With dozens of flavours and variants available, it’s perhaps no surprise that bartenders are finding ever-more interesting ways to use tonic. From vodka to sherry and port to coffee, Jo Bruce takes a look at what happens when T loses the G
Ten years ago, the thought of serving tonic without gin would have been like having Ant without Dec, and few would ever have imagined mixing it with the increasing variety of drinks it can be partnered with today.
But the premiumisation of the category, led by Fever-Tree, which reported a staggering 71% increase in sales in 2015, has elevated tonic’s status to that of key ingredient, alongside an increasing spectrum of spirits, liqueurs and non-alcoholic drinks.
As Francesca Kolios, general manager of Manchester’s Atlas Bar, says: ‘Tonics have really developed, in terms of clarity of taste, and quality, and are appealing to customers beyond just gin drinkers.’
Tequila and tonic was my drink of the summer
The diverse range of tonic flavours now available includes smoked, lemon, hibiscus and chocolate, and there are even alcoholic tonics, syrups and liqueurs. It means bars now have a wide range of tonic flavour profiles to work with on their drinks lists and are embracing the T without the G in a big way.
White spirits are the natural extension from gin for partnering with tonic, and tequila is currently top of the list, with the T&T set to be a dynamic duo this summer. Fever-Tree has been working with Patrón Tequila UK brand ambassador Karine Tillard to promote the Patrónic serve, using Patrón Silver and Fever-Tree Indian Tonic Water, and making it increasingly present on drinks lists.
Matthew Sykes, marketing director at Patrón Spirits International, says: ‘With the Patrónic, you get all the elements you would enjoy from a G&T: rich herbaceous flavour, citrusy notes, deep, peppery, spicy finish – all the things that make the perfect long drink. We add an orange peel at the end as it binds all the flavours together and provides a beautiful aroma – from squeezing out the essential oils.’
Rob Simpson, bartender at The Clove Club in East London, adds: ‘Tequila and Tonic is delicious and refreshing. It was my drink of the summer.’
For a twist on the Patrónic, Patrón also recommends the Mexican Garden, created by adding a fresh orange slice, mint and cucumber to the Patrónic.
Vodka is another sympathetic team-mate for tonic. Simple serve ideas from Fentimans’ cocktail expert Allan Beaton, include Fentimans Tonic Water with new Ciroc Peach and a slice of fresh peach over ice, or Stolichnaya Original with tonic and Angostura Bitters. Atlas Bar’s Kolios recommends elderflower tonic with vodka or vodka tonic with pink grapefruit.
Tonic also adds a point of difference to rum serves. As Keiran Cusker, Flor de Caña UK brand ambassador, says: ‘Tonic is a great alternative to the tired status quo of Coke or ginger beer when serving rum long. Tonic complements the sweet, dry finish of Flor de Caña really well.’ Tara Garnell, manager at north London’s Original Sin, is a fan of Merchant’s Heart tonic with whisky. She says: ‘The tonic has a different carbonation and flavour and I’m impressed with how well it works with whisky.’
Tom Proud, manager of Pleased to Meet You in Newcastle, is also using tonic with a range of darker spirits. ‘For a different drink, try Peter Spanton Chocolate Tonic with dark spirits such as spiced rum or bourbon,’ he says.
With fortified and liqueurs
Tonic is getting in on the act with rising star vermouth too. Jim Wrigley, bar operations manager at Bourne & Hollingsworth Group, says: ‘The fresh, bitter flavours of quinine complement sweet, dry and aromatic pairings – vermouth and tonic offers a complex and lower-alcohol alternative to the traditional G&T in particular, with the wide variey of both styles of vermouth and brands of tonic offering myriad variations.’
At the group’s Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings, vermouth and tonic is used in lower-alcohol cocktail the Longflower, which marries Seedlip, Regal Rogue Bold Red Vermouth and a touch of white port, topped with Fever-Tree Tonic.
Chotto Matte in London’s Soho has created the Chotto Aperitivo, which combines Belsazar Red Vermouth, Campari and Fentimans Herbal Tonic, with orange zest and a pinch of sea salt.
I’m impressed with how well tonic works with whisky
Several other liqueurs are also being mixed with tonic. Proud recommends trying Luxardo Cherry Sangue Morlacco
or Disaronno with 1724 Tonic Water.
He says: ‘It is so smooth and gentle on the quinine to drink on its own, but equally it works incredibly well with other flavour profiles. Or try an Indi&Co Lemon Tonic with Grand Marnier for a take on the classic St Clements.’
Campari and Syndrome Tonic is a recommended match for Atlas Bar owner Elaine Wrigley. ‘It is ideal for those looking for a sharper drink,’ she says.
Ross Mullins, bar manager at Bath’s Vini Vino, recommends Mastiha’s Enosis Liqueur with Fever-Tree Mediterranean, a couple of slices of orange and citrus peel.
‘Enosis is a fantastic replacement for gin if you’re looking for a sweeter, fruitier drink,’ says Mullins. ‘We find that citrus works perfectly with this partnership, but you might want to try a few berries.’
Tonic has also started to take a bigger slice of the aperitif action. James Fowler, World Class UK Bartender of the Year 2014, and owner of The Larder House in Southbourne, Dorset, uses tonic with both port and sherry, such as Alfonso Oloroso from González Byass. ‘We sell around 10-15 per week,’ says Fowler, ‘and they’re really refreshing as an aperitif. Tonic works well with sherries with a touch of sweetness. These drinks have a lower abv, which also appeals to customers.’
The Spanish have been mixing sherry and tonic for years, and alcoholic tonic water Pedrino, which blends tonic with Pedro Ximénez sherry and botanicals, offers bars a pre-mix of sherry and tonic as an alternative to the G&T.
Pedrino co-founder Sam Showering says: ‘Pedrino’s taste is refreshing and sophisticated and gives bartenders a range of serving options: serve Pedrino by itself, over ice with a garnish of orange, or mix it to make new and innovative cocktails that are sure to get drinkers talking.’
At Liverpool’s Filter + Fox, popular serves include Cálem White and Dry Port with tonic, and aperitivo cocktail The Oxford Comma, a mix of white port, Campari, fresh pink grapefruit and tonic.
Bar owner Owain Williams says: ‘Last summer, we increased our focus on aperitivo-style drinks and lower-alcohol serves as we are a popular spot both during the day and night and this is our personal preferred style of drinking. ‘The Oxford Comma was an instant hit with the customers. It’s a really balanced, light drink that our guests have really taken to.’
At London’s Merchant House, tonic is being used to create cocktail bitters. It makes Fentimans Herbal London Bitters by reducing tonic down to a one-fifth volume concentrate and adding foraged hawthorn and rosehips from London parks to increase the bitter flavour profile.
Tonic has started to play a bigger role in soft drinks, served with just ice or a squeeze of lemon, or with pressed apple juice or elderflower.
As Garnell says: ‘It’s a really good option for people who don’t have a sweet palate. It’s great if you want a refreshing tang of quinine but not the booze.’ She makes a non-alcoholic Rickey with homemade cucumber cordial, lime juice and tonic.
Tonics such as Bottlegreen’s Elderflower, Fever-Tree’s Mediterranean or Thomas Henry’s new Cherry Blossom Tonic, which launched in April, are ideal for drinking sans alcohol. At Atlas Bar, Fever-Tree Mediterranean is served straight over ice, with basil, an olive or rosemary as a garnish. And tonic is also increasingly being used as a perfect partner for new non-alcoholic spirit Seedlip.
T and coffee
One final emerging tonic trend is ‘fizzy coffee’, which originates from the Italian ritual of serving the classic espresso with a shot of sparkling water on the side.
A good, smooth, non-bitter espresso over a long glass of tonic? Wow!
David Cutler, head of training at Lavazza UK, says: ‘By replacing the sparkling water with tonic water, and combining it with a shot of espresso, you get a refreshing serve with a balance of acidity, citrus, sweetness and bitterness. You also get a delicious foamy texture at the top of the glass, like a “float”.’ Proud adds: ‘I heard about espresso tonics and had to give them a try. Wow! With a good, smooth, non-bitter espresso over a long glass of tonic (such as Fever-Tree) – add a squeeze of lime for extra zing – you’ve got a sweet yet sharp and citrusy cooler.’
Cold-brew tonic, which has been popping up around the US, has started to appear on UK menus. It combines cold-brew coffee – which, due to its gentle brewing process, is sweeter and less acidic than espresso – with tonic and ice.
So when it comes to finding innovative ideas for your spring and summer drinks menus, you might find that the king of quinine is just the tonic.
FROM THE TONICISTAS
We asked tonic producers for their favourite non-gin recipes
St Clements Punch
Tom Proud, Pleased to Meet You, Newcastle
Garnish: Orange and lemon zest
Method: Mix all ingredients and serve in a carafe with ice, and orange and lemon zests.
200ml Indi&Co Lemon Tonic
175ml orange juice
50ml Havana Club 3yo
50ml Grand Marnier
3 dashes Regans’ Orange Bitters
The Oxford Comma
Owain Willians, Filter + Fox, Liverpool
Garnish: Slice of pink grapefruit
Method: Serve the port and Campari over ice in a wine glass, top with tonic and garnish with a squeezed slice of fresh pink grapefruit.
35ml Cálem White Port
Jim Wrigley, Bourne & Hollingsworth Group, London
Glass: Nick & Nora
Method: Shake together all of the ingredients except the tonic and strain into chilled glass. Top with Pedrino PX Tonic.
40ml Four Roses Yellow Label
10ml lemon juice
15ml Seville Marmalade syrup
Pedrino PX Tonic to fill
Rebecca Sides, Happiness Forgets, London
Method: Dry then wet shake, strain and top with tonic.
20ml Vulson White Rhino Rye
20ml Van Wees Rose Without Thorns
20ml lemon juice
10ml sugar syrup (1:1)
2 dashes lemon bitters
Merchant’s Heart hibiscus tonic
Pomms Cup 'n' Bob
James Fowler, The Larder House, Southbourne, Dorset
Method: Build all ingredients in a long glass. Add a seasonal sorbet on top – Fowler uses lemon and thyme sorbet.
40ml Tanqueray No. 10
20ml 10-year-old tawny port
2 dashes Spanish bitters
Fever-Tree Tonic to fill