Grin & tonic

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

I was watching the Today show last week while they were doing one of those "Eat this, not that" segments, which the editor of Men's Health magazine specializes in and has used as a tidy little springboard for a smart career spike.

Anyway, the guy was talking about the Alco-Holiday season and he mentioned that the most caloric common cocktail out there was the innocuous-sounding gin and tonic. The problem? Most tonic waters are rife with that cheap and evil sweetening agent known as high-fructose corn syrup.

Personally speaking, I used to knock back a lot of G&Ts, but as my fondness for evermore bitter drinks grew (yes, to match my personality) my tongue became fatigued by those unnaturally sweet drinks. Then I discovered a tonic water made in a completely different way. Yes, folks, it was high time for artisanal tonic water.

What I tried: Q Tonic ($6 for 4 bottles)

High on history: The history of the gin and tonic is long and fascinating. But here's a thumbnail sketch: Quinine is a bitter natural alkaloid originally found in the bark of the quinquina tree and used by pre-Colombian Peruvian Indians to very effectively treat malaria. When colonizing Europeans realized this effectiveness, quinine and water - tonic water - became a very expensively traded commodity.

Well leave it to the British to turn a medicinal treatment into cocktail hour. Because during the early 19th century, English officers in India began combining gin, sugar and soda water with their malarial-preventative medicine and thus was born the classic and most English cocktail of them all - the gin and tonic.

When synthetic quinine was introduced during WWII to combat heavy malarial outbreaks, tonic water began to take a commercial change for the worse, as shortcuts were used and sozme tonics were even produced without actual quinine in them.

Everything old is new again: Q Tonic - made with purified water, quinine, "natural bitters," lemon extract and a little agave for sweetening (that's the plant tequila is made from) - has 60 percent fewer calories than standard tonic water, and tastes rounder, far more refreshing and somehow even less bitter than the cheaper stuff. Its alkaline bitterness is somewhat tamed by a background sweetness from the agave and a very nice bit of citrus.

Would I drink it again?: Yeah, again and again. I think Q Tonic water is terrific on its own, but it also makes a superior gin and tonic. So now we holiday revelers may once again enjoy a suitably piney classic cocktail without the tongue-twinging caused by cloying sweetness or those excessive and unnecessary extra calories.

Plus, Q Tonic comes in nifty little 6.3-ounce bottles conveniently well-designed for single-serving cocktails. All in all, it's a very fine product.

We tried it!

Spot a new mixer you'd like Taste Test to try? E-mail