20080514-ginandtonic.jpgI don't know what it's like where you live, but here in Seattle, summer is taking its time to roll around. On Friday, though, the forecast says we'll be in the 80s, and with Memorial Day fast approaching, it looks like gin & tonic season is here.

Too bad I hate them like poison.

Well, maybe I should put that in past tense. Until recently, pouring a gin and tonic typically entailed cracking the lid on a plastic liter bottle, and pouring a fizzy, somewhat oily mix of carbonated water, high-fructose corn syrup and assorted flavorings over ice with a good belt of gin. To my taste, it's too sweet and synthetically bitter at the same time, and on those occasions when I've been handed a cup of gin & tonic at a barbecue, I always wind up trying to drink half the mess good-naturedly in gulps so I won't taste the tonic, then conveniently losing my cup when I just can't take any more.

In recent years, however, there's been a growing movement to rescue tonic's reputation. Put off by the sickly sweetness and artificial flavors of mass-produced commercial tonic water, adventurous bartenders such as Daniel Shoemaker at Teardrop Lounge in Portland, Oregon, have been crafting their own tonic waters using natural ingredients. Some entrepreneurs and artisinal producers are following suit, introducing small-batch tonic waters that taste of real botanicals and are lightly sweetened—a vast improvement on the stuff hiding behind yellow labels in the grocery store.

One artisan product is Q Tonic. Made with Peruvian cinchona bark and sweetened with agave nectar, Q Tonic has a crisp, dry bitterness and a gentle, long-lasting sweetness that meshes with the flavor of gin, rather than overwhelming it. You may have to do some searching to find Q Tonic, but once you've tasted the vegetal bitterness of true quinine, those big plastic jugs of tonic water just won't do anymore.

This year, who knows? I might even break out G&Ts at my own summer get-togethers.

For all you tonic drinkers, what types are your favorites? Any other artisan brands you'd recommend, or have you gone all-out and made a batch of your own?

About the author: Paul Clarke blogs about cocktails at The Cocktail Chronicles and writes regularly on spirits and cocktails for Imbibe magazine. He lives in Seattle, where he works as a writer and magazine editor.

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