Tonic magazine is a “heady cocktail of drink, travel and adventure.” We take a tipple with its co-founder Rob Ellison.
Where did the idea for Tonic come from, and what is your background which led to this?
Like any good idea, it started down the pub. I saw a quote by Ernest Hemingway that said,
“Don’t bother with churches, government buildings or city squares. If you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars.” I thought this was true: you go away and always remember that special drink, bar or restaurant. I talked to a few travel writer friends to see if they had any such stories, and they had loads. That’s how things got started.
What is your commissioning process for each issue?
We try to include a story from each continent in every volume. We need to have a mix of drinks. We don’t want all gin, for example. People come to us with stories they have uncovered on their travels or where they live; if we like them, we share them with our readers.
Your current issue is a fascinating exploration of everything, such as Albanian wine set against its historical and political context to discovering an Irishman setting up a craft brewery in Botswana; how important is it to have a global scope highlighting lesser known people and stories?
It’s very important for us to have stories from all over the globe. Our diverse stories make the magazine special and are central to what we do. We love to shine a light on what people are up to in this eclectic world and try very hard to steer away from the normal things people would expect to read about. For example, in Europe, we make beer with hops, which is male-dominated. In some African countries, it’s normal for women to make beer; they make it with no hops.
How important is the art of storytelling, whether it’s the documentation of practices such as the rebirth of Italian viniculture in Brazil or linking moonshine connections to motorsport in North Carolina?
It’s vital! It’s what Tonic is all about. Whether it’s drinking with a Vodou priest in Haiti, rappers buying Champagne houses or winemaking in North Korea, you’ll find it between our covers. The stories are what connect us and giving space for those to be told is the Tonic way.
Which magazines out there inspire and inform your work?
There is such a great community of creators in the indie magazine world, and so many have inspired and informed us through our journey. Delayed Gratification planted the seed for us, and we have drawn inspiration from many great titles such as Fare, Fields & Stations, Lodestar Anthology, Drift and Outthere magazine.
Do you have a personal favourite story which you have published in Tonic?
It is tough to pick one, but I currently love our piece by Paul Wade in Volume Four which tells the story of the link between moonshine runners and the establishment of NASCAR racing in North Carolina.
Are there any trends becoming evident to you in the drinks industry?
Yes, there is an exciting trend in reviving discontinued brands of drinks. For various reasons throughout history, some once-popular drinks stopped production. It might be due to a financial downturn, changes in laws like the introduction of prohibition or changing tastes or some simply faded away because of war, think the US Civil War or WWI and WWII in Europe. Companies are uncovering old recipes, researching bottle designs, and resurrecting the tipple our ancestors used to swear by.
You reference the challenges of keeping print publications going. How do you surmount these, and what drives you forward?
The biggest challenges to print publications are printing and distribution costs. It seems that printing prices are constantly on the rise. The only way to manage this is by shopping around for more competitive printers. Distribution costs are crazy too, so the best way to mitigate this is to sell directly to your reader via subscription and website sales.
What is your ambition and dream for Tonic?
We want to spread the word about Tonic and grow the brand to share these stories with more people. Building our community is also really important to us. We want to do more live events for our international community where like-minded people can socialise and share their own stories. This will be a great opportunity to showcase some of the drinks from the magazine. Hopefully, we will see you at one of our events soon.
Vol. 4 of Tonic is out now, £15 thetonicmag.com
Tonic is offering Totally Dublin readers a copy of Tonic Volume 1 for £5 (rrp £15).
Tonic is also offering a 20% discount on subscriptions.
Go to https://thetonicmag.com/shop/p/tonic-subscription and add TOTALLYDUBLIN20 to the discount code box to get your discount.