Tonic water is a carbonated beverage containing a small amount of quinine, which was originally added as a malarial preventative. Quinine gives tonic water its characteristic bitter taste. Tonic water is usually used as a mixer for alcoholic drinks, particularly the classic gin and tonic, but there's no reason you can't enjoy the taste of tonic in a mocktail as well.
Be Sweet: Tonic Water Plus Fruit Juice
The simplest tonic-based virgin cocktails combine fruit juice and water. Lime juice is the top choice, as tonic water combines particularly well with juices that feature a bitter edge. Grapefruit plus tonic is another effective combination.
For something sweeter, try pomegranate juice plus tonic or cranberry juice plus tonic. A virgin screwdriver, sometimes called an End Wrench, consists of orange juice and tonic water. Blood orange juice makes for a particularly pretty variation.
Go Healthy: Tonic Water With Vegetables
Combine tonic water with sliced cucumbers or cucumber juice for a refreshing alcohol-free summer cocktail. You can garnish this mix with lemon, lime, rosemary or mint. Celery is another flavor that combines well with tonic water, so try celery juice plus a splash of lemon or lime, and garnish with a celery stick.
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How about a tomato cooler? This drink consists of tomato juice and a splash of lemon topped up with tonic water. You can make a Canadian version of this tomato cooler by adding clamato juice instead of tomato juice. This is based on the Canadian cocktail called a Caesar, or a Bloody Caesar. Similar to a Bloody Mary, the clamato juice – tomato juice with clam juice – makes the drink saltier.
Relish it: Herbs and Bitters
Change up a simple lime and tonic cooler by adding a dash of bitters – either by brand name, with some of the flavored artisanal bitters available, or you can even experiment and make your own bitters.
A dash of bitters enlivens tonic and cranberry or tonic and pomegranate. You can also infuse simple syrup with herbal flavors and use these to mix up a simple nonalcoholic cooler with tonic. You can make either a simple one-ingredient syrup such as rosemary or mint, or you can mix and match flavors including juniper – an important flavoring element in gin – lavender, sage, green tea, ginger or citrus zest.
Other Mocktails With Tonic
Make a virgin version of the Singapore Sling by combining pineapple juice, mango juice, pomegranate juice, a splash of lime juice and tonic water. Garnish with sprigs of mint and serve.
Mix tonic water and lemonade and add a dash of bitters for a pleasantly bitter variation on sparkling lemonade. Now that drinking vinegars are increasingly available, you can try mixing them with tonic and simple syrup for a drink that tastes complex enough to stand with its alcoholic bar mates.
Tonic is Just Tonic, Right?
While there used to be just one or two brands of tonic water for sale at the grocery store, more and more specialized brands are being made available.
You can change the taste of your mocktail simply by changing the type of tonic you add to it. Fever-Tree Tonic Water, for example, is known for its smaller Champagne-like bubbles. Many specialty tonics are flavored with extracts of lemon, pink grapefruit or with botanicals like elderflower or basil that can further enhance the flavor of your drink. Look for brands without artificial sweeteners, like Fentimans.
Lori A. Selke has been a professional writer and editor for more than 15 years, touching on topics ranging from LGBT issues to sexuality and sexual health, parenting, alternative health, travel, and food and cooking. Her work has appeared in Curve Magazine, Girlfriends, Libido, The Children's Advocate, Decider.com, The SF Weekly, EthicalFoods.com and GoMag.com.