Club soda vs Tonic water, what’s the difference?

Every year when summer rolls around my love of a good cocktail is rekindled.

Liquor and cocktails aren’t normally my thing. It’s not my preferred liquid to liquor ratio, it hits me harder, and for a long time buying it felt cost-prohibitive. But still, every summer I enjoy a handful of caesars and the occasional gin and tonic.

As my passion for all beverages alcoholic deepens it’s also expanded to include some of the more peripheral cocktail necessities. Bitters, vermouth, maraschino cherries – they’ve all caught my interest.

Then, last week, a friend asked me a question that stumped me.

“What’s the difference between club soda and tonic water?”

I couldn’t answer him. But now I can.

Club soda

Club soda, also called soda water, is water that has been injected with carbon dioxide. It has a clean, neutral flavour which makes it an excellent option when you want to add a little something special to a drink without adding another flavour. It does tend to water things down a bit though (because, duh, it’s water!) but this just makes it a good thing to pair with concentrated flavours. Fizzy lemonade, anyone?

Sometimes it comes with flavour of its own (see: La Croix), but often it’s plain and ready to add some fun fizz to your favourite beverages.

Uses for club soda

Aside from the aforementioned fizzy lemonade, my favourite way to use club soda in a cocktail is to combine it with a particularly flavourful white wine to make a spritzer. Add some club soda to some sauvignon blanc, garnish with a lemon or lime wedge you, my friend, have the most refreshing summer drink around.

Another drink option (though much less beloved by me) is to combine club soda with some vodka and a bit of lime (either juice or cordial, whichever you prefer). I don’t think I’ll ever understand the point of vodka but I can’t deny this drink’s popularity – especially among the calorie-conscious crowd.

Tonic water

Ok. Now that we have club soda covered, what is the deal with tonic water?

This is where it gets interesting.

Tonic water is similar to club soda in that it is water infused with carbon dioxide. But! Another key ingredient in tonic water is quinine, which is where tonic water gets its bitterness from.

Tonic water first showed up in Peru when the Incas mixed quinine with water to help cure people in the Spanish ruling class of malaria. Kind of obvious how it got its name now, isn’t it? Fast forward to the 1800’s and British soldiers were downing the stuff like mad as an anti-malaria tactic.

So – quinine! Who knew? (hint: not me)

Uses for tonic water

So let’s think about this. Tonic water plus British people. What else do British people love? Go ahead, think about it, I’ll wait.

What’s that you say? They like gin?

Ding ding ding!

You guessed it. My favourite use for tonic water, and by far the most iconic, is that old summer stand-by: the G&T.

I usually mix an ounce or two of gin and top up with tonic water. I’ll often garnish with some cucumber or mint but any fresh tasting greenery would go well here. Or for something different you could add a floral element like lavender. Any way you do it, it’s delish!

A lesser known use for tonic water is the vodka tonic. Again, I really don’t understand the point of vodka, but I have to admit I have some personal nostalgia with this drink. Growing up my family would go to the cottage every summer and every day at 4pm, like clockwork, my nan, great-aunt and mom would announce that it was ‘libation hour’ and mix themselves each a vodka tonic. To me this drink equals lazy summer days on the lake. Go ahead, have one and picture yourself on a deck somewhere, looking out at the softly lapping water. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

Uses for both

You could use either in sangria, depending on the flavour you’re looking for. Club soda adds fizz but not flavour, perfect for when you’ve got the flavour down and don’t want to mess with it. Tonic water adds fizz and also some bitterness, which can be a great counterpoint against any sweet fruit and liquor you might add.



Club soda or tonic water, which do you prefer?


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  • Reply Shawn McCormick July 14, 2018 at 8:15 am

    The other big difference is calories – tonic water has almost as many calories as your typical coke, etc.

    • Reply Meg July 14, 2018 at 2:20 pm

      Excellent point. Despite it’s name tonic water isn’t very good for you.

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