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Why Drinking Better Tonic Water Matters: A Conversation with Jordan Silbert of Q Drinks

tonic water
Image used with permission by copyright holder
What you drink matters, obviously (I wouldn’t have a job otherwise), but sometimes you don’t always think about the stuff that you drink with or in your drink.

Take tonic water, that bubbly, bitter partner in crime to gin or vodka. While you’ve probably pounded down countless G&T’s on a hot summer day here or there, have you ever really thought about what goes into tonic water?

Sure, you may know that tonic water gets its bitter flavor from quinine, a compound that was/is used to treat malaria. And sure, you may also know (because you’re the kind of guy that loves to drop these knowledge bombs at parties) that quinine comes from the bark of the cinchona tree, which is native to Peru. Or that, when put under ultraviolet light, tonic water glows because of the quinine. But do you know what else goes into tonic water?

Sweetener? You’re right about that, but did you know how much? Did you ever wonder why tonic water comes in a diet version, too? It’s because most commercially-produced tonic waters contain over twenty grams of sugar. Not just sugar, though, high fructose corn syrup.

It was when he realized this, one night at a party with some friends, that Jordan Silbert, founder of Q Drinks, decided he, too, could make a tonic water, and make it better. Not just better tasting, but better for you.

tonic water
Image used with permission by copyright holder

“I picked up the bottle of Schweppes and saw thirty-two grams of high fructose corn syrup, natural and artificial flavors, and sodium benzoate,” he recalled. He then asked to see a bottle of Sprite someone else was drinking from. Much to his surprise, he found the same ingredients.

With such well-made spirits around him, he knew he needed to do something. There was no reason to cover up the flavors the master distillers intended for their products. After doing some research, Silbert purchased some cinchona bark and worked to create a quinine tincture. From there, he began showing it around to friends and family. From there, he contacted a bottling plant and got a few cases made.

“I thought if nothing else I’d drink them all myself or give them away for birthday gifts,” he said.

Silbert also posted on a foodie site, asking around to see if anyone would like to try the tonic he’d made. Jim Meehan, famed bartender who founded New York institution PDT reached out. Then another bartender reached out. Soon, Silbert said, he had orders all around the world. From there, Q Drinks was born.

The difference between Q’s tonic and others, and what it really comes down to when you think about your mixers, are the ingredients and how they’re made.

“We use real quinine from real trees, real ginger from real ginger root for a bold authentic flavor,” he said. In addition, Q’s tonic water uses organic agave and in smaller amounts than other tonic waters.

“If your mixer has too much sugar, you can’t taste the subtleties of a fine spirit,” he added.

From there, Silbert said they use thicker bottles, which allows for more carbonation, providing for a fizzier drink longer.

Basically, if you care about your booze, you need to care about your mixer, too. You can’t say you’re able to enjoy a fifty-dollar bottle of gin when your tonic water has as much sugar as a bottle of soda.

If you like Q’s tonic water, too, make sure to check out their other products, like their ginger beer, which makes a hell of a Moscow (or Kentucky) mule.

Sam Slaughter
Sam Slaughter was the Food and Drink Editor for The Manual. Born and raised in New Jersey, he’s called the South home for…
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