The iconic gin and tonic was originally crafted to ward off malaria in colonial India around the turn of the century. English soldiers in the East India Co.’s private army used a daily dose of quinine, tonic’s main ingredient, to prevent and treat the ailment.
Luckily (for us), quinine is bitter, and resourceful Brits mixed the tonic with gin to make it easier to stomach. Today, drinkers are accustomed to virtually flavorless versions on grocery store shelves, but increasingly, tonics are individually crafted by creative bartenders, artisanal producers, distilleries and even at home.
Pinckney Bend Distillery
Pinckney Bend Distillery made a name for itself with its Hand-Crafted American Gin, introduced in 2003. Its Classic Tonic Syrup was created specifically to complement that gin. The distillery’s tonic has a distinctive rosy hue thanks to the infusion of rose petals and dried hibiscus flowers. It’s complex, with citrus notes and a balance of tartness, bitterness and just a little sweetness to pull things together. Diluted with club soda, it’s intriguing enough to sip on its own even before the addition of gin. It’s versatile for other tall drinks or could provide the unifying note in a festive punch. Pick it up at the New Haven, Missouri, tasting room, as well as retail outlets throughout Missouri and Fairview Heights, Illinois.
Pinckney Bend Distillery, 1101 Miller St., New Haven, Missouri, 573.237.5559, pinckneybend.com
Season + Square
Season + Square’s Bittermilk No. 5 charred grapefruit tonic syrup sold out this past holiday season, and with good reason (though it’s now back in stock). Searing the grapefruit rind adds some caramel notes, but there’s also lemon, lime and just a touch of sea salt from South Carolina-based Bulls Bay Saltworks. The salt seems to nudge the caramel forward in the mouth. Overall, despite the grapefruit and quinine, the syrup leans more tart than bitter. Switch out the traditional lime garnish with orange in a standard gin and tonic; Season + Square owner Andrea Morrow Joseph suggests making her favorite application: vodka on ice, topped with the charred grapefruit tonic, lime soda water and a lime wheel for garnish.
Season + Square, 6205 Oak St., Brookside, Kansas City, Missouri, 816.326.3148, seasonandsquare.com
The Gin Room
It’s no surprise that The Gin Room’s Natasha Bahrami is a tonic aficionado. She infuses her own, a half-dozen of which are available at the St. Louis bar at any given time. Some are seasonal, but a few favorites remain year-round, like the hibiscus tonic, with an undernote of lemongrass. It’s tropical without being sweet, and Bahrami, of course, has suggestions about the best gin with which to pair it – she has about 100 on offer. “I love people who come in and say they don’t like gin or they don’t like gin and tonic,” she says. “‘Just try this one, without gin,’ I’ll tell them. They taste it, and then I’ll offer a little bit with gin. They always end up saying, ‘I guess I do like gin and tonic!’” Bahrami, also known as The Gin Girl, occasionally teaches tonic workshops – the next one is Sat., April 9 – so you can come up with your own twist at home.
The Gin Room at Cafe Natasha’s, 3200 S. Grand Blvd., South Grand, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.771.3411, natashasginroom.com