • Natural flavors
  • Sodium benzoate (preservative)
  • Quinine
  • Calories per ounce:  4.8
  • Calories per ounce:  11
  • Average production run: 500 cases
  • Average production run: hundreds of thousands of cases

A summary of Q Tonic benefits: 6% fewer calories, a low glycemic sweetener instead of HFCS or sugar and lots of flavor.

As with any food or beverage, tonic water is a matter of personal taste. All of the brands we tasted (for this review and for our review of Fever Tree & Stirrings) vary in sweetness, level of quinine and other flavors (e.g. citrus), and effervescence. As a result, they will pair differently with different gins, which themselves vary substantially in flavor, or other spirits you pair them with.

A fun evening for guests certainly would be gathering all the tonic waters you can find and having a pairing/tasting party. Ask every guest to bring a different gin (or vodka) to make it truly significant research.


Artisan Tonic Water

  • 187ml Bottle (6.3 Ounces)

Available at fine retailers nationwide.

For a store locator and companies that sell online, visit


Prices and product availability are verified at publication but are subject to change. Shipping is additional. These items are offered by a third party and THE NIBBLE has no relationship with them. This link to purchase is provided as a reader convenience.


Q Tonic
The bottle is as elegant as the contents inside.