I remember my grandma best with a cold glass of gin and tonic in her hand. One sip of that bittersweet fizz (she'd make mine a virgin, with a twist of lime) and I'm transported back to summers on her porch. True, tonic water is just sweetened seltzer spiked with quinine, a compound isolated from the bark of the tropical cinchona tree, native to South America. Yet there's something about it that I've always found supremely satisfying, whether on its own or mixed with liquor. I make sure there's always a bottle in my fridge, in case the mood strikes.
Despite my abiding love for the stuff, I must admit, tonic water can be problematic. For one, I can never seem to finish a liter before it goes flat. What's more, most mass-market tonic waters contain sketchy ingredients, like high fructose corn syrup and sodium benzoate, that are unworthy of the great gins I blend them with. If I buy those tiny glass bottles of fancy tonic instead, they cost me a pretty penny.
Recently, though, a friend gave me a bottle of John's Premium Tonic Syrup. It's a concentrate that I can mix into drinks at my discretion. The ingredients—real cinchona bark, fresh citrus juices (orange, lemon, and lime), lemongrass, organic agave nectar, plus "secret" herbs and spices—are alluringly pure. The color is a natural amber (it's made with actual bark instead of quinine, the colorless isolate found in most tonic waters); when mixed with seltzer, the drink looks like unfiltered ale, yet tastes like the essence of tonic: bracing quinine complemented by fragrant citrus, with a subtle balanced sweetness.
Created in 2008 by John Cavanagh for Tuck Shop, the restaurant he manages in Phoenix, Arizona, he now sells the handmade elixir online. "When customers in England tell me they like it, I think, 'Wow, you guys invented tonic!'" says Cavanagh. "Then I know that it's good." In addition to making the most refreshing gin and tonic, the syrup stands in for vermouth in a brisk martini, helps transform whiskey into the most summery old-fashioned when used in place of bitters, and is delicious with sparkling water and grapefruit juice in a nonalcoholic aperitif. I loved it as a kid, and I'm thrilled to have found that tonic has grown up with me. A 4-ounce bottle of John's Premium Tonic Syrup costs $6.99. To order, visit johnstonic.com.