The Basics Tips & Tricks

The Difference between Club Soda, Seltzer, and Sparkling Water

When to use each—and where tonic water fits in.

Water flowing into a glass
Image:

Liquor.com / Laura Sant

Whether you’re making a highball or topping off an Aperol Spritz, sparkling water might just be the most all-purpose mixer in your cocktail-making arsenal. But not all of the bubbly stuff is created equal. Using club soda versus seltzer is an important consideration that can affect the cocktail you’re making.

Club soda, mineral water, seltzer, and tonic water all have varying flavor profiles and carbonation levels that will impart different qualities to a drink. These are the most common types of carbonated water, including some of the most common brands, and when you should reach for each as a cocktail mixer.          

Club Soda

The main component of the ubiquitous Vodka Soda and the choice of most bartenders as a sparkling element, club soda includes added minerals like sodium bicarbonate and sodium citrate, resulting in fine bubbles and a minerally and slightly saline taste that makes it a closer match to sparkling mineral water than to seltzer. Bartenders love the salinity for the way it enhances many cocktails. Popular brands include Fever-Tree, Canada Dry, Polar, Seagram’s, and Q Mixers.  

Seltzer Water

Seltzer is simply plain water that has been carbonated, or injected with carbon dioxide. Its flavor is neutral, but popular brands like Polar, Vintage, Bubly, La Croix, and Hal’s typically come in a wide variety of flavors, from lemon-lime to hibiscus. Hard seltzer, meanwhile, is made with an alcoholic base such as fermented cane sugar. Club soda is the most common component in bubbly cocktails, but you might swap in seltzer if you’re watching your salt intake, as the former contains about 75 milligrams per can. 

Sparkling Mineral Water

Consider sparkling mineral water seltzer’s cousin who studied abroad. Bottles like Perrier and Badoit include naturally occurring bubbles from sources like springs and wells; sometimes additional effervescence is added artificially. Flavor profiles and bubble sizes will vary based on the terroir and the minerals naturally present in the source: Natural springs in the Italian Alps give San Pellegrino a touch of salinity, while a limestone spring in Mexico gives Topo Chico its bouncy bubbles and what some consider a slightly citrusy taste. Because of its higher price point, mineral water is usually sipped solo, but Texans swear by Topo Chico for Ranch Water, a cocktail of tequila, fizzy water, and lime juice. 

Tonic Water

You can use most sparkling waters interchangeably in a pinch, but that’s not the case with tonic water. Made with a base of soda water, the mixer gets its characteristic bitterness from the addition of quinine, a compound that comes from the bark of the Central American cinchona tree, once beloved for its antimalarial properties. Companies like Schweppes and Canada Dry usually add high-fructose corn syrup to balance the bitterness; you might instead try premium brands like Fever-Tree, Q Mixers, and Fentimans, which employ less-processed sweeteners like cane sugar and agave. Tonic water is a natural match for gin and vodka, but you can use it any time you want to give a drink a bitter, bracing quality. Switch up your G&T with a White Port & Tonic or a Summer Tonic, a refreshing mix of rum, amaro, and aromatic tonic water.