Mark Langdon stands over a slow, fragrant boil of spices, freshly squeezed orange juice, lemongrass, and berries in his family’s kitchen. It’s 2005, and as a lifetime gin and tonic lover, conventional mixers made with sugar and synthetic ingredients aren’t cutting it anymore. He wants something healthier—and tastier—than he can find in a store. So, after some research, he takes a gamble at concocting his own recipe. Here at his home on Edisto Island, South Carolina, Langdon’s Original Tonic is born.
A decade later, Mark co-founded ACE Basin Cocktail Co. with his daughter and son-in-law, Alston and Brad Knaus. Today, the family-owned business offers two mixers: Langdon’s Original Tonic and a sugar-free version of the original recipe. They’re made with 17 all-natural ingredients and have less than half the calories, sugar, and carbs of generic tonics.
Mark hadn’t planned to launch a brand—he simply wanted to make a better tonic the “old-fashioned way” for himself, friends, and family to enjoy. He experimented with different cooking methods and ingredients over the years and relied on trial-and-error to hone the recipe. His loved ones were willing taste testers. For Brad and Alston, a trip to Edisto meant an opportunity to try Mark’s latest batches, which Brad describes as “little bottles of gold.”
“We didn’t want to share with anyone,” Brad jokes. But Mark’s tonic was too good to keep secret. After it was lauded by friends, the Langdons knew it was time to introduce Mark’s recipe to the world. Since the company launched in 2016, the final recipe remains untouched.
Langdon’s Original Tonic is still made in small batches. It starts with a simmer of citrus juices and zest, allspice berries, juniper berries, fresh lemongrass, and other natural ingredients. Next comes the tonic syrup’s star, natural quinine, which is extracted from the bark of cinchona trees through an extended steeping and filtration process. When Mark set out to create his own tonic, natural quinine was paramount. Native to South America, quinine was used as a malaria remedy by indigenous people of Peru before it eventually became a key ingredient in authentic gin and tonic cocktails. Natural quinine gives way to the tonic’s signature bitter, earthy flavor notes and rich amber hue.
As the tonic mixture concentrates, the makers closely monitor the steeping time and pot temperatures, ensuring the flavors infuse properly. When the base is ready, they strain it to remove any leftover sediment before adding sweetener as the last step. “Our final product is a balanced tonic syrup that harmonizes the acidity and sweetness of the citrus with the slight bitterness and earthiness of the cinchona bark and spices,” says Brad.
The brand’s namesake is the ACE Basin Wildlife Refuge, an 11,815-acre area of federally protected land, marshes, tidal creeks outside Charleston and home to Edisto Island. Here, songbirds, white-tailed deer, and a variety of flora and fauna live off the pristine land of the Lowcountry. “We believe their ideals of purity and standard reflect our own,” says Brad.
This standard carries over into every aspect of the brand, which is a family affair. Everything from cooking to bottling to selling is handled by a Langdon. They are a team of physicists, pharmacists, public educators, physicians, moms, and dads, all of whom work day jobs and dedicate their off-time to the business.
As they’ve collaborated to grow the brand, Mark has been able to take a step back and do what he intended to fifteen years ago—enjoy a better cocktail.
“Our goal is to keep Mark off his feet and with a gin and tonic in hand,” says Brad.
- by Hannah Lee Leidy
- by TLP's Partners
- by Jacob Hollifield