DOTW: Tequila & Tonic

Posted by Cameron on 05.11.07 7:00 AM

(c)2007MWD  ** ALL rights reservedI can’t remember exactly when I first tried a tequila and tonic, but I can remember why: I was searching for a standard drink. I wanted to have a drink in my mental back pocket that I could order when the specialty cocktail list got too goofy. Or when I’d arrived late and everyone else was already halfway through their glasses and a waitress was asking, “And can I get you anything?” as she whooshed by on her way to another table. An easily-described drink made out of ingredients available pretty much anywhere, one that even the most ham-handed bartender couldn’t screw up too badly.

I started from a gin and tonic baseline. Rum and tonic was too sweet. Vodka and tonic just tasted like tonic. I never tried bourbon and tonic, because that’s just too weird even for me. But one night I asked for a tequila and tonic with a lime, and I’ve never looked back. Tequila and tonic trades on the same bittersweet, citrus pleasures as the gin and tonic, but substitutes spicy roundness for medicinal bite.

(c)2007 AEC *all rights reserved*These days, I’m looking forward to a tequila and tonic at the homestead even more than usual, as the renewed national interest in cocktails has spawned a couple of boutique tonic waters. So, as part of the Drink of the Week and Mixology Monday festivities, we rounded up a couple of the new entries–Stirrings and Fever Tree–to put them to the test against the supermarket standbys: Schweppes and Canada Dry.

The results were interesting. Canada Dry was the clear loser with a Two Tongues Stuck Out in Disgust rating; “Overly sweet and chemical-tasting,” said our panel. Our tasters were also a bit disappointed by the Stirrings tonic. It had the advantage of tasting like natural product, but was nearly as sweet and oddly fruity as the Canada Dry. The second mass-market entry, Schweppes, fared better, although it brought out the boozy, horse-blanket nature of the tequila. The overall winner was the Fever Tree tonic, which balanced sweet and bitter and added welcome herbal notes.

Purely in the interest of science, we also compared the two supermarket brands in multiple formats: 10-ounce bar bottles and liter-sized big ‘uns. Just as I’ve always thought, the contents of the larger bottles were OK when fresh, but quickly took a turn for the flat and lackluster, which further exacerbated their chemical-y, medicinal undertones.

Mixology Monday 15Tequila & Tonic
2 oz. aged tequila (we use El Jimador Reposado)
3-4 oz. good-quality tonic
lime wedge, for garnish

Build over ice. Sip suavely, Rico.

Drink of the Week, drinks, Mixology Monday, recipes



Comment by Doug

I never thought of mixing tonic and tequila – I’ll give it a go the next time I’m out and about.

I’ve also never given much though to the varieties of Tonic – I guess its akin to the Pepsi/Coke debate…not that I’m much of a soft drink person.

Posted on 05.11.07 at 8:47AM

Comment by Anita

It’s funny: Like Doug, I always thought — at least with regard to the supermarket brands — tonic is tonic is tonic. But given that both Canada Dry and Schweppes are bottled by 7Up and have identical ingredient lists, I was stunned at how different they were.

More notes on the tonic tasting: In the first round, we tasted all 6 tonics solo, and disqualified the big-bottle entrants from moving on. In round two, we tasted all the small-bottle tonics with 3 pieces of ice, 1.5 oz of Beefeater gin and a small wedge of lime, to see how well they blended.

Again, the Canada Dry was just not good — chemical-tasting and too sweet. There wasn’t anything wrong with the Stirrings, but it wasn’t dramatically different in flavor from the Schweppes, other than a cleaner, less-artifical taste. The Fever Tree was definitely a lot more complex and balanced — bitter, yes, but also a touch spicy and citrusy. The marketing materials say that the ingredients include “coriander oil, lime oil, African marigold, Kenyon bitter orange oil and cane sugar” — a lot more interesting than the ‘natural flavors’ listed on the bottle.

When we mixed the Schweppes and the Fever Tree with tequila, the differences seemed less prominent. But after half a glass — dilution of melting ice? warming a touch? — the Fever Tree’s superiority became more obvious.

Schweppes is $3.89 for a 6-pack of 10oz bottles; Fever Tree is usually $5.49 for a 4-pack of 6oz bottles (BevMo club card price, this week, is $4.99). Is it worth 4 times more, on a per-ounce basis, for the Fever Tree? Hmm… yeah, I think it is.

Posted on 05.11.07 at 9:32AM

Comment by Sean

I have a friend who drinks rum and tonic, a habit she picked up from her father, who was based in Venezuela for several years. I find it disgusting — the flavors do not jibe at all for me. Tequila sounds like a good match. Where did you find the Fever Tree tonic?

Posted on 05.11.07 at 9:33AM

Comment by erin

I hear ya on the need for a drink standard…I’ll have to try this next time. Also, thanks for the analysis of the tonics–I’m impressed–the more tequila I have, the less I’m able to distinguish the differences between pretty much anything :)

Posted on 05.11.07 at 9:41AM

Comment by Anita

BevMo has Fever Tree now… although it does seem supplies are limited, and I’d suggest calling before heading over.

Posted on 05.11.07 at 2:15PM

Comment by erik_flannestad

Funny! For some reason last weekend I searched the BevMo site for tonic, and ran across the Fever Tree. They’re also supposed to have the Fever Tree bitter lemon and ginger ale, which I’d also like to try.

I didn’t get a chance to get there last weekend and purchase any; but, now that you’ve given it the thumb’s up, I’ll have to get some this coming weekend.

Posted on 05.11.07 at 4:59PM

Comment by Anita

yup, they have all three flavors… we bought the others, too, but haven’t tried them yet. We also made a batch of home-made ginger beer for the new soda siphon. any guesses as to next week’s DOTW? :)

Posted on 05.11.07 at 6:58PM

Comment by Stephanie

BevMo also stocks the fourth Fever-Tree mixer, the club soda. It’s awesome in mojitos. I’m completely obsessed with Fever-Tree.

Posted on 05.11.07 at 8:22PM

Comment by Chubbypanda

Looks great! I love gin and tonic. This is right up my alley.

Posted on 05.11.07 at 10:51PM

Comment by Shawn

Nice combination — vaguely reminiscent of a margarita. I image it would be excellent with a splach or freshly squeezed orange or grapefruit juice, albeit at the cost of complicating the “catch-up” order with the waiter.

Posted on 05.12.07 at 10:23PM

Comment by Jonathan M. Forester

Anita- thanks for commenting over at in response to the article on G&T I wrote a few weeks ago, and telling us about your tonic tasting.

I agree with you folks 100% about the tonics you tried. I also did a review of the whole line-up of Fever-Tree mixers including interviews with the creator and staff. You can read it at Slashfood or at my own site, Here’s a link.
I also have compiled most of my spirit, wine, cocktail, and beverage reviews and articles from Slashfood over at DrinkingTheWorld to make it easier for folks to search them out. JMF

Posted on 05.13.07 at 8:40AM

Comment by Sarah

I’ve never liked the taste of tonic water, but I’ve only tried the mass-market variety. I’m definitely going to track down some of the artisinal stuff and give that a try, though.

Posted on 05.14.07 at 9:28AM

Comment by caff

what an interesting combination! I will have to give this a try with my newly purchased bottle of Cabo Wabo :D

Posted on 05.14.07 at 1:02PM

Pingback by liquor and libations

[...] tonic taste test May 15, 2007 Filed under: tasting, general — liquorandlibations @ 1:54 pm I’ve been drinking tequila and tonic ever since I went to Mexico last fall. After bringing back two giant bottles of tequila I started to substitute it for many other spirits in my favourite mixed drinks – tequila instead of rum in mojitos, tequila instead of whiskey in the Mexican lemonade, so I was intrigued by Married With Dinner’s recent tonic taste test when making tequila and tonic. Since I also enjoy a gin and tonic fairly regularly, I know that while good quality spirits are necessary, a good tonic can make all the difference. Married with Dinner had four tonics to test with, two mass market entries – the ubiquitous Canada Dry and Schweppes tonic waters, as well as two boutique tonic waters – Fever Tree and Stirrings. “The results were interesting. Canada Dry was the clear loser with a Two Tongues Stuck Out in Disgust rating; “Overly sweet and chemical-tasting,” said our panel. Our tasters were also a bit disappointed by the Stirrings tonic. It had the advantage of tasting like natural product, but was nearly as sweet and oddly fruity as the Canada Dry. The second mass-market entry, Schweppes, fared better, although it brought out the boozy, horse-blanket nature of the tequila. The overall winner was the Fever Tree tonic, which balanced sweet and bitter and added welcome herbal notes.” [...]

Posted on 05.15.07 at 1:55PM

Comment by Camper English

Funny- the Fever Tree people are in SF right now and I did a tasting with them yesterday.

If you like the tonic pick up their Bitter Lemon- it also has quinine in it so the flavors are similar, just heavier on the lemon than the lime of the tonic.

Posted on 05.15.07 at 2:52PM

Comment by gilrain

The Fever Tree sounds worth a shot — but before I add it to my next BevMo order, can anyone compare it with the Hansen’s offering? I’ve found the Hansen’s has the most distinctive quinine bute of the few I’ve tried — perhaps too much, but it’s certainly more interesting than the larger brands. Any opinions?

Posted on 05.23.07 at 10:54PM

Comment by Grant

Inspired by this post, I bought some Fever Tree and made myself a tequila & tonic last night. I was pleasantly surprised! I’ll probably stick with my gin & tonic most of the time, but I’ll rotate this one in on occasion. Thanks for the tips.

P.S. If anyone is having trouble tracking down Fever Tree and there are several BevMos near you, you can check availability at each store at

Posted on 05.30.07 at 7:33AM

Comment by Jordan Silbert

I also wanted to add one more thing: from my perspective the biggest difference between the different tonic waters is the type and amount of sugar used, even more than the type and amount of quinine.

For example, Canada Dry uses a gram more high fructose corn syrup than Schweppes per serving, and that’s why it tastes more sticky sweet. And Stirrings, while it uses Cane Sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup, uses 19g per serving, which is 20% more than what Fever Tree uses and more than double what I use. Finally, Q Tonic is using organic agave rather than even cane sugar. If any of you have ever tried replacing simple syrup with agave in a drink you’ll know what I’m talking about – agave has a longer and more complex flavor profile, and as a result I think makes a better match for the quinine as well as the fantastic and often quickly sharp gins that have been coming out. And for anyone that wants to experiment, I’m using sweet cactus farm’s organic agave. I tested a bunch of different ones, and it was the best tasting and had the roundest sweetness. If that’s all too confusing there are some graphs on q tonic’s website that try to explain it all.

Posted on 05.31.07 at 8:10AM

Comment by Jack

Fever-tree tonic and Hendrick’s gin is seriously a drink to die for. Anyway, fever tree is exploding at all Bevmo’s right now (i work at one fyi) and it seriously can make any drink seriously better, but i’ve noticed it doesn’t work so well with vodka’s. I had a fever tree tonic with Stoli Elit and it was a bit better but i’d rather have stoli elit alone and the tonic alone. Combo not as good.

Posted on 07.27.07 at 1:35AM

Comment by Neal

The drink sounds interesting, but how are you able to use it as your standby when most places aren’t going to carry boutique tonic waters? I think Canada Dry is probably the most common one, and few bars would carry multiple tonics. Disgusting tonic is the major reason I never order “X and tonic” drinks normally.

I was searching for something like this too, and I haven’t really found anything ideal yet; Campari and soda was my best candidate so far. It’s a similar idea, but this way the burden of the taste is squarely on the Campari, which most bars seem to have, though the taste is not going to be for everyone.

Since this post, have you come across any other good “standbys”?

Posted on 03.02.08 at 1:31PM

Comment by Anita

Here’s a follow-up post comparing Fever-Tree to Q Tonic and Schweppes Indian Tonic:

Posted on 05.15.08 at 10:28AM

Comment by JD

I ‘invented’ this concoction tonight, after wanting a drink but being too lazy to make a margarita.

I love cold tonic water by itself, it quenches my thirst like nothing else, but I wanted a kick to it. So I added 100% agave tequila, and two cubes of ice and love it. Then I thought I’d search online to see if there’s other people doing it, and sure enough, I’m glad I’m not the only one.

To me, it taste just like a margarita, even better. I’m lovin it!

Posted on 06.15.09 at 8:36PM

Comment by Ted

Tequila has the taste of dirt. Mexican friends keep bringing me the stuff… and it’s quality, not cheap, hooch. So tonight I mixed it with tonic. Hey it was Ok! Then I tossed in some lime juice it was better.

Next time I’m in Mexico I wonder what sort of Americano-loco look will be received. I’ll order Tequila with tonic and a squeeze!

Posted on 07.12.09 at 12:05AM

Comment by Doug

I first had this drink in 1991 at a bar in Reno. A friend who had been reading too much Tom Robbins (not that I hadn’t been doing the same myself, we were all underage students at UNR) ordered a round of these for all of us (this combination seems like a drink that a Tom Robbins herione would drink alongside a Camel cig and a couple of lines of blow; I figured that’s why Jerry thought of it) and for a little while I was hooked. After I gained 21 power I picked up a taste for other hooches and later went through a quality-wine-and-microbrew-only phase for a long time, but I recently rediscovered this drink. Once you’ve had it you have to wonder why it isn’t more popular; it’s such a natural combination, especially with the better quality tequilas that are availble everywhere these days.

Posted on 07.10.10 at 5:16PM

Comment by Doug

I’d like to add that I wish there was a source for good quality quinine extract that I could mix with water to mix with a soda charger.

Posted on 07.10.10 at 5:37PM

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