Find and book great restaurantsFind a Restaurant
Search for exciting venues and eventsFind a Venue
If you need advice or help finding venues or event suppliers, use our free helpline service.
Tonic is tonic, right? Well no, actually, says Richard Woodard. There are as many nuances to tonic as there are to the gin you’re adding it to
It’s called, rather snobbishly, the ‘EastEnders G&T’: take a traditional pub wine glass, add a small measure of gin, one lonely ice cube and a tired chunk of lemon – and top up with tepid tonic.
For many of us, the G&T has come a long way from such uninspired beginnings. Now, it’s more likely to be a tall glass filled with ice and lime, plus a generous measure of one of the growing ranks of premium gins: Tanqueray maybe, or Plymouth. Then there’s Martin Miller’s, Hendrick’s, Beefeater 24… But what about the tonic? Most of us don’t really give it a second thought, and yet it can have a huge effect on the final taste of the drink.
To many, tonic simply means the ubiquitous Schweppes, or Britvic, or something dispensed from a mixer gun behind the bar. If you’re happy with that, fine. But if
you’ve spent extra time and money agonising over your gin – and even your fruit and your glassware – why wouldn’t you take the same care in choosing your tonic?Such was the thinking of
Fever-Tree CEO Charles Rolls several years ago. At the time, he was running Plymouth Gin and was constantly
frustrated that the nuances of his product were being masked by the intrusive flavours of mainstream tonics. ‘What is the point in buying a good gin if you’re going to mix
it with a saccharine-filled mixer?’ he asks. ‘So we literally went to the ends of the earth to find our ingredients, like natural quinine from cinchona trees in Rwanda, and orange oil from Tanzania.’
Eschewing low-cost options such as high-fructose corn syrup, Rolls and business partner Tim Warrilow insisted on an all-natural production process and the exclusive use of small glass bottles to preserve that vital fizz. But it was in flavour terms that their requirements were strictest. ‘We didn’t want anything to overpower,’ Rolls explains. ‘It has a definite flavour, but if you have a Martin Miller’s or a Bombay Sapphire gin, you’re going to be able to taste the difference.’
For Maria Patterson, of Patterson’s restaurant in Mayfair, a simple comparative tasting was enough to persuade her to switch to Fever-Tree. ‘Once you taste it, you realise it’s far superior,’ she says. ‘It’s not fighting against the gin, it’s complementing it.’
Martin Lam of Ransome’s Dock in Battersea was just as easily won over by its charms – even though he confesses that he is not a spirits drinker and has had ‘probably only one gin and tonic in my life’. He says: ‘Fever-Tree stacks up as a straight drink and as a mixer. But it would be wrong to completely diss brands like Schweppes – it’s a bit like comparing a village wine to a premier cru.’
Not that Fever-Tree has the premium tonic niche to itself. Northumberland-based Fentimans has used its botanical brewing expertise to come up with its own take on artisan tonic. Company owner Eldon Robson believes the use of fermenting sugars in the brewing process – Fentimans’ soft drink products include just a smidgeon of alcohol – offers a more rounded flavour and texture. And again the main idea is not to dominate in a G&T: ‘It’s a product that allows the gin to speak,’ says Robson.
And now there is Q – a style bar invader from the US currently looking for distribution over here (you may be able to track it down in one or two London bars). Q is the premium tonic with knobs on: hand-picked quinine from what is claimed as its birthplace in the Peruvian Andes, and the use of low-calorie, low-GI agave nectar as a sweetener. Not only a better tonic for your gin, they say, but a healthier option too.
So is it worth spending a few extra pence on your tonic? That’s down to individual preference and, in the end, only your palate can decide.
But at a time when some bars are offering a dozen gins of every hue and flavour, at least it’s nice to have the option.
'What is the point in buying a good gin if you’re going to mix it with
a saccharine-filled mixer?'
On its own: Much smoother and more approachable than most tonics, with a supple mouthfeel and excellent
aromatic qualities, thanks to the addition of lemongrass.
Dream gin match: Beefeater 24. As smooth as Leslie Phillips in a velvet smoking jacket, the unctuous, supple dryness of 24 sits snugly alongside Fentimans for a supremely fruity G&T.
On its own: Fresh citrus burst on the nose, followed by a bitter pinch of quinine on the palate. Finish is
delicate and not too sweet – very fresh and very clean.
Dream gin match: Hendrick’s. The delicate pungency of cucumber-infused Hendrick’s marries perfectly to the poise and finesse of Fever-Tree, and the result is a G&T as fresh as a summer shower.
On its own: Fresh and floral on the nose, this is perfectly poised between sweetness and bitterness, with a
more lemony tang than the other tonics here. Dry and very classy.
Dream gin match: Xoriguer. Q’s citrusy dryness demands a richer, fuller gin such as Menorca’s grape-based Xoriguer, creating an explosive extravaganza of flavours. Superbly aromatic and a great reviver.
Editorial feature from Square Meal Lifestyle Magazine Summer 2009