What Is Indian Tonic Water?

Interest in tonic water is making a major comeback as an artisan mixer with alcohol and even as a refreshingly crisp stand-alone beverage. Today it’s acquired a high-end reputation as a mixer in everything from Japanese whiskies, espresso, Italian wines, Moscow Mules, and even as a slick way to make jello shots fluoresce under UV lights at parties. But you might be more familiar with what Indian tonic water has been traditionally used to make: the legendary gin and tonic. There’s a lot of history behind that original blend, one that involves world conquest, vast fortunes made and lost, international smuggling, and curing one of the deadliest diseases to ever plague mankind. If you think you’ve accidentally clicked your way to the History Channel, don’t worry - you’re at Top Note Tonic and we don’t need alien conspiracy theories to make this interesting. Here is the true story of the most important drink mixer ever.

The Emperor’s New Groove

There’s nothing groovy about diarrhea and tremors, but in the lush tropical rainforests of ancient Peru, these were common symptoms of what we now call malaria. Malaria-carrying mosquitos have been decimating the human species for a long time - some think it’s likely what killed Alexander The Great on his way back from India - but the Incas had a wonder drug growing in their Amazonian pharmacy called quinine. A powerful chemical within the bark of the cinchona tree, it’s highly toxic to malarial pathogens and stops it in its tracks in a way not fully understood to science even today. Considered a holy bark to the Peruvians, it was taken at the onset of fever and shaking by everyone from the king to the lowest peasant for centuries, and when Jesuit missionaries took notice of its effects in the 1500s they would eventually bring it with them back to Europe.

Quinine’s first test in the old world was in 17th century Rome treating the frequent malaria outbreaks near the city’s marshes and swamps. It proved to be a huge success and the import of cinchona bark became a burgeoning business. It would explode in popularity when king Charles II of England was cured of malaria by quinine at the end of the 1600s and was instantly one of Peru’s most important exports and more expensive than gold. 

Maintaining The Quinine Monopoly

The benefits of a drug that could prevent deaths from malaria proved very lucrative for sellers and buyers. Most of the African continent was cut off from European colonial expansionism not merely by language, distance, or infrastructure - but by this single disease with such a high mortality rate. The riches of West Africa were immediately opened up, and colonization flooded into the Gold Coast and beyond. Steps were taken by Peru and surrounding countries where the cinchona tree natively grew to control the market. Laws were passed making it illegal to export seeds and saplings out lest their most precious commodity take root somewhere else and undermine their economy.

Of course, the attempt proved futile. Much like Spain had tried to control the tobacco trade by the same measures and yet were supplanted by farmers in the new Virginia colonies, seeds of the cinchona tree were eventually smuggled out of Peru by Dutch entrepreneurs. Through clandestine operations, the Dutch managed to get a hold of several cinchona seeds and began planting them in large plantations they owned in Java - now known as Indonesia. The trees flourished in the Indonesian climate, and the control of quinine began to sway. By 1913 the Dutch supply of the bark was the dominant one, and the Kina Bureau was established to control the supply and price; by the 1930s Indonesian grown cinchona had reached 22-million pounds a year - 97% of the world’s supply.

From Medicine To High-End Mixer

The usual way quinine was taken was by crushing the cinchona bark into a fine powder and mixing it with water to be taken orally. This was also the recommended method for British soldiers stationed in the East Indies at the height of 19th-century colonialism. However, quinine has an extremely bitter taste, so to make it more palatable, they started mixing it with carbonated water and adding some other ingredients like sugar to alleviate the taste. It wasn’t long before they found it to be particularly adaptive to the botanical flavoring of gin, and the gin-and-tonic was born and quickly propagated throughout the world.

Still a crucial medicine well into the next century, quinine would play a strategic role during WWII for the Axis and Allied powers. In 1942 Japan took control of Java and with it almost all of the world’s supply of the anti-malarial drug. The disease had already killed tens of thousands of American and allied soldiers, and without a new source losing the war was a likely outcome. The severity of the situation galvanized the United States Board of Economic Warfare under the Defense Supplies Corporation to source and harvest a wild-growing supply of quinine producing trees in the Andes of South America, a project headed by botanist and professor William C. Steere and called The Cinchona Missions. 

With a team of ‘nine young people’ (young and healthy scientists) and locals as guides and laborers, they set out first into the dense jungles of West Columbia, in the high altitudes of the Cordillera Oriental and Rio Magdalena to locate cinchona trees by their small size, red leaves, and bright pink flowers. Steele described the arduous task to authorities back home: “[This expedition] is a day to day affair of slugging it out with the rain and mud and cold …with people who don’t want to work and mules that won’t go.”

They found many cinchona trees and a relative species there and by using the Grahe Test (putting pieces of the bark into a test tube and heating to see if it produced pink smoke) detected suitable amounts of quinine to be imported for antimalarial use. In 1943, Steele embarked on the Cinchona Mission to Ecuador, with similar success. By its completion in 1944, enough had been sourced to supply the American war effort to completion, with a victory fighting the Japanese on sweltering islands all over the Pacific.

Top Ingredients = What It Is That Makes Top Note Tonic Indian Tonic Water So Great

We’ve gone over the history of tonic water - or what is also known as Indian Tonic Water because of its cultivation in the East Indies - so now let's talk about the culmination of that history with the greatest Indian tonic water on the market today! And that brings us back to quinine as an artisan mixer as well as the other great ingredients that Top Note Tonic uses to craft this bubbling achievement.

What makes our Indian Tonic Water so special is that we also use three other ingredients for a pure balance of sensuous pleasure. Like a second bittering agent - gentian root - for a subtle earthiness; kaffir lime, for an aromatic, astringent flavor; grapefruit zest; and cane sugar. All combined add a refined aesthetic to the botanical flavorings of American-style gin and even makes it great as a stand-alone European aperitivo-style soft drink, too!

Nutrition Facts

And if you are conscious of your nutrition intake, it will please you to know that our Indian Tonic Water has zero fat, zero sodium, and less than 60 calories per bottle!

Serving size 8.5 oz. Servings Per bottle 1, Amount per serving: Calories 51, Total Fat 0g (0% DV), Sodium 0mg (0% DV), Total Carbohydrate 11.5g (3.8% DV), Sugars 11.5g, Protein 0g, percent Daily Value (DV) are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Non-alcoholic mixer. GMO-free. Gluten-free.

Quantity: 16 - 8.5oz bottles (4 - 4-packs)

Our Indian Tonic Water Is An Award Winner

Top Note Tonic only first hit the food and beverage scene in 2017 but within weeks of launching our first three mixers, Top Note Tonic Indian Tonic Water won a SoFi Platinum Award For Best New Mixer! That’s like winning an Oscar in this industry and put us on the map as one of the best new drink mixers companies in America.

And one year later in 2018, our Indian Tonic Water was granted another prize with a coveted silver medal and 87 points from the Beverage Testing Institute. 

But instead of slowing down in 2021, we’ve gone on to gain international recognition with our Indian Tonic Water winning a silver medal from The Tonic Mixers and Masters Annual Spirits Business Awards. The past four years of industry awards and recognition have been very exciting, but what we are proud about most at Top Note Tonic is the feedback we receive from so many happy customers. We even added to our portfolio with Gentiana, our newest Tonic Water that is the most robust in our offerings.

3 Great Ways To Use Tonic Water As An Artisan Mixer

Recently tonic water has been growing in popularity and mix masters are experimenting with it at the bar as well as at home. There have been some drinks that have been found to cut quite nicely, and they might surprise you. Don’t be afraid to try some of these recipes or maybe even get inspired to create your very own new classic drink!

Cherry Gin and Tonic

The Cherry Gin and Tonic is a sweet and delectable way to serve the classic G&T. 

Mix cherries, gin, and lime Juice to glass and stir gently, then add tonic water and enjoy!

The Portonic 

This twist on the Portuguese Tonic from Food and Wine is a great tangy cocktail that packs a refreshing flavor and plenty of punch. 

  • 2 oz. of White Port (We recommend Churchills Dry White Port)

  • Dash of Lime Juice

  • Ice 

  • 2 oz. of Top Note Indian Tonic Water 

  • One Slice of Bitter Lemon (For Garnish) 

  • 2 Sliced, Skewered, Green Grapes (For Garnish) 

Mix white port, lime juice, and ice to a glass and gently stir. Add tonic water, then the bitter lemon and green grapes. 

Gentiana Italiana

Gentiana is the first gentian-forward tonic water produced in the United States since the late 19th century. This uniquely bittersweet beverage is perfect for fans of classic Italian aperitivo sodas and those looking to treat themselves to a low-sugar spirit-free cocktail.

Gentiana Italiana Recipe:

Pour the tonic water into a chilled coupe glass and garnish. 

At Top Note Tonic we believe we are the next generation of a proud legacy in high-end, artisan mixers. The history of Indian Tonic Water is an interesting one and significant in the course of civilization, and as it makes its triumphant return to bars and liquor cabinets everywhere, we’ll be there helping to write the next chapter. Visit our store and place your order here today! 

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1 comment

  • Finally, some information I can use! :)


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