The Canonic Tonic — Part 1
Were we talking about gin? My favorite subject! Or maybe it’s tied with my favorite mixer, tonic water. When I was wee, my favorite place to be was behind a restaurant or home bar. My folks were in the food-service industry, so it wasn’t like I was some urchin making coin by spit-cleaning the glasses. Rather, bars were places with hanging crystal glasses, foreign and unique scents, endless ice, and magical guns that shot out soda.
Oh, I loved soda. Cola, especially, but the occasional spritzes of orange or lemon-lime sodas were just a touch away. I loved that the letters C, O, and L on the guns would dispense sweet elixirs of joy. Sometimes, there was an R for root beer, or G for ginger ale. So exotic! Root beer is every kid’s go-to for the harder stuff. Vanilla and birch and sarsaparilla! Drinking it was like becoming a cowboy, howdy. Ginger ale was sophisticated stuff, my monocle set upon my upturned nose. Yes, it was spicy and sweet, like the Boer War or whatever nonsense my prepubescent brain thought was just the end-all of English class and dignity.
S was always a disappointment. What was that, salted water? Yeah, it was bubbly, but it didn’t taste good, no sweeteners or caramel colors. Eventually, I would water-down my colas with seltzer and, eventually, learn to appreciate it for itself. I’ve written an article about it. You should read it sometime.
And then there was Q. Younger me hated that stuff. Spritz it in a glass, and it smelled like 7-Up with something exciting added to it. Lemony? Sure. But what was that enticing scent? Quinine? Why was it there? To help people with malaria? This stuff must be magical! Instead, it was horrible. Absolutely undrinkable.
My folks spared me the forbidden knowledge of its use for pairing with gin (or, if desperate, vodka). So I was left with this undrinkable mess that had no place on the soda gun, which otherwise brought me so much joy. Occasionally, a one-liter bottle would appear in my refrigerator. Surely, I thought, it’s soda, so it must have some redeeming quality. I would open it and smell that sweet, citrusy enigma, and think I must have misjudged it the last time I tried it. A sip, and a confirmation that I had not, would teach me once again to never trust the Q.
And, when in time, I became aware of the possibilities opened to me once I learned to enjoy a tasty beverage, I still was of the opinion that tonic water was nastiness in a glass, and that my dear gin was the worst of of the Big Five (vodka, tequila, whiskey, rum, and gin—or what I now refer to as the Holy Quintuplet). When it was suggested to me to try a Gin and tonic, I literally scoffed. Tonic water was awful! Gin tasted like a bar smelled!
Try it. It’s grand. Somehow, the harshness of gin completely complements the astringency of tonic water. God is infinite in His wisdom. The Gin and tonic is cool, refreshing, and bubbly. It’s everything I wanted in a drink as a child, with something for the adult in me as well. The knowledge of this was censored as I skulked behind the bars of my childhood. That’s probably for the best, because as an adult, I take the Gin and tonic as a sign that the Universe is a benevolent place, and that the English managed to stumble into a lot of luck no matter how awful they were.
Wait. Where was I? Ah, tonic water. It still makes no sense to me. It’s harsh stuff. Most modern versions of it are sweetened to the point of absurdity. I doubt that 98% produced actually has quinine in it. Still, stick it with speed-rack gin and it’s tastier than half the concoctions any mixologist can throw together with just three ingredients, gin, tonic water, and lime. It can’t be mixed poorly. Put in too much gin? Still tastes good. Can’t ever have too much lime.
And it’s insidious. As I learned to enjoy the Gin and tonic, I learned to enjoy gin. My top liquor in the Holy Quintuplet is tequila, but gin is just slightly below it. (Thougtful readers may know my least favorite.)
Still, I knew, instinctively, that my tonics were subpar. I didn’t know what a good tonic should taste like, but I was sure that I hadn’t had it yet. Any time I came across something new, I would try it. Eventually, I would find that cane-sugar-sweetened tonics tasted better than the tonics with corn syrup. Listing quinine as an ingredient made the tonic exponentially better, which seems obvious, but I still don’t get it—quinine is nasty stuff. What I didn’t expect was that the less sugar used (not the same as sugar-free!) the better it tasted. And then I tried Fever-tree. I think I have more to say about that.