Upscale bars began concocting their own tonic waters nearly five years ago, following the pioneering of Portland bartender Kevin Ludwig. Back in 2009, Pizzaiolo bar manager Cate Whalen began crafting her own version of the brownish, murky-looking mixer, a light syrup infused with citrus, South American chinchona bark she buys from Jennifer Colliau's Small Hand Foods, and herbs, including wormwood flowers, the source of vermouth's characteristic bitterness. (In the past, Whalen has used botanicals harvested from Pizzaiolo's backyard herb garden in Temescal, but recent crackdowns were intended to stop the practice.) Both Pizzaiolo and its Boot and Shoe Service sibling offer a fine G&T made from Plymouth gin stirred up with Whalen's brew, but for teetotalling nothing's better than the virgin variation, composed of tonic and fizzy water on the rocks. Without the distractions of gin you get a sharper view of Whalen's handiwork, a blend of appetite-inducing tannins and herbal complexity, set off by a framework of restrained sweetness. And given that it's all but identical to the boozy version, you can skip the alcohol without being forced to sip something with the sophistication index of a Shirley Temple.
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