Up until a few years ago, many people would have gladly splashed whatever tonic they had at the local shop into their gin. Infact many people were put off tonic from drinking flat, lukewarm or just disappointingly cheap tonics at their local pub. I certainly remember my first G & T for the sharpness of the tonic and it took a bit of getting used to.
There are now a few big names on the market mainly Fevertree and Fentiman’s who have taken over the bulk of pub fridge space from Schweppes. But are they really worth the extra pennies?
I decided to find out. I gathered a couple of gin loving aquaintances and conducted a series of tastings.
Firstly; we tasted all of the tonics on their own. Then with a gin – I decided to use Bulldog gin as it’s my house gin. It is not heavy in botanicals or overtly citrusy so we were able to get a good overview of the tonics.
We drank the gin and tonics at a ratio of 1:4, the tonics had all been chilled. No ice was added and no garnishes either. We also did some blind tasting that gave some interesting results! At the end of the tasting our only conclusion was that tonic is a very personal choice and you will have to try a few to see what suits your pallate. It also massively depends on the gin you are drinking.
Tonic – I have discovered- is not one size fits all, a bit like gin! There was no clear winner. I have wrote down what gins would work particularly well with specific tonics and my personal preferences. All tonics were purchased from The Whisky Exchange and current selling prices are listed. The gins were from my own collection! So in no particular order I will start the review!
Distillers Tonic £1.10 20cl
This tonic has no botanicals and the lowest sugar content of all the tonics we tasted. It was by far the sharpest and also quite flat when added to gin. It did have slight citrus notes but these were lost when paired with stronger gins. We all agreed this would be a perfect tonic for highly flavoured gins or a gin where you have a unique distillation that you want to experience as the tonic would showcase the gin. Overall however I would not select it for the majority of gins as it doesn’t being much to the table and was just too bitter.
Thomas Henry Tonic £1.10 20cl
Hailing from Germany this tonic has a high quinine content and a unique sweetness. One taster commented that it was almost like a soft drink and was the most pleasant of all the tonics when tasted alone. A lemony undertone with very big bubbles this would be the perfect foray for those who are used to drinking lemonade. The least bitter of all the tonics if you like a sharp bite to your G & T it’s not for you. Great in a strong tasting gin was especially nice with a Plymouth gin and made a Bloom G & T a delight!
1724 £1.44 20cl
Batting in with the heftiest price tag 1724 is worth every penny. Light on quinine and less sharp it gets it’s name from the place in the Andès where quinine was first discovered, 1724m above sea level. It has a good citrus flavour when drunk on it’s own and went well with a range of gins. Light fizz with a dry and sweet finish. Very easy to drink and didn’t overpower the gin but still brought enough bitterness to enhance the gin. Good all rounder.
Fentiman’s 75p 12.5cl
Worlds first botanically brewed tonic with heavy notes of lemongrass. This was the least favourite by all tasters and also one of the few to be instantly recognisable in blind tatsing. Very powerful from the mix of botanicals, I found it almost medicinal when tasted on its own. Completely overpowered most gins. Good bitter bite and reasonable sweetness it just was too much.
London Essence £1.25 20cl
It has a signature juniper distilate and was one of the most recognisable tonics in the blind testing. One taster claimed it to be his new favourite beverage! The bottle alone would have me reaching for it off the shelf as it looks the best and we all know style can sometimes triumph! It had a cloudier colour than other tonics we tried and a sweet aroma. Very fizzy and held its bubbles well when mixed with the gin. Strong citrus notes and a reasonable level of bitterness. Because of it’s distinct flavour it could perhaps off balance gins with unique flavours like Orkney. Was superb with Bulldog and a real treat with Portobello Road.
Fever Tree Indian Tonic 99p 20cl
This was my biggest suprise. I will hold my hands up and admit I was caught up in the frenzy that was the release and big rise of their Mediterranean tonic so I instantly dismissed the original. I admit I was wrong to do so. Flavoured with botanical oils yet has only a light aroma. Tasting alone gives a pleasant fizz and very sweet kick – maybe a touch artificially sweet tasting. But paired with gin it brought everything you expect. Good bitterness without being overpowering, nice citrus hit again without overkill. A perfect tonic to suit most pallates and would go well with the majority of gins in cupboards up and down the country. Perfect in one of my favourites Makar. Didn’t fair well with sweeter gins such as Brockmans.
Fever Tree Mediterranean 99p 20cl
With essential oils from fruits, flowers and herbs this tonic packs a punch. Massive thyme, rosemary and citrus tones. I have been slinging this in my shopping trolley for the last two years now, convinced this was everything I wanted in a tonic. But I may have changed my mind. Drunk with Bulldog it overpowered the gin and made it taste the exact same as Portobello Road and Plymouth – not a good thing! If you pay a premium for a gin you want to taste it. This tonic worked extremely well with Gin Mare and would definitely bring life to cheaper gins. Great crisp taste and enjoyable on its own.
BTW 99p 20cl
And no it doesnt stand for ‘by the way’ like I originally thought, it is for Bermondsey Tonic Water. It was the most unique of all the tonics being as it was a cider brown colour! This is because the cinchona bark isnt bleached to extract the quinine. It has no other botanicals so has no distintive aroma. On first taste you get a slight woody flavour but was overall quite neutral. The least bitter of all the tonics I would go as far as to say it just tastes like a pimped soda water. Very flat and lacking in character. When mixed with gin it showcased the gin and here we found its calling. It could be paired well with most gins especially a more robust gin like the botanist.
Three Cents Aegean Tonic £1.35 20cl
A greek tonic with the most distinct taste. The only one never confused in the blind tasting it could have been picked out through smell alone. Highly scented this tonic captures the mediteranean with cucumber, basil, mint and citrus providing a unique tonic. We all came to the same conclusion that even though it would be something that you would remember and even enjoy it was one we would never have with our gin. I can imagine sipping this in the height of summer in a tall glass with lots of ice. But mixed with gin you would be hard pushed to pick out what gin you were having – infact none of us manged to discern the gin in blind tastings.
Score 3/10 (would score 6/10 as a soft drink on its own though!)
So there you have it. There were definite top ranks with Fever Tree origninal, 1724, London Essence and Thomas Henry being favourites. The blind tasting caused a bit of controvery however when we singled out our top four and none of us could distinguish between three of them! Only the London Essence stood out. My biggest suprise was the Thomas Henry and I wouldnt hesitate to buy it again now. And would recommend it to any of my gin and lemonade drinking friends. But for the majority of my gins I will use 1724 or Fever Tree Indian Tonic as they really did outshine the others in regards to showcasing the gin and being the most versatile. It definitely depends if you only drink one gin then you would be able to decide on a definite tonic. But, if like me you have a cupboard full of gin then you may need to adapt your tonic to suit the different gins.
Disclaimer I will probably still by Schweppes from the local shop on a friday as I never have the forefront to order tonic in! I was not paid for this post nor did I recieve any products in return for this review, it is completely honest.
What is your go to gin and tonic? Have I convinced you to try another? Be a devil and try a blind taste test it will shock you! Let me know how you get on.