Making a gin and tonic used to be simple: Mix your choice of gin with one of two brands of tonic water. Drink. Repeat.
But in the era when we prefer fresh juices over sweet and sour, tonic has been given its due. Now we're spoiled with more choices of bottled tonic, and also custom tonic syrups that bars are producing (as I wrote about in this past weekend's Chronicle). Tonic syrup is a concentrate of citrus, spices, and cinchona bark (the key ingredient in tonic); when mixed with seltzer water it creates a sparkling beverage so good, you might forget about the liquor. While you'll still have to head into one of those bars to get their house-recipe tonic, now you mix your own at home with locally made C&B's Old Fashioned Tonic Syrup ($8, 8 oz. bottle).
C&B's is Erin Cochran (the "C" in the name), a sous chef at Heirloom Café and her partner Stephanie Bruce (the "B" in the name), who were inspired to make their own tonic water when they were taking some time off from drinking. "During that time we found that there is nothing to drink in a bar that makes us feel like adults," says Cochran. "Asking for a non-alcoholic cocktail inevitably gets you something with pineapple juice and grenadine, and the alternatives are sugary sodas or boring seltzer and lime combos."
After falling in love with the tonic water at Boot and Shoe Service in Oakland, they found that even without liquor, tonic alone was great. While doing some research, the pair decided to try and make their own syrup to drink alone, as an effort to give their livers a break after the holidays.
They tinkered with the recipe for a few months, then decided to test it out on some friends. "We kept getting comments about how good it was, how unique the flavors were, how even if the person didn't typically like gin and tonics, they liked ours," says Cochran. "Then late one night, after a couple of drinks, Steph said, 'everyone loves this, I wonder if we could bottle it?' Next thing you know, we're getting a business license, and we're on the phone to the FDA talking about quinine concentration."
Until Cochran and Bruce secure their manufacturing license, you won't be able to buy it online, but until then, you can pick up a bottle at Heirloom Café, or try some in a drink at Alchemist, Coqueta, and at Heirloom Cafe as a non-alcoholic option.
The best part of C&B's Old fashioned Tonic Syrup? You can mix it to your desired strength. The recommended ratio is one part syrup to six parts water, but add a little less of the tangy and lightly bitter syrup in seltzer water for more delicate gins, a little more for more flavorful ones.
Heirloom Cafe, 2500 Folsom (at 21st), 821-2500; CAndBBottling.com