Tonic Water has made a comeback in the wake of the gin renaissance. The supermarket item that was once only available in liter plastic bottles has mutated into a premium mixer in small glass bottles. But what is tonic water exactly? In a nutshell: tonic water is one of the best companions for a gin. Do you want to learn more details? Okay, let’s continue reading.

what is tonic water
Tonic Water Is the Best Gin Friend

Oasis sang: “I’m feeling supersonic, give me a gin and tonic”. It’s really true, gin has experienced a renaissance similar to that of John Travolta after Pulp Fiction in recent years. A lot of new brands of tonic water have appeared in recent years. And each new brand tries to win the favor of consumers.

What Is Tonic Water Ingredients?

What is tonic water made of? There are a lot of ingredients. But the main one is quinine. The legend says the tonic had its origins when British soldiers in India were faced with the tropical malaria. And it was the hour of birth of the tonic waters we know today. However, quinine was already a well-known medicinal remedy among the Incas. Even today, the classic tonic consists of water, quinine, sugar, and carbon dioxide to give the drink the desired freshness. Our day’s quinine has the flavoring agent function.

Triumphant Advance of a Bark

Quinine is a natural chemical compound and is one of the quinoline alkaloids. It is found in the bark of the cinchona tree in South America and Africa. After quinine has been extracted from the bark, the substance is pressed and sold as a powder. If your drink glows blue when exposed to UV radiation, this is due to the fluorescent properties of quinine. You can still feel the bitter taste at a mixing ratio of 1: 50,000. Quinine cannot be produced artificially. It is considered a prescription drug in Germany, but nothing to worry about: In a gin and tonic, the concentration is too low to have any effect. In the United States, tonic quinine is limited to 0.083 ppm (83 mg per liter).

How to Make Your Own Tonic Water

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However, as time has gone on, and now we have a pleasant drink with a slight bitterness. Manufacturers have been added more and more ingredient variations. The tonic water is mixed with sugar, fruit flavors, different acids (especially citrus) or herbs, which gives the drink many different taste.

Tonic Water History in Details

From the above, you can already draw some conclusions about the history of the tonic and its main ingredient. However, there are several facts that we can still surprise you.

Quinine has a legendary history. Indigenous peoples traditionally knew about the healing power of the bark. When a Spanish soldier fell into a pool surrounded by cinchona trees in a malaria attack during a campaign of conquest, he quickly recovered. The Countess of Chinchón, who also suffered from malaria, is said to have been nursed back to health with quinine by a chief’s daughter in 1638. This story is not historically proven but gave the tree its name. However, until the mid-19th century, the bark was the only cure for malaria.

In 1820 the two French pharmacists Pierre Joseph Pelletier and Joseph Bienaimé Caventou are said to have succeeded in extracting pure quinine. Erasmus Bond patented Tonic Water in London in 1858. In 1870, the company of Johann Jacob Schweppe, purveyor to the British Crown, launched tonic water with quinine and lime on a large scale under the name Indian Tonic.

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Tonic water was standard equipment in the armies of the colonial countries as an effective remedy against malaria. For preventive measures, the soldiers had to drink tonic regularly. It was quite a challenge due to the bitter taste. So the soldiers started adding gin to it. Gin hid the bitter taste of quinine. This is an hour of birth of gin and tonic friendships!

Main Types of Tonic Water

Classic Tonics

These tonics, also called Indian, have a clean, dry and bitter taste, often enriched with a citrus note (lime, grapefruit, lemon or orange) to balance the bitter note given by the quinine and the dry note given by the gin.

Botanical Tonics

Botanical tonics are flavored with herbs or edible flowers (like rosemary, thyme and myrtle or lime) which give a refined note to the traditional tonic taste.

Light Tonics

They contain fewer calories and the sugar is replaced by sweeteners which can be artificial (saccharin, etc.) or natural (like stevia).

Flavored Tonics

The flavor of these tonics is often coated with an additional ingredient like ginger for example. These tonic waters are not very suitable for the preparation of a good Gin Tonic and are better suited to the category of sugary drinks, or ‘soft drinks’.


I hope you have received an answer to your question. And now you know exactly what tonic water is. We tried not to overload the article with unnecessary facts. So if we missed something important information, we’d like to hear your opinion in the comments. By the way, I am often asked: how to make your own tonic water? Follow the link and you will find a great recipe for making tonic at home.

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