Updated 20 June 2019
What does Tonic Water have to do with Martinis?
With climate change upon us, and extremely hot antipodean summers (where in Canberra 35C > 40C+ for days on end are not uncommon) the normal chilled Martini really can’t be enjoyed.
So Gin and Tonics are the next best thing and a well made G &T is one of the gifts of Western Civilisation to the world. After all its one way to enjoy your daily dose of medicinal Gin and still stay hydrated.
A couple of years ago, I travelled to Borneo, and my idea of roughing it in the jungle was a pre-dinner G & T. I enjoyed the excellent Bombay Sapphire East version of its Gin, with locally bought limes and self made ice cubes using bottled water in the mini bar (I brought my own ice tray). It was the perfect way to unwind in the tropics and do a little something to ward off Malaria, or so we told ourselves!
So any respectable Martini maker needs a good handle on a killer G & T.
As the PR folks for the various tonic waters say, if 70% of your drink is tonic, and you’re drinking quality Gin (naturally), then why compromise on the majority of the drink? Good point. But the problem locally has been a) awareness of other brands, and b) availability.
So this post started with some chaps in my local stockists (noting how much Gin I was buying on a regular basis) if I’d try these tonic waters? One was a freebie – Q Tonic from Vintage Cellars, and the other I purchased on recommendation from Jim Murphy’s in Fyshwick locally, Fever-tree from the UK.
That got me researching the subject, and to my joy there is Australian Tonic Water too: Capi and also from Daylesford in Victoria. Who knew?
Each website I looked had a different version of the origins of Tonic water. Some say Peru, others Ecuador, for the source of the original use of the bark of the Quinquina (renamed the Cinchona by colonists) tree to treat malaria in the 1600’s.
According to wikipedia:
“Though it has been synthesized in the laboratory, quinine
occurs naturally in the bark of the cinchona tree.
Cut forward a couple of hundred years and in the mid 1800, tonic water was used to mask the bitter flavour of quinine for British Empire troops (the French developed Dubbonet for the same reason by the way), and since Gin was a daily ration for the armed forces too, the G & T was born and civilisation took a step forward.
Quinine has been produced synthetically since the 1940’s to treat Malaria. But it was the venerable Mr Schweppes who created the sparkling Indian Tonic Water we all enjoy today in the 1870’s.
Something I didn’t know, until researching this post, is that you can make your own tonic water and there is a small range of tonics, such as this pukka Empire Tonic from New Zealand, and also from the US and UK you can buy to mix with soda (like adding cordial) to create your own to taste as you go along.
You could get your safari kit out and go source the herbs and Cinchona bark. Or you can brew your own.
I’ll be embarking on my own Tonic mixing adventure soon, aiming to create a Canberra Tonic, having found a source online of the Cinchona bark powder – the key ingredient-here in Australia- this will be the subject of another post.
Now, if like me, all you’ve drunk in your life is Schweppes, then it’s hard to gauge what’s good or not in a tonic water.
But I’m assuming you don’t want a lot of flavour or sweetness on the tonic water, else that would mask the Gin and defeat the purpose of the mixing. So allowing for personal taste, here’s my take on the waters.
Each has a distinct personality and each is a quality product, you just need to find the style that works for you. The other consideration is that in some cases a more full flavoured Gin would work better to cut through the tonic.
Also look out for these:
- Blood Moon tonic syrup (review here)
- Billson’s Aromatic Tonic Water
- Bradley’s Tonic Syrup
- Daylesford and Hepford Springs Tonic
- East Imperial Tonic Water
- Strange Love Tonics (read review and interview here)
- Tasmania Tonic Company
Sample Method + Comments
I drank each on their own slightly chille with no ice, and then each with 30ml Tanqueray Gin and a slice of lime, 2 ice cubes in a 1 : 5 ratio.
I was excited to find what I think is the only Australian Tonic water (they also
make other sparkling drinks) and it has smart package and savvy
social media marketing, its also very affordable.
If you’re looking to improve on your regular Schweppes and can’t track down the others, then this is an excellent option Its not as dry on the palette as
Fever-Tree or Quina Fina
It offers a clean finish with more flavour and a hint of bitterness at the end.
It is more carbonated than all but Schweppes and is generally more rounded on the palette, but it fade fast.
It makes a nice G+T, but its doesn’t really shine in the company of the other waters. I think you’d need a stronger flavoured Gin to cut through.
The word on the street was this was the tonic of choice for the discerning
drinker and I can see why. It was very dry and forward on the palette, lightly carbonated.
It uses all natural ingredients, including sugar cane syrup, and that gave it a fuller mouth-feel with a hint of sweetness without a sugary taste.
That meant you can drink it quite happily by itself (the wife stole my sample after sipping it), and in a G+T it perfectly supported the Gin.
You could taste the spices of the spirit, had it gave a clean after
taste and it married perfectly. This was, for someone who loves
dryness in his wine and drinks generally, the one for me.
Note there are two types, one with a gold label and another with a blue.
This New Yorker is a classy product. I found it lightly
carbonated, bone dry, delicate even, and not much in the way of
sweetness or bitterness. So you could sip this happily with a
garnish if desired.
In that way is a perfect marriage for flavoursome Gins that you don’t want to mask, such as West Winds, Beefeater and the like.
On a whim, I tried it also with Bombay Sapphire East and you got all the
complexity of the spirit coming through wonderfully- it supported
just as it should.
So if its a dry elegant tonic you’re after, with neutral flavours, this is an excellent product.
This came with a high reputation among the
cognescenti (and thanks to my twitter pals for putting me in the right direction here). If there is one country that punches above it weight, its New Zealand.
This accomplished product was worth the effort to track
down, and the lovely folk at Sip Sip were very accommodating allowing me to purchase some samples.
This sits in the middle of the various styles I tried: very dry, but with a full mouth feel than it initially suggests Quite neutral in flavour, and no hint of bitterness with very clean finish.
With the Gin it sat back and let the spirit do the talking. If you like your G+T’s with a dry finish on the palette, then this is a strong contender. If you don’t want the austerity of Fever-Tree or Q Tonic, then take this kiwi out on a date.
I don’t want to give you the impression that the new kids on the block have stolen the crown from this venerable product. There is a reason its been made since the 1870’s- its good and it works.
Note, there is a huge difference between that in bottles, cans and post mix in my experience. Bottles every time.
I left the tasting of this water until last and compared to theothers I found this had a hint of sweetness and was more full flavoured and carbonated, but not unpleasantly so.
You can taste the slight bitterness, which is appropriate, and you know you’re going to make a proper G+T with this mixer with any Gin.
“Their Tonic Water contains natural Quinine that is extracted from the bark of the Cinchona tree in the Democratic Republic of Congo and blended with Orange and Lemon essential oils.”
- Retail Price and purchase. $7 per 4 x 250ml bottle via Dan Murphy’s
- Origin: Australia
“By blending fabulous botanical oils with spring water and the highest quality quinine from the fever
tree, we have created a delicious, natural tonic with a uniquely clean and refreshing taste and aroma. Quinine from the Rwanda / Congo Border.”
Price: about $12 for 4 x 200ml pack at Jim Murphy’s Canberra
- Origin: UK
“Q Tonic is dedicated to making the world’s best tonic water – a clean, crisp, completely ungeneric beverage thatenhances the finest spirits or stands proudly on its own. We’ve used the best ingredients we could find. We went to the slopes of the Peruvian Andes for hand-picked quinine and to the Mexican countryside for organic agave, a sweetener better than honey with a gently rounded sweetness.”
- Retail Price, variable $10-$12 per 4 bottles x 300 ml try Vintage Cellars and their facebook page for details of stockists
- Origin: New York, USA
“Our story began in 2009 after a chance visit to Loja, Ecuador. Quina Fina embraced a locally supported opportunity to grow Cinchona for our tonic water, contribute to natural research and begin a re-population program – right here, where it’s history began nearly 400 years ago”
- Sip Sip for online
- purchase. (case of 24 x 250ml for $49.95 plus shipping
- Origin: New Zealand
“First launched in London in the 1870s, Schweppes Indian Tonic Water is a modern day icon. Today, Schweppes Indian Tonic Water yields a zesty hit of oils from Australian orange and lemon peels, finished with a delicate touch of quality-certified quinine from the tropics.”