A great spirit can taste great on its own, but a great mixer can take your tasting experience to new heights.
However, not any regular mixer will do.
You want a mixer that’s light, refreshing, and adds an extra sensation to your tongue. You may have heard of two possible solutions: tonic water and club soda, and yet…are they the same thing?
Even though at a first glance the two drinks look to be the same, they carry differences that can take your cocktail in new directions.
The confusion between the two begins at the eyes and ends as soon as it hits your lips, and your approach to mixing drinks will never be the same.
The Main Difference Between Tonic Water and Club Soda
Although tonic water and club soda are very similar in appearance, both beverages differ quite significantly based on a variety of factors.
The best way to summarize the split between the two is this: one adds bitterness to your drink while the other adds saltiness.
Tonic Water vs. Club Soda: An In-Depth Look
That said, breaking down tonic water and club soda into their bare components requires a more thorough approach.
As you’ll see, these two drinks contrast in their individual ingredients, the flavor profiles these ingredients create, and the classic cocktails you can make from each.
When you’re comparing two similar yet standalone drinks like tonic water and club soda, the first thing to note is their ingredients.
After all, these subtle differences can make a huge difference in the flavor profile of both the drinks and their respective cocktail uses.
Tonic water features an ingredient called quinine, which is a compound derived from the bark of cinchona trees.
Typically used as a treatment for malaria, this ingredient is useful in small doses to add a bitter quality to the water.
To balance out the bitterness, some tonic water products may have different sweeteners from cane sugar, juice, or high fructose corn syrup along with citrus peels or oils.
Finally, carbon dioxide is added to give it a familiar carbonated feel.
Club soda also has water and carbon dioxide, but its taste comes from other key ingredients.
This product is mineral-based, meaning that it contains anything from potassium sulfate to sodium chloride to sodium bicarbonate and sodium citrate.
While the amount of each mineral may vary, they do contribute to club soda’s signature taste: saltiness.
You might hold a glass of tonic water next to club soda and think they taste the same, but that first sip of each will change your mind immediately.
The ingredients in each product have a profound effect on the immediate and lingering flavors.
Both tonic water and club soda have a fresh, bubbly taste from the carbonation, making them a refreshing addition to your favorite drinks.
However, the quinine in tonic water helps create a noticeable but not overwhelming bitter flavor.
It also has a sweetness that complements the bitterness to create complex notes.
Club soda may have a very slight hint of bitterness, but it is more known for its salty nature from the added minerals.
Companies may add extra sweet or fruity flavors to further contrast the saltiness, and you may be familiar with brands like Canada Dry, La Croix, and Pellegrino.
However, club soda in its purest form is more than enough to use in a lot of cocktail variations.
With their unique flavors, both tonic water and club soda are superb ingredients to use in cocktails. They both add an extra airiness and crispness that can make drinking your mixed drink a whole new experience.
Here are five cocktails that use tonic water and five cocktails that use club soda as a mixer:
Tonic Water Cocktails
1. Gin and tonic
In a highball glass with ice, add 2 ounces of gin and then 4 ounces of tonic water. Stir gently and garnish with lime wheels.
2. Vodka tonic
Using a highball glass with ice, add 2 ounces of vodka and 0.25 ounces of lime juice. Top with at least 4 ounces of tonic water and gently stir. Garnish your drink with a lime wedge.
3. Tequila and tonic
Before mixing, rim a highball glass with salt and fill with ice. Add 2.5 ounces of white tequila and top the glass with tonic water. Gently stir and garnish with a lime wheel.
4. Autumn spiced tonic
Using a highball glass with ice, add 1.5 ounces of apple pear cinnamon vodka and a splash of simple syrup. Add 3 ounces of tonic water and stir until well mixed. Garnish with an apple slice.
5. Campari tonic
In a cocktail shaker with ice, add 2 ounces of gin and 2 ounces of Campari and stir. Pour into a highball glass with ice and top with 3 ounces of tonic water. Garnish with fresh rosemary.
Club Soda Cocktails
1. Tom Collins
In a cocktail shaker, add 2 ounces of gin, 0.75 ounces of lemon juice, and 0.5 ounces of simple syrup. Add ice and shake until well mixed. Strain into a chilled Collins glass with ice. Top with 2 ounces of club soda and garnish with a lemon wedge.
2. Vodka soda
In a rocks glass or highball glass, add 2 ounces of vodka and 0.5 ounces of lime juice. Add ice and top with 4 ounces of club soda. Garnish with lime wedges and a maraschino cherry.
In a rocks glass with ice, add 1.5 ounces of Campari and 1.5 ounces of sweet vermouth. Top with 2 ounces of club soda and garnish with a lemon twist.
4. Whiskey highball
In a highball glass with ice, add 2 ounces of whiskey or bourbon. Top with 6 ounces of club soda. Garnish with a lemon wedge or mint leaf.
5. Southside fizz
In a cocktail shaker, muddle 5 mint leaves and add 2 ounces of gin, 0.5 ounces of lemon juice, 0.5 ounces of lime juice, and 0.5 ounces of simple syrup. Add ice and shake until mixed and cold. Strain into a chilled highball glass with ice. Top with 2 ounces of club soda and garnish with lemon peel and additional mint leaf.
You’ve learned about the ingredients in both tonic water and club soda, the unique flavor profiles, and their versatile uses in cocktails. However, you may have some questions remaining. Here’s a quick FAQ guide to help you distinguish the two beverages.
What does tonic water taste like?
Tonic water has a noticeable bitter taste that comes from the dissolved alkaloid quinine. However, it is also sweet from the addition of cane sugar, fruit juice, and high fructose corn syrup, so the flavors can vary from semi-sweet to citrusy.
What does club soda taste like?
Club soda has a fresh, bubbly taste from the carbonation. It also has a salty flavor due to the addition of minerals like sodium chloride, sodium bicarbonate, and potassium sulfate.
Are tonic water and club soda the same?
Tonic water and club soda can be very similar in appearance with a clear and fizzy look. However, the two mixers differ due to their contrasting ingredients, flavors, and uses in cocktails. As a result, they are not the same thing.
Club Soda vs. Tonic Water: Final Thoughts
Even though club soda and tonic water are two distinctly different beverages, they are both excellent mixers to use in popular cocktails.
The added carbonation with the right pairing of whiskey and sugar can create an elevated experience for any cocktail fan.