Tonic tasting: what's the nicest I can get?

A few years ago, Christopher and I had a conversation about gin with an American bartender. He prided himself on the many varieties he had. So we asked: which tonics do you stock? Cue confusion. ‘Schweppes draft. Are there others?’

The candidates: own label, mainstream and something a little special.

The candidates: own label, mainstream and something a little special.


The number of gins on the market has exploded over the last few years. Artisan gin distilleries are popping up everywhere. It’s s very exciting time for gin lovers.

If you like a G&T, it’s even more exciting now that the tonic options have increased. We’ve been drinking Fever Tree for years, preferring it to the open brand or main brand options. Then Fentimans released a tonic. Happy days! It’s not easy to get hold of where I live, but I see it in pubs and bars*. Smaller producers, like Bon Accord, also make tonic, and recently, Franklin & Sons turned up in my supermarket.

I went out to my local supermarkets to see which tonics I could get hold of: time for a tasting.

Caroline and Christopher tastes tonic

Our favourite, and not included here, is Fever Tree. It has a great dose of quinine but isn’t so sweet, or so floral, that it overpowers the gin. It is a lovely drink on its own and is blissful mixed with grapefruit-juice.  It works with coffee, with gins and vodkas. It’s our golden standard.

The gin is Electric Spirit Co’s Achroous, a glorious old-style, full-on-juniper gin. Electric Spirit Co gin is sippable but tonic takes the medicinal edge off. To give the tonic a chance to show off, I mixed 1 part gin to 9 parts tonic, with ice and no garnishes. We’re rating the tonics as follows: * meh   ** fine   *** great.

Electric Gin Achroous: a bright and shining juniper light. Seriously small batch; seriously interesting.

Electric Spirit Co Achroous: a bright and shining juniper light. Seriously small batch; seriously interesting.

Own brand

  • Morrison Indian Tonic: Sweet, lacking bitterness. Overly fizzy. Doesn’t add anything to the tonic: a dilutant. Rating: *
  • Sainsbury Indian Tonic: Sweet and with hardly any quinine. Hint of vanilla on the nose? Does affect the gin, making it mellow and making the flavour. Rating: *

Mainstream

  • Schweppes Indian Tonic: Has good quinine flavour, not overly sweet. Compliments the gin instead of making it. Makes the drink taste like a classic G&T. Rating: **

A little special

  • Franklin & Sons (naturall light): Smells like stale lemonade and is a little too sweet. Fizzes as if it’s been nitro-ed (which I like but Christopher doesn’t). Citrussy and sharp. Doesn’t stand up to the gin, becomes nothing but a faintly odd bitterness. It’ll be interesting to see if the full fat is more satisfying. Rating: *
  • Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic: Floral and herbaceous on the nose, very pleasant on its own, if different from a classic tonic. The floral notes survive the gin, making a rounder, complex but pleasant G&T. Rating: ***
Tasting in progress. A1 and B1. (I knew what we were drinking, Christopher didn't.

Tasting in progress. A1 and B1. (I knew what we were drinking, Christopher didn’t. (Thus we minimize bias. Hopefully.)

Conclusions

Fever Tree is still our favourite, their Mediterranean is a lovely change of pace. Schweppes is a fair default. The other three really need the gin to be drinkable. Since we drink tonic like a teenager drinks cola, that’s not good enough.

Part of me is still sure there’s a best ever tonic out there that I haven’t tasted yet. Oskar Lindberg has a tonic recipe in his book Cocktail Cookbook. I’m itching to try it.

What’s your favourite?

* I like Fentimans on its own, as a soda: it’s too flowery to mix. The first time I had it with tonic I sent the drink back because I thought they’d forgotten to add the tonic. Bet Electric Spirit Co’s gin could stand up to it, though.

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  1. Pingback: Tonic tasting: what’s the nicest I can get? – UK Food and Drink News – Nosh Online

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