What is tonic water? Here are the top drinks with tonic water and what to know about this popular cocktail mixer.

Tonic water

It’s bubbly, it’s lightly sweet, and it’s the perfect mixer for cocktails and mocktails alike: tonic water! This carbonated beverage has been mixed into drinks for centuries, like the Gin and Tonic that dates from the 1850’s. It’s more than soda water, and it has an intriguing ingredient that adds nuance to the flavor. Here’s what to know about this bubbly cocktail mixer, and the best drinks with tonic water to try!

What is tonic water?

Tonic water is a carbonated water that also contains quinine and is lightly sweetened. Its flavor is bubbly, bitter, sweet and sour, making it an excellent mixer for drinks. Quinine was historically prescribed as a medicine to fight malaria, and mixing it with carbonated water and sugar helped to mask its bitter flavor. Tonic water was born! It first sold commercially in 1858.

Today, the level of quinine is much lower than historical tonic water, and is safe to consume. Classic cocktails use the stuff not only to dilute the liquor with bubbles, but to add a distinct nuance in flavor. The invention of the Gin and Tonic coincided with the availability of tonic water in the 1850’s.

Tonic water ingredients

What are the ingredients in tonic water? This beverage is a mixture of:

  • Carbonated water
  • Sugar (or high fructose corn syrup, in some major brands)
  • Quinine

What’s the best brand? These days there are a lot of options. Our favorite brand is Q Tonic: it has great flavor and is sold in small cans, just enough for a few drinks. Even better, the only ingredients are quinine and agave. (We also like the Q brand for ginger beer and ginger ale.)

Quinine levels: is it safe?

Is the level of quinine in tonic water safe? Yes. Quinine is a compound that comes from the bark of a tree called the cinchona tree, which is native to South America. It was originally invented as a medicine for malaria, but there are some side effects to using it (like nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and more serious side effects).

But don’t worry: the level of quinine in today’s tonic water is perfectly safe to drink! The US FDA regulates the level of quinine: it can contain no more than 83 parts per million. So don’t worry: your G&T is safe to drink.

Club soda vs tonic water: the differences!

How is it different from club soda? What about other waters, like sparkling or seltzer? Here are the main differences:

  • Tonic water is carbonated water with added quinine and sugar
  • Club soda is carbonated water infused with added minerals, which give it a salty flavor
  • Sparkling water / seltzer / soda water is carbonated water with no additives (opt for plain, since sometimes flavors or sugars can be added)

Read more at Club Soda vs Seltzer.

Drinks with tonic water

What types of drinks use this carbonated beverage? Since it’s been around since the 1850’s, it’s been a cocktail mixer of choice for centuries. But the popular Gin and Tonic is just the beginning. There are lots of liquors to mix up with this carbonated beverage, including mocktails. Here are the top drinks with tonic water to try!

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Tonic water

Top Drinks with Tonic Water!


  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 2 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 2 minutes
  • Yield: 1 drink 1x
  • Diet: Vegan

Description

Here are the keys to the very best drinks with tonic water! Make it with gin, vodka, or whiskey for a different drink every time. (Pictured: See Strawberry Gin & Tonic.)


Ingredients

Scale
  • 2 ounces gin, vodka or whiskey
  • 4 ounces tonic water
  • Garnishes: lemon or lime wedges

Instructions

  1. Add lots of ice to a large cocktail or wine glass and stir to chill the glass.
  2. Pour in the gin, vodka or whiskey. Squeeze in lemon or lime. Pour the tonic water onto a bar spoon into the glass (to increase the bubbles). Stir once and serve.
  • Category: Drink
  • Method: Stirred
  • Cuisine: Cocktails

Keywords: Tonic water, drinks with tonic water, quinine in tonic water, club soda vs tonic water, tonic water ingredients

More cocktail guides

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About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Meet Sonja and Alex Overhiser: Husband and wife. Expert home cooks. Authors of recipes you'll want to make again and again.

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