The Easiest Way to Upgrade Your Gin and Tonic

As the name suggests, there are really only two components to a gin and tonic (unless you count the lime), which means only two ways to screw it up. It’s easy enough to avoid a bad gin. Bad tonic water, though, is the rule, not the exception. Look at a label and you’ll see cheap high-fructose corn syrup is the first ingredient in almost all of them. There’s a better way.

Tonic is so bad, in fact—and so predominantly used with gin—that it convinces some people that the taste they don’t like is gin. And can you blame them? The vast majority store-bought tonics are like soda pop with a little bitterness to them. There’s no nuance to them. They’re bad, and when they’re not bad, they’re boring.

We can fix that.


The gin and tonic was built backwards. Most cocktails start with a spirit and add a mixer to change its flavor. The G&T began the other way. Beginning back in the 1600s British soldiers had to take a daily ration of quinine, which was used for its anti-malarial properties, and had a very bitter taste. In the early 1800s they started adding gin to it (and sugar, water, and lime) to improve the flavor. Yes, the spirit was added to the mixer to improve the mixer’s flavor.

The tonic of the 1600s (quinine, sugar, and water) bore very little resemblance to what we now know as tonic water. For starters, it used real quinine, which was taken from the bark of the cinchona tree (also known as the “fever tree” because it helped allay said symptoms). It also used real sugar, not high fructose corn syrup. And, perhaps most importantly, it wasn’t bubbly and carbonated. Carbonation hadn’t even been invented at the time.