Q: What’s your favorite soda or seltzer for cocktails?A: Let me give you a complicated answer: It depends! I have different favorites for different drinks. For highball-style cocktails, I let the spirit or fortified wines do the talking, so I go for a seltzer like Schweppes, which is extremely fizzy and not intrusive flavor-wise. If it’s a gin and tonic, Fever Tree’s Mediterranean Tonic has this magnificently floral note that adds an element of intrigue. And if I’m just enjoying fizzy water on its own, I tend to go for something mineral-driven, like Topo Chico, which also has this volcanic-like carbonation.
Q: What’s the difference between club soda, seltzer, and tonic water? Does it really matter which one you reach for when making a cocktail? Why?A: Club soda and seltzer are very similar. Both are infused with carbon dioxide, but club soda also has added minerals, which give it a saltier taste. It’s subtle. Seltzers and club sodas pair with just about any spirit. A touch of sparkling water can lift particularly favorable flavor notes in spirits like whiskey and shochu, a Japanese distilled liquor.
Tonic water is also carbonated and sold by many seltzer brands, but it’s completely different. It’s sweetened, for one thing, and it contains quinine. Some brands are infused with other bitter barks, roots, and botanicals as well. Originally, tonic water was a medicine used to combat malaria. Now, it’s a beautiful partner for botanical spirits, primarily gin. Hence, the classic gin and tonic.
Q: What’s the difference between seltzer and mineral water?A: Sparkling mineral waters are the sophisticated cousins of seltzers. They’re laced with high amounts of naturally-occurring minerals and natural carbonation, which is then topped off with extra CO2. Seltzer is more or less regular water that’s been carbonated in the factory. They don’t have minerals but sometimes flavors are added.
Q: Is mineral water a good choice for cocktails?A: It really depends on the cocktail. I find that the saltier minerality of Topo Chico, for example, lends itself beautifully to Palomas and other highball cocktails, where the natural salts of the water balances the sugar content of the cocktail. For simple spirit and soda concoctions—scotch and soda, vodka and soda, and the like—I prefer to let the spirit shine while the bubbles of unflavored seltzer lift the spirit’s nuances.
Q: Why is everyone so obsessed with Topo Chico?A: For anyone who’s ever spent a considerable amount of time in parts of Texas and Mexico, Topo Chico is just a way of life. It’s what you reach for to beat the intense, summer heat. It found its way into tequila cocktails like Ranch Water, which is tequila, Topo Chico, lime. This has increased its popularity. That’s my take on the Topo Chico craze.
Q: Do you choose the type of soda depending on the liquor it’s mixed with?A: Generally speaking, for highballs, I keep it simple. I use Schweppes for its neutral flavor and violent carbonation. One exception I’ve been turning toward lately is pairing Japanese gin (like Suntory Roku) with Fever Tree’s newer Yuzu-Lime soda. It’s unbelievably refreshing, with just the right amount of florality and tartness, and very little sugar content.
Q: Would you call yourself a sparking water snob? Why?A: I’m not snobby about the bubbly water. As a bar industry professional, I’m lucky to have access to so many brands and styles of sodas, seltzers, and such. But, personally, I sometimes don’t want to think too hard about what I’m drinking. I just want to reach for whatever’s nice and cold at the local bodega. I’ll drink anything as long as it’s extremely bubbly and extremely cold.
Q: What’s your take on seltzer machines for the home?A: I have one at home: a SodaStream. I enjoy it. It’s nice when I want to drink cold, sparkling water. But the water’s not as fizzy as I like it to be for cocktails. So, even at home, I use Schweppes for my highballs. At work, of course, I have a fully-loaded carbonation rig. And, in reality, you could replicate a smaller version of this at home for less than $100 (highly recommended!). But that’s probably something we should do another article about.
Q: Glass vs. plastic bottles: the experience is much different drinking bubbly from a glass bottle versus a plastic one. Do you know why this is?A: Aside from the potential of plastic to impart off-flavors, glass simply keeps drinks cooler for longer, which maintains the effervescence of bubbly drinks. The colder the product, the sharper the bubbles—simple as that.
Q: The more bubbles the better?A: To an extent, yes. More specifically, you want finer, smaller bubbles, as many as possible, for that ultimate sensory experience.
Q: What’s your favorite “& soda” cocktail? Why?A: I typically enjoy Westward American single malt whiskey over ice and topped with Schweppes seltzer and a twist of lemon. I go for a ratio of 1½ ounces whiskey to about 5 ounces seltzer. When at a Japanese restaurant or bar, I go for a lovely sweet potato shochu such as Asahi Mannen Kuro-Koji shochu with soda water and a squeeze of grapefruit juice. Two parts shochu to three parts bubbly water. Shochu, by the way, is a distilled liquor, about 50 to 70 proof.
Q: Do you feel like every “& soda” cocktail needs a lemon or lime? Why or why not?A: I would say 99 percent of the time, any spirit and soda concoction could benefit from a twist of lemon peel. Scotch-style whiskeys, especially, need the floral note of citrus to down the robust malted flavors. Gins and tequilas love bright citrus flavors and benefit tremendously from a squeeze of two lime wedges.
Q: What else would you add to an “& soda” cocktail to elevate it?A: You could take a cue from Spanish gin and tonics, adding fresh herbs or spices to your cocktail. The alcohol coaxes flavor out the garnishes, so the taste of your cocktail evolves as you sip it. Shiso leaves are one of my favorite aromatics to add to spirits. Rosemary sprigs are great too.
Q: What’s the deal with club soda and bitters? Does it really settle the stomach? Why?A: Aromatic bitters are usually made with high-proof alcohol, herbs, bitter barks, spices, and some sugar. These concoctions can naturally ease feelings of stomach nausea and along with bubbly water can be very soothing. A splash of bitters in club soda makes for an aromatic but not sweet drink, think of it as a lighter and more nuanced alternative to basic tonic water.