Gin and Tonic Is Great, but Have You Tried Other Stuff and Tonic?

When I started looking into the very best way to make a gin and tonic, I got a lot of advice. Ditch the lime, use a grapefruit garnish instead. Chill your gin so the mixture retains maximum carbonation. Pour a little pillow of the tonic, and then the gin, and then the rest of the fizz, so you don’t have to stir. I compiled all of those G&T tips, but I left out one thing: For lots of folks, the best gin and tonic doesn’t include gin at all.

That’s right: gin isn’t the only spirit that goes beautifully with tonic to make refreshing, and refreshingly simple drinks. Trust me: I’ve spent the last few weeks chilling many little bottles and cans of tonic and pairing the stuff with almost everything in my liquor cabinet.

How to make an x + tonic

For any mix you haven’t tried before, start with an inch or two tonic, a ton of ice, and just a little pour of any spirit, aperitif, or liqueur. (The sweeter the booze, the less you want to add to start.) Pour in a bit more tonic, stir very gently, and taste, adding more of the alcohol or the tonic as your tastebuds lead you. A few of my favorite combos and ratios are below.

Vermouth + tonic

An ounce of dry vermouth in an icy glass of tonic is a bit like a white wine spritzer with a little something extra. The herbal side of the aromatized wine props up earthy, herbal, and refreshingly bitter flavors in the tonic. I find that blanc vermouth is generally less successful here; the touch of grapey sweetness makes the combination a bit muddled. But sweet vermouth and tonic is killer, especially with bitter versions like Punt e Mes, which are bold enough to punch through the tonic and give you something mouth-twistingly flavorful.

Sherry + tonic

The Rebujito is a Spanish cocktail made with fino or Manzanilla sherry and lemon-lime soda, but sometimes tonic subs in for the soda, and that combo is about as refreshing as a summer drink gets. The sherry is softly savory and almost saline, perfect for drinking on a hot day with salty snacks (olives are ideal). Start with one and a half ounces sherry in an ice-filled glass and fill with chilled tonic; some folks go as far as half and half since the sherry itself is so light.

Amaro (or aperitivo) + tonic

If you’ve ever ever have felt that tonic is bitter but actually not quite bitter enough, and amaro is delicious but not quite refreshing, then the amaro (or aperitif) and tonic really should be your go-to summer drink.

More refreshing than your standard spritz.

Aperol Campari & Tonic - INSET

More refreshing than your standard spritz.
Photo by Joseph De Leo, Food Styling by Micah Marie Morton

Aperol and tonic is a little too sweet for my taste, but a tall, icy glass of tonic with ½ ounce Aperol, ½ ounce Campari, and a squeeze of lemon is a revelation; it feels like a more refreshing, bright and bitter version of the Aperol spritz that you can drink all afternoon without having to open a bottle of wine.

Cynar and tonic tastes crisp and bright, the tonic drawing out the vegetal amaro’s sharper sides but lightening the liqueur’s sweetness. Amaro Montenegro is more citrusy and soft, so it combines with tonic into something that tastes like the cousin of an Aperol spritz; sunny, orangey, and not quite the same as the drink you’ve had so many times before.

Liqueur + tonic

Green Chartreuse and tonic? Not bad. (Start with ½ ounce, since Chartreuse is on the sweet side.) Espresso and tonic is a coffeeshop thing, so it’s not surprising that coffee liqueur, like Mr Black or St George Spirits NOLA, is pretty good with tonic—I like about an ounce in a tall glass of ice, fizzed up with tonic. Bitter, lightly sweet, and slightly caffeinated, it’s the sort of thing that can definitely be served with a lazy weekend breakfast.

The harder stuff + tonic

All of the drinks above are lower-proof than your standard G&T, but other full-strength spirits also take kindly to the tonic treatment.

Aquavit and tonic is the more savory, caraway- and licorice-laced sibling of the G&T; it’s wonderful with a lemon peel or a few slices of cucumber in it. Start with an ounce of the spirit and go from there. The combination tastes something like a fizzy play on pastis, the classic licorice-y pre-dinner drink. Just add a snack plate of smoked fish. Or potato chips.

You can branch out beyond botanical spirits, too. A tall glass of cachaça and tonic captures the banana-like flavors of the Brazilian spirit nicely; you pick whether you want to garnish with lemon or lime. The vanilla-laced, molasses notes of blackstrap rum are a remarkable match with tonic; the bitter cut of quinine means it drinks like an extra-refreshing rum-and-Coke. Rhum agricole, pisco, tequila, and Calvados and tonic all have their devotées, too. The more versions I taste, the less sure I am that I’ll ever go back to gin.

Originally Appeared on Epicurious