The Bitter Highball, Improved

Five of-the-moment recipes from America’s top bartenders spotlighting Fever-Tree’s spicy, bittersweet Aromatic Tonic.

Whether they’re dashed into a Manhattan or dropped into an Old-Fashioned, aromatic bitters play a supporting, though essential, role in the canon of classic cocktails. These concentrated blends of spices, botanicals and bittering agents like gentian and cinchona bark are the backbone of many drinks, helping blend seemingly disparate ingredients into a cohesive mix while imparting subtle notes of aromatics and, as their name implies, bitterness. Leave them out of a recipe that calls for bitters and their absence will be immediately felt, resulting in an off-balance, not-quite-right cocktail.

Doubling-down on the natural bitterness provided by the quinine used in their classic tonic, Fever-Tree Aromatic Tonic Water adds angostura bark from South America, which imparts an extra layer of nuanced bitterness. The traditional baking spice profile of aromatic bitters is channeled by way of vanilla from Madagascar, pimento berries (aka allspice) from Jamaica, cardamom from Guatemala and ginger from India. The distinctive pink hue is a fortunate, and very Instagrammable, side effect of the angostura bark.

“Fever-Tree Aromatic Tonic allows you to open up spirits with a touch of bitterness,” says Nathan McCarley-O’Neill, East Coast bar director for The NoMad. “You can showcase how influential the Fever-Tree Aromatic can be within a cocktail—not just as an ingredient or to just carbonate the drink—but to allow it to be a distinct flavor and play a role in adding texture to the drink.”

To prove McCarley-O’Neill’s point, we asked five alumni of our Bartender in Residence program—Bar Pisellino’s Jon Mullen, Night Moves’ Orlando Franklin McCray, Ernesto’s Sarah Morrissey, McCarley-O’Neill and Clover Club’s Jelani Johnson—to create drinks spotlighting the aromatic tonic. Among the results, you’ll find a low-proof aperitivo drink, Calvados-spiked highballs and a tiki-inspired fizz.

Named in honor of the traditional late-afternoon/early-evening quick snooze to reset for the night ahead, Jon Mullen’s Disco Nap is a low-proof pick-me-up inspired by a bitter and bubbly espresso and tonic. The Piemontese amaro Bordiga Chiot Montamaro offers chicory notes that pair well with Varnelli Caffè Moka, an all-natural coffee liqueur made with espresso, vanilla and raw honey; it receives an additional kick from a shot of cold brew. “What really works great in this drink is the spicy-sweet finish of the Fever-Tree Aromatic Tonic,” says Mullen. “It turns the drink into more of a refreshing aperitivo.”

Inspired by a recent trip to Barbados, Orlando Franklin McCray’s Coffey Pot is a highball that takes its name from the blend of rums made from the stills—both Coffey and pot styles—used to produce Probitas rum. The addition of a gentian-forward grapefruit liqueur brings on a sour citrus kick as well as an extra layer of bitterness that complements the Fever-Tree Aromatic Tonic. “It’s simple and straightforward, but rum and tonics have been my most recent jam,” says McCray. “The Aromatic Tonic has such a pretty hue I wanted to incorporate a clear liquor to offer a little color pop on top.”

The simple combination of Calvados & Tonic may not be as popular stateside as it is in France, but Sarah Morrissey hopes to change that. “I had my first Calvados & Tonic years ago in France when I was much younger and had no idea what Calvados was, but I loved how refreshing, bitter, sweet and boozy it was,” recalls Morrissey. Built in a highball or Burgundy glass with a lot of ice and nearly a full bottle of Fever-Tree Aromatic Tonic, this drink is finished off with a lemon twist for essential oils and a light touch of citrus flavor. “I like using the Fever-Tree Aromatic Tonic for its notes of ginger and vanilla without it being sweet or overpowering,” Morrissey says.

Nathan McCarley-O’Neill also turns to Calvados & Tonic for inspiration in his Nightstand, but makes it très French with a splash of Suze, the gentian-based bitter liqueur, and a dash of Pernod absinthe. “I wanted to create something that as a highball has a depth of flavor,” says McCarley-O’Neill. “The first flavor I got when tasting the tonic was a slight hint of ginger, which I knew paired with Calvados.”

Taking a move from the Don the Beachcomber playbook, Jelani Johnson’s Beach Bod Fizz is a tiki-fied twist on a gin-based fizz that combines bright citrus and tart passion fruit with a spicy cinnamon bark syrup. “Fever-Tree Aromatic Tonic has the bitterness I was looking for as well as a more complex, floral characteristic and bakingspice notes that are perfect for making the other ingredients mesh,” says Johnson. The result is a highball that channels all of the complexity—and tropical escapism—that defines tiki.

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