Mixing drinks at home for guests or personal pleasure is a lot of fun and an impressive skill to master. One question we get asked frequently by budding mixologists is, “what is the difference between club soda and tonic water?” Many people are under the impression that they are, in fact, the same thing when the truth is that each will create a distinct flavor and composition in a cocktail. Just as different food ingredients will vastly change a cooking recipe, it’s important to know what tonic water or club soda is to know how and when to use each.
The confusion usually begins with the fact that both tonic water and club soda are carbonated waters. But tonic water contains quinine - an alkaloid from the bark of cinchona trees that was the primary medicine to treat malaria for hundreds of years up until the late 20th century. Quinine has a bitter taste and was discovered by experimental drinkers to pair well with the botanical flavors of gin, birthing the famous gin-and-tonic.
Nowadays most of the quinine in tonic water is reduced to a level that doesn’t have any medical benefits (or harmful side effects!). It still imparts its bitterness and sweeteners are often added to balance this.
Club soda is also carbonated (water infused with carbon dioxide), but it has less flavor than tonic water - usually only a slight saltiness because of added minerals or compounds like sodium bicarbonate, sodium chloride, and potassium sulfate, and sometimes a citrus flavor. Club soda, therefore, has a more refreshing, crisp, taste.
So, Which Works Best As A Drink Mixer?
The short answer is both, but for different reasons. Both bring the same texture (or mouth feel) to your cocktail due to their carbonation; however, they each bring an entirely different flavor which can completely change the cocktail. Club Soda is primarily used to add a level of carbonation, and a little bit of minerality that will amplify flavors. Its flavor impact is subtle, but it adds to the cocktail’s palate. On the other hand, Tonic Water has a distinct bitterness and depth of flavor which, depending on the composition of the cocktail, can create a more round flavor profile and compliment the other ingredients. It also adds sweetness to the cocktail, therefore rounding some of the alcohol “burn”.
So, tonic water or club soda? Drink preference can change with the weather or the mood! On a hot summer’s day, consider Top Note Club Soda No. 1 for something refreshingly crisp:
A squeeze of citrus, optional
Garnish: expressed lemon peel
Stir ingredients together in a highball glass with ice and garnish.
1.5 oz gin
2 oz pear juice (or pear purée)
.5 oz lemon juice
Garnish: fresh rosemary and citrus peel
Add all ingredients except Club Soda to a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into an ice-filled glass and top with Club Soda. Stir and garnish.
Or, ever struggled to decide between a coffee or a cocktail? Try this fun take with Top Note Indian Tonic Water:
2 oz Cold Brew Coffee or Espresso
1 oz Italian Amaro
Garnish: Orange Wedge
For more ideas on making the perfect cocktail with premium ingredients, browse our products and blogs at our homepage!