When ordering a Gin & Tonic at a bar, you’re typically at the whim of whatever low-octane quinine gunk happens to be loaded into the soda gun. Your home G&T game, however, is a different story. But while a few years ago your tonic choices essentially came down to Schweppes or Canada Dry, today a dazzling buffet of artisanal, small batch, cost-infused tonics are competing for your mixer dollar, each promising to elevate your G&T to new heights of quininic pleasure.
Now I’m no British military officer stationed in India, but my habit of sipping tonic straight made me uniquely suited to test eight of the most popular variations on the 19th century’s top malaria cure. My test subjects ranged from grocery store generics to artisan lemongrass-infused elixirs. Since tonic started out as medicine, you’d logically assume that drinking a whole lot of it should have made me feel healthier, smarter and more attractive.
This was not my experience. I feel a little sweaty, I can barely tie my shoes (though admittedly that’s normal), and I’m still only extremely attractive (according to my girlfriend who I made up just for this story). The malaria lab results aren’t back yet, but my lack of abdominal pain means that the sweating is probably unrelated to a mosquito-borne illness. Most likely it’s a post-traumatic response to the sheer volume of offensive liquid I consumed in the process of this taste test.
My most surprising finding was that these fancy bitter sodas are all surprisingly different from one another. And that means the resulting cocktails you make from each one will be quite different. I’ve ranked them from worst to best based on carbonation, flavor, and mixability (each factor individually scored on a scale from one to ten). Here are my findings — I hope they help the next time you’re in the mixer aisle.