The tonic water market has changed beyond recognition in the past decade. Where there was once just Schweppes and Britvic to choose from, you can now buy tonic water in all kinds of colours, flavours and fizz levels, infused with everything from cucumber and violets to cardamom. I find a lot of these newcomers a bit style-over-substance, if I’m honest. But there is one micro-trend that I’ve been increasingly taken by – and that’s tonic cordials.
Tonic cordials work just like any other cordial – they come as a syrup and you mix them to your taste with soda water, usually in a ratio of around 1:3. It sounds like a gimmick, I know – why on earth would you want to complicate the blessedly simple process of mixing a G&T? But the results can be rather good. Not just with gin, but without gin too – refreshing and complex, with a bitterness that’s properly grown-up. If I’m feeling hungover and remorseful, I’ll often just have a tonic cordial and soda water by itself.
The brand that paved the way was Jack Rudy Classic Tonic Syrup (£12.80 from Master of Malt), an artisan cordial from South Carolina made with bitter cinchona bark and sugar cane, which also comes in an extra-bitter version that was apparently formulated specially for masochistic Brits. I like my G&T a bit on the hurt-y side so this suits me, but if you prefer something a little more mellow, Jack Rudy’s summery Elderflower Tonic Syrup (£12 from Master of Malt) is good, too, with soda, in a G&T or as a dash in a vodkatini.
Waitrose also recently took on ¾oz, a slick range of all-natural cocktail syrups from Montreal that work with or without alcohol. The amber-coloured Tonic Maison (£7.99) is made with cinchona bark, spices, lemongrass and orange zest, giving it a bright citrus edge that’s great with white spirits. If you like red vermouth, Campari or Cynar, you may also like the ruby-red ¾oz Spritz Syrup (£7.99) that can be used in a Negroni or to make a pretty good non-alcoholic spritz.
New from South Africa is Symmetry, a trio of beautifully packaged tonic cordials (all £16.95) made with local botanicals, bottled exclusively for The Whisky Exchange. The range includes a Citrus Tonic and a Floral Tonic, but my pick is Symmetry Spice Tonic flavoured with Cape snowbush, a botanical that gives it a herbaceous, slightly tropical astringency. It doesn’t taste remotely like traditional tonic water, yet it pushes all the right buttons – sharp, sweet, bitter, spicy. And it goes very well with the brand’s Geometric Gin (£45.95), a recipe developed in collaboration with Swartland winemakers-of-the-moment, Andrea and Chris Mullineux.
With tonics like these around, there’s no excuse for your next G&T to fall flat.