Editor’s Note: Strong Tonic will be bringing its locally produced mixer to the Oct. 29 BrewFest at the Harn Homestead. Click here for reservations.
By Molly M. Fleming
Courtesy of The Journal Record
OKLAHOMA CITY – At the Midtown restaurant Ludivine, local flavors can be found on every corner of the menu, even at the bar.
When General Manager Eric Corff found a mixer that was made less than 2 miles from the restaurant, he knew he had to give it a whirl.
“Anytime there is product that is not only from Oklahoma, but is a quality that we want to represent, we want to pick up on it,” Corff said.
That secret elixir is no longer a secret, as Strong Tonic is quickly making its place behind bar counters and on retail shelves across the metro. The elixir starts with light fruit notes and ends with a bitter taste, offering an array of flavors from beginning to end. The viscosity is lighter than syrup, but thicker than water, making it perfect for layering drinks or mixing in cocktails.
At Ludivine, the tonic is mixed in the traditional gin and tonic, as well as two cocktails, one featuring apple brandy and burned rosemary.
“The flavor components (in the syrup) are perfect for this time of year,” Corff said.
Strong Tonic is made by Glenn Forester, who moved to Oklahoma City in 2012 with his wife. Forester had spent his life in advertising. When he moved to the city, he just wasn’t excited to get back into the business. His wife then presented him with a challenge to make a syrup on par with the cocktails they had found in Washington, D.C.
He accepted the challenge and went to work, using the knowledge he had learned from his brother-in-law, a mixologist, and a little bit of trial and error to create the flavor he wanted. The end result was a tonic syrup, the original other half of the gin-and-tonic cocktail before tonic water was introduced to the mixology world. The syrup brings a darker color to the often-clear cocktail.
While the Foresters liked their concoction, they knew it was a hit around Christmas.
“We gave it out to our friends around the holidays and they started asking if they can pay for it,” Forester said. “That’s when we knew we had something. People really love this enough that they wanted to give me money for it.”
Once he received the seal of approval from his friends, he had the product professionally formulated so it could be mass-produced safely.
The product had to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which had to make sure the amount of quinine in the tonic didn’t exceed federal regulation. Quinine is derived from the bark of the cinchona tree, which is often found in Asia. Forester has it imported. He boils the tree bark to extract the essential flavors that have helped his syrup grow in popularity.
The first bottle went on sale in May, and Forester has been on the go ever since promoting the product.
“It’s been an amazing ride,” he said.
After so many years in advertising, Forester is pleased to be selling something of his own.
“You get tired of selling other people’s products, and you think ‘I can do this,’” he said. “I never would have guessed it would have been tonic syrup.”
He said his original plan was to open a liquor store, but Oklahoma laws restricted that possibility since he hasn’t lived in the state for 10 years. Though the store won’t happen anytime soon, Forester has already made his name with cocktail makers and drinkers in the city.
“People that don’t like gin and tonics usually like the syrup,” he said. “It suits both traditionalists and nontraditionalists very well.”
The syrup is part of the fall menu at WSKY Lounge in Deep Deuce.
WSKY Lounge Bar Manager Jeff Cole said local appeal of the tonic caught his attention when he met Forester through a bartenders’ guild.
“There’s nothing we can use as a mixer that has a brand name that’s made locally,” he said.
Cole said the bar uses the product to put its own spin on the gin and tonic.
“We called it an improved G&T,” he said. “We just released our fall menu this week, and it’s part of our fall menu.”
The mass appeal of the product has helped it grow across the city, Forester said.
“I don’t think I would have this success in any other city,” he said. “I don’t think I would have this kind of love I’m seeing for the product. For example, at Broadway Wine Merchants, they can’t sell it because it doesn’t have alcohol, but they promote it. I have a lot of gratitude for this city and I am really appreciative of everything everyone has been doing for me.”
Strong Tonic is available at Plenty Mercantile, Native Roots, and Forward Foods in Oklahoma City and Norman, as well as Party Moore in Moore. It can also be found behind the bars at Packard’s New American Kitchen, WSKY Lounge, Ludivine, The Lobby Bar, Whiskey Cake, and Tamazul.