The Sonic—a portmanteau of “soda” and “tonic”—is a gin-based highball in the style of the classic Gin & Tonic that originated in Tokyo during the aughts. While it appears very similar to the G&T, the split of effervescent components offers additional opportunities for creativity.
That’s evident in this Recipe Remix, in which two Punch Bartenders in Residence worked to revamp the same drink template (the Sonic) with the same base spirit (Roku gin). From that starting point, each bartender worked independently to find ways to express their unique points of view.
Austin bartender Caer Maiko, known for making what she calls “super Asian cocktails,” offers a thoughtfully pared-down version that reflects her typically restrained style, Japanese heritage, and emphasis on Asian flavors and ingredients.
Her Six Samurai & Sonic—the name “a reference to the six native Japanese botanicals in Roku and the classic Kurosawa film Seven Samurai,” she says—accents the gin using an aromatized wine with a slightly bitter quinine bite. Scant dashes of acid phosphate add mouthwatering citruslike interest.
“I love a Sonic because it’s lighter and drier than a Gin & Tonic, but more flavorful than a Gin & Soda,” Maiko says. For this variation, “I wanted to keep things light and easy-drinking, but I didn’t want to lose the flavor.”
The drink is a clever case study in sleight of hand: There’s no tonic water, and no lime—yet illusions of both remain in this relatively dry, bracing highball.
“The main flavoring agent in tonic has traditionally been cinchona bark, but tonic isn’t the only place where that botanical is used,” Maiko explains. In its place, she uses a drier Kina aperitif wine, which has a pleasing bitterness and less sweetness. Acid phosphate adds nuance “and negates the need for a lime wedge on the drink,” she notes. “Instead of citrus, sliced strawberries bring a sweet and fresh aromatic, which pairs beautifully with Roku.”
Maiko also didn’t want to bury the complexity of the gin’s botanicals under too much of the sweet or bitter. “You don’t need a ton of added ingredients to make the drink taste like a complete cocktail,” she explains. As a result, she selected ingredients that would reflect the botanicals in some way. Synthetic acid helps bring the yuzu peel’s citrusy brightness forward, while the strawberry garnish suggests the cherry blossom flower and leaf that lend flavor to the gin.
Speaking of that garnish, resist the urge to plop a whole berry on the rim of the drink: “The strawberry will be delicious, but its role is more as the aromatic element,” Maiko says. “Cutting it into slices gives you more surface area and more aroma.”
Meanwhile, Eric Simmons, known for creating culinarily inspired drinks for a Chicago steakhouse, opted for the route of elevating the classic template. For his Lavender Super Sonic, he leaned into one of his signature moves—creating bespoke infusions and syrups—and deconstructed the tonic component, creating an elaborate lavender tonic syrup laced with citrus peels, fresh herbs and spices, and, of course, lavender. When mixed with carbonated water, such as Topo Chico, the result is “bittersweet, with a floral essence,” he says.
The goal with his drink was to stay true to the classic but create “a refined twist” on the Sonic.
Simmons adjusted the component of his tonic syrup to play up the citrus and floral notes he detected in the Roku gin. “Roku has big, smooth, floral notes I fell in love with [after] the first sip. I felt like I had to add lavender, and a bit of bitterness to it with the tonic.” He also added a quarter-ounce of yuzu liqueur to enhance the “blast of bright lime” in the aroma.
“The tonic syrup is just the best way I know to make Gin & Tonics,” Simmons says, so it made sense to extend the concept to the Sonic construct. At his high-volume bar, he often brews syrups ahead of time, topping them with sparkling water and spirit for a drink that can be made quickly when ordered, but still has considerable nuance.
He likens building a tonic syrup to brewing tea, another favorite ingredient for making drinks. Although his Lavender Super Sonic focuses on floral notes, it can be easily customized depending on individual preference or the ingredients on hand, he notes.
“You can switch out and use different fruits and herbs and teas to make it fun for yourself,” Simmons says. “Instead of lavender, you can use other flavors—chamomile, rhubarb, elderflower. Using different flavors in the tonic recipe is always fun.”