Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Tonic Water Update


Out second batch of tonics for tasting

Perhaps it was inevitable that the surge of interest in gin would be accompanied by a rash of new tonic waters. Further to our blind tasting on which I have posted before, we have had the chance to sample a few more.

DBS returned from a trip to Calais armed with a bunch of new tonic waters, some of them only available on the other side of La Manche, and we had a quick analysis of a dozen that had escaped us before, including some artisanal syrups/concentrates:
Look Tonic An exclusively French offering, I think. A sharp vervey tonic, light and sharp, and quite nice, though perhaps with some gins it slightly leaves a hole in the middle.
Tesco Finest Indian Tonic Water Very soft, with a sophisticated feel to it. With gin it is subtle and reveals SW4 quite well, though perhaps is a touch sweet for me. Mind you, on its own this is probably my favourite of the lot—so when my liver finally packs up and I’m forced to exist on soft drinks alone, this is what I’ll be sipping on in the corner.
Hartridge’s Very fizzy and limey. As a mixer it’s too soft and sweet, and actually a bit stomach-turning.
Heritage Indian Tonic Has an odd taste of carrots. Rather teeth-coating feel to it.
Waitrose Essential Tonic Water Fizzy and lemony, but a bit synthetic-tasting.
Fevertree Mediterranean An unexpected floral nose, like rose, perhaps. As a mixer I feel it has a bit too much going on in the middle, just as I sometimes feel about standard Fevertree.
Tonic by Carrefour Pretty neutral. OK with gin, though a bit sweet.
Hartridge’s Low Calorie Tooth-coating nastiness.
Schweppes Our control, and still a good benchmark.
Esprit de Schweppes Another French exclusive, it seems. The label says “moins amer” and “plus l├ęger”, but to me it actually seems as if they’ve stripped out much of the sugar, leaving quinine and a bit of citrus, making it actually more bitter than most. I find this rather appealing—as if it really is stripping things back to the essence of what tonic water should be about.
Tom’s Tonic Syrup Weird, savoury, rooty smell, with citrus and dusty, earthy spice. With gin it comes across as strongly gingery with a strong bitter aftertaste. Not unpleasant, exactly, but rather too busy to be of much use in my mind.
John’s Tonic Syrup Very bitter, plus citrus peel and what tastes like quite a bit of cinnamon.

Out of all of these, the most interesting was the Esprit de Schweppes, though Tesco’s Finest probably scores as the nicest to drink on its own. But of course the real point of tonic water is as a mixer, and I find I veer away from very complex examples—God knows, many contemporary gins are complex enough, and I seek a tonic water that acts primarily as a platform for the gin to show what it’s got. The more busy tonics, such as both types of Fevertree and especially Fentiman’s, might work well with a very simple, juniper-dominated gin, but all the mid-range spice tends to quarrel with a lot of gins.

1724 tonic water
Since that tasting I have come across two more, very promising tonics. One was given to me by Chris Goulbourne of 10 Degrees C: it’s called 1724, and is named after the height above sea level where the quinine is harvested. It’s made in Argentina and I do not think it is distributed in the UK yet, but pray that it will be, as it’s the best tonic I’ve tasted to date.

South America is, of course, where quinine comes from, but Chris tells me that moreover the continent has a long-standing tonic water style that is different from that typically enjoyed in the UK. He explains that the ingredients are carefully selected, the water for its purity, the plants are organic, etc. I can’t find much of this on the website (which, oddly, has Spanish headings on the English language version and vice versa), only lifestyle marketing guff. But the tonic itself does somehow taste fresh and real, leaving others seeming rather synthetic. It has something in common with Esprit de Schweppes, in that it is light, sharp and clean, leaving a blank canvas for the gin to express itself. But I’d say it had a defter, more sophisticated palate, almost an extra subtle dimension to it.

One final tonic water is Thomas Henry, a sample of which DBS gave me recently. Despite its English-sounding name it actually hails from Germany. To me it has a lot in common with 1724, with a sharp, clean taste that frames gin well. In the fact the marketing makes it clear that all Thomas Henry products are strikingly bitter, which they see as an “intense and mature” flavour profile.

Admittedly I have whatever you would call the opposite of a sweet tooth, so these tonics may not be to all tastes. But I do think that they would partner well with the current generation of gins that are rich, spicy and perfumed, and particularly those that have more of a sweetish profile, such as G’Vine  or Adnam’s Copper House Distilled Gin (not that I’ve tried these combinations yet—if I can get my hands on a supply of 1724 I certainly will).

1724 tonic water is rigorously tested against Schweppes with a range of gins


5 comments:

  1. 1724 is now available in the UK online from The Champagne Company in packs of 6 or 24 bottles. Think you can also get it from your nearest Harvey Nichols if you need an instant fix...

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  2. Thanks for this interesting review. I travel in France quite a lot so it is very helpful. I agree totally with your comments on Hartridges - it made my G&T totally undrinkable. Would be interested on your view of Lidle's tonic which I find quite palatable

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  3. I have bad muscle problems with aspartane and acesulfame, when they are listed as such. Lidles tonic water does not seem to give me the same problem but I cannot see on their ingredients what sweetener is used. Just hope it continues.

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