Q Tonic

q tonic

Of all the schemes launched after a night spent drinking, Jordan Silbert’s might be the most edible. Silbert, who lives in Prospect Heights, is the founder of Q Tonic, the DUMBO-based tonic water business conceived on a night of really great gin and really bad tonic.

“It was just crap,” says Silbert, who idly suggested to his friends that he start his own business making something that actually tasted good. “So the first thing I did when my head cleared was I figured out why tonic water was so lousy.”

The answer, he found, was largely in the quinine extract, tonic’s key ingredient.

Quinine extract was originally harvested from the bark of a Peruvian tree as an antimalaria agent, and was first mixed with gin and soda water by clever British army officers in the early 1800s. Then, after the Peruvian trees were nearly rendered extinct and Indonesian sources were cut off by World War II, scientists developed a synthetic extract, used in most American tonic waters ever since.

Silbert spent much of four years as a mad scientist, tinkering with real Peruvian extract and even making his own. (“My roommate yelled at me about creating what looks like a meth lab in our apartment,” he laughs.)

His final recipe also skipped the high-fructose corn syrup that sweetens most tonics, opting instead for agave nectar, a subtle sweetener that’s used to make tequila. The tonic is produced by a bottling company in Massachusetts, and in the past year sales have grown from an initial 100 cases to a recent run of 5,000 cases, as the bottles hit specialty food shops, bars and restaurants in Brooklyn and beyond.

Though when he goes out for a drink near home, Silbert says he’s more likely to order a beer than a gin and tonic: “I’m kind of off-duty,” he admits.

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Rachel Wharton is the former deputy editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. She won a 2010 James Beard food journalism award, holds a master’s degree in Food Studies from New York University, and has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and reporter. A North Carolina native and a former features food reporter for the New York Daily News, she edited the Edible Brooklyn cookbook and was the co-author of both Handheld Pies and DiPalo's Guide to the Essential Foods of Italy. Her work also appears in publications such as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Saveur.