Tom Richter of Tomr's Tonic Discusses Gin's Best Mate
There are a lot of new small-batch gins these days. Seeing an imbalance in the marketplace -- and the cosmos, perhaps? -- actor and bartender Tom Richter set out to make tonic. Tomr's Handcrafted Tonic Syrup may sound like an old-timey purported panacea sold at county fairs (and looks a little like one, too, in its apothecary-style flask), but it's actually a boldly flavored real quinine tonic, made with natural and organic ingredients, and sold in extremely small batches to bars and restaurants in the New York area, as well as online. If you find it curing what ails you, that's purely coincidental. Richter explains how he got started.
Photo by Denise Winters Tom Richter talks tonic.
Have you always been interested in booze?
Well, I spent a life in the theater, as most people in the restaurant industry in New York do. I had some good success with it: I've been on Broadway and had small roles in films and TV. I worked in a lot of restaurants, and as a wine director in a few places in the city, so my palate just got really souped up. I found that the most ordered cocktail is a gin and tonic and I wanted a better gin and tonic. I had no intention of ever starting a company.
When did you get serious about it?
I searched online and found a bunch of recipes and I tried them and they all kinda sucked, but there was really neat qualities about each. For the recipe, I started combining them and tweaking them and it really didn't take too long because all of a sudden, I just hit one combination and it was like, "Whoa! This hits my palate right." I used it in [a friend's] bar and it was really popular. People kept saying, "You should bottle it."
What's the biggest myth about gin and tonics?
It's a drink that's ordered all year. It's not just a summer thing.
Where do you sell your tonic?
Freemans, Hearth, Il Buco, Swift Hibernian Lounge, the John Dory, and now the Beagle, where I work. It just keeps growing. It's been a crazy ride. It's at Whole Foods in Paramus, New Jersey, and online at KegWorks.
Now, the tonic comes as a syrup, is that right?
That is correct. You use one ounce with two ounces of gin and top it off with club soda. That cuts it and carbonates it to the proper dilution.
Bars often try to make their own tonic. Why is it so hard to do well?
It's a pain in the ass. Really, truly. It's all about proper balance of the ingredients. I really mess around with it. Looking back, it doesn't seem that it was a long time, but it was a couple of months of messing around with it to get it right. It's a tricky thing to balance.