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.