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Sunday, June 5, 2011

What's the deal with tonic water?

Some of our favorite warm weather libations here at Blog Central involve tonic water, a delightful mixer. In the summer months, we make many a trip to the store in search of this beverage, and we invariably come home, six-pack in hand, wondering why it is so darned expensive. Costco doesn't sell it, the big grocery stores rarely give you a deal on it, the higher-end grocers gouge you for it, and the cheaper store brands, which aren't much cheaper, are pretty bad. About the only decent store brand comes from Whole Foods, and if the temperature in Portland breaks 73 degrees Farenheit, they're out of stock by noon the first day of the "heat wave."

What gives? It can't be that much harder or more expensive to produce tonic water than other sodas, can it? Why is it so scarce? Sounds to us like another one of those corporate conspiracies. If only John Kroger would get on this one, there's got to be actionable wrongdoing at the bottom of it.

Comments (16)

Tonic water is expensive because if you look closely at the bottle you will see that all tonic water sold within city limits is actually a product of the Portland Tonic Water Bureau. There are tonic water reservoirs that need to be covered, tonic water homes to be built, and a roomful of tonic water tweeters making $83 an hour (plus benefits). And none of that stuff is cheap. But remember....it's for the children.

Buy a soda-maker at Sur la Table or Kitchen Kaboodle. You can keep endless tonic water on hand, and your kids will make it for you, and you reuse the bottles. And you can get your kids to make cool confections. Yesterday my tween, with the aid of a funnel, strainer, and grater, made some great lemon-ginger flavored tonic water.

How do you make tonic water? What are the ingredients?

Do you want the serious reason, or do you want the silly one?

Time for a visit to Steinbart's. You could be on to your second career on this -- artisanal tonic waters.

Nice recipe provided by a local with similar thoughts here

Tonic water is bubbly water plus whatever else you want it to be.

The key (bitter) ingredient of tonic water has always been quinine (as it was originally a treatment for malaria by Jesuit missionaries in India). Quinine is not cheap and the soda companies are competing with actual pharmaceuticals as a prophylactic against malaria. There may not be room to move in price for grocers, etc. involved in distributing it. In case you were being serious, I think that might be the answer.

So just buy some BigK soda and some Angostura and get on with your life!

Observer beat me to it, as I was going to mention the quinine component. I'm not sure why it's expensive, as it can be synthesized, but for years, the only source was the bark of some tree whose name escapes me at the moment. It's possible that synthetics don't work as well in mixology.

Picturing Andy Rooney reading this post aloud is highly recommended.

Whatever you do, don't start in with the Q Tonic. Makes a mean G+T, but it'll set you back $8-$10 for four bottles - each one makes about one big drink.

Good drink sheet here:


Soda water is not the same as tonic water Gaye.

The price difference is in the difference between synthetic quinine and natural. The amount of quinine is actually regulated by the FDA, because of its prophylatic qualities. Inexpensive tonic seems to be available at our local Fred Meyer all the time.

Not to change the subject too much, but what is the difference between sparkling water and club soda?

We try to make Italian Sodas from time-to-time, but can't seem to get it to taste quite right.

Sparkling water can be found naturally (but isn't always), club soda or soda water is not. Club soda typically has some salt, or other other additives like sodium citrate where sparkling water does not.

For us, store brand tonic waters are too sugary. We think Schweppes is perfect with our Beefeater, but it is hard to find. A couple of local liquor stores have joined together to get it shipped in from out of state. Spendy though.

I think Winco carries Schweppe's, though it might be Canada Dry brand instead.

The same with Ginger Ale. The days of grabbing a bottle at the corner store are long since gone. I remember being sent by grown ups to fetch some during parties back in the 80's.

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