Recently, a friend gave me a bag of cinchona (quinine) bark, the stuff that's used to make tonic water. That gave me the idea of making my own tonic and writing about it. Finding a recipe is easy—there's a pretty straightforward one on imbibemagazine.com. Or, if you want adventure, there are more complicated concoctions made with an array of herbs and spices.
But I couldn't find one ingredient: citric acid. And by that I mean, I tried one store, they didn't have it, then my car started to overheat and I gave up. The homemade tonic will have to wait. Instead, I had some fun with a tonic taste test, using gin as the spirit, in homage to the easiest of summer cocktails, a gin and tonic. I went with a usual suspect, Tanqueray (it happened to be in the freezer, and I've been trying to get rid of it), and something newer, Aviation.
For tonics, I grabbed Q Tonic, two Fever Trees (Mediterranean and Premium Indian), Jack Rudy and, for the heck of it, Schweppes.
The winner: Jack Rudy. This is a small-batch quinine concentrate to which you add soda water (4 ounces to 3/4-ounce of tonic) and 2 ounces of gin. It has a really nice, mellow citrus-y flavor—you don't need, nor should you want, to add any lime. It didn't undermine Aviation's complex flavors and made me forget I was drinking Tanqueray. It's $16 for a 17-ounce bottle, which will get you roughly 20 cocktails, making it less pricey than it seems.
The loser: Fever Tree Premium Indian. This is for people who really dig that classic quinine flavor—apparently a sizable group, given the rave reviews this one normally gets. But I'm just not a fan.
The others: Q Tonic proved to be the mildest and really played up Aviation's anise flavor. Fever Tree Mediterranean was also nice, with a bit of a floral undertone. The bottle says it's intended for vodka, but it was A-OK with both gins. As for Schweppes, it clashed with the Aviation but worked really well with the Tanqueray. Which is great, because I still have a half-bottle of the stuff.