Poor Tonic water, always the bridesmaid to Gin’s bride moment in every Gin and Tonic.
Until now that is.
It would be hard to miss that Tonic water is having a moment that really started a couple of years ago. In response to the gin craze around the world, some clever folks decided that it was time to revisit the product that built an Empire and is responsible for one of the highlights of Western Civilisation: the Gin and Tonic.
A new wave of tonic’s arrived, plus some retro looking tonic cordials that harkened back to the pre-carbonated age when the medicinal tonic was a bitter concoction (see my article for a brief history) to do justice to the new wave of spirits.
After all, what’s the point of spending good money when you can’t taste it in a G+T?
So into an already crowded field of quality tonics from Australia, USA, UK and New Zealand appears StrangeLove.
From the get-go you notice the cut-through branding. Made in Melbourne by way of Byron Bay, James Bruce and Stafford Fox have taken an unconventional (and to my mind effective) way of getting the consumer’s attention.
No tales of the Raj vibe here. Heck, they even call their merchandise propaganda!
It’s important to know that tonics are made up of the highest quality, organic, and a mix of Australian and internationally sourced ingredients. All of the tonics have quinine, so you’re good to go for the tropics and are lightly carbonated.
Chatting with the Co-Founder, James Bruce
How do you see your products in the spectrum of tonic water?
We are definitely on the spectrum! It’s an interesting question actually. I guess I look at it in terms of the life cycle of the category – premium mixers. Definitely, people are now more and more aware that there is an alternative to mainstream, generic brand tonic water and they are increasingly looking to trade into something more premium, which makes it a really exciting time to launch a mixer range.
A lot of that initial category building work has been done, so the question then becomes ‘where do we go from here’?
I think for us it means fostering creativity both in terms of how we actually develop our products but also in considering how our end products are used by our customers to create interesting drinks. On some level I’ve always felt that we should be trying to create a toolkit – or palette of flavours – to help people enjoy gin and put their own touch on the process.
What I love about gin is the diversity, experimentation and customisation. Every region and distiller has their own unique twist – and then every drinker then adds their 2 cents, be it a garnish, glass or serve, so the end product can be really diverse. I think the aim of our tonics should be to enable that process of customisation to continue right until the end, right up until the G&T leaves the table.
Take our dirty tonic for example, it is quite nuanced, complex and different. In my opinion it works beautifully with some gins, and not-so-beautifully with others. So it in effect, becomes another ‘x’ factor in the whole G&T creation process. An extra step, with a range of possibilities. For me there is romance and fun in finding out ‘wow this tonic works so beautifully with this gin’ or even in finding out ‘hmmm I think the rosemary is clashing with the aniseed mrytle’.
In short, I think a good tonic should let you experience your favourite gin in a totally new (and hopefully better) way.
I love your packaging and positioning in the market, can you share some of the thinking behind that?
Thanks! I guess because we were an existing brand – having had the organic sodas out for a few years – we already had a tone and, to some degree, an aesthetic to work off but we definitely knew we needed to take an even more premium position with this range.
Everything that goes into the tonics is premium (a euphemism for expensive) so there was never any doubt that we had to do them justice with the packaging.
Also, a large percentage of our existing customers (stocking our organic sodas) were top restaurants and bars, so the positioning was initially done with those venues in mind.
There’s some great tonics out there, was it a challenge to take the plunge and launch yours?
Yes and no.
I’ve thought about this question a lot – and there are some great tonics out there – but I still think the category is just getting started. If I step back from it all and ask ‘can we add something to the category that nobody else is doing’ then the answer is a definite yes! So that makes it less daunting.
Also, we started with a pretty solid base, already having our sodas served in a lot of top restaurants means we had those relationships to call on. It wasn’t as daunting as when we started the sodas a few years back, knowing nobody and nothing!
Was there an eureka moment when you knew you’d nailed the recipes?
Wait…you mean…we’ve nailed them? Haha.
Yes for some there was definitely a Eureka moment, but usually it is a process of trail and error, slowly moving closer to some imaginary point far away in the distance. Often hitting that point is really clear like ‘yep, that’s it, 100%’ and often it is like ‘where am I and what am I doing with my life?’.
Plus there is so much that can happen between deciding on a recipe and holding the finished product in hand, so often the process is more about ensuring the spirit of the recipe makes it all the way through to the end product.
How do you recommend people enjoy your tonics?
Seriously though, it’s amazing how often I see a warm tonic poured over ice – a cardinal sin. Getting everything cold – the gin, glass and tonic – does wonders for a G&T, it helps sustain carbonation and prevent dilution.
I also work to a gin-to-tonic ratio of between 1:2 and 1:3, depending on the gin. Once those basics are in place, I would hope people just use our tonics to experiment and have fun, trying different gins and garnishes along the way.
- Dirty Tonic –I love this idea. I like a Dirty Martini, so why not a dirty G+T? Shake before using. This makes for a real grown-ups Gin and Tonic and if you’ve a punchy, juniper forward gin, then this works a treat. Some colouration hints at what’s to come, but its mild and approachable, not like you’re sipping on Sydney Harbour. Overall, a subtle, slightly salty note, with a bone dry finish.
- No. 8 – Apparently it’s called No. 8 has it took seven attempts to get right, which seems quite quick to me as a development project! Clean as a whistle with some residual slight sweetness and a mild astringency and forward on the palette. Designed to be the ‘standard’ tonic of the range this is a versatile and well crafted.
- Light Tonic – Designed to be something of a ‘diet’ tonic, it has a low sugar content (2.9ml/100ml compared to about 8 or 9ml/ 100ml of other tonics). By itself it is very slight and dry (not unpleasantly so) and needs some company. Ideal for a more delicate or citrus driven spirit (such as a vodka).
- Bitter Lemon -True to its name, it offers a balanced approach to a lemon driven tonic but is not too sharp that you can’t enjoy it by itself. A slice of lemon + ice and you’re set. Actually, my personal favourite of the range, fresh lemon up front and on the nose, with a spicy, zesty, dry finish but not overly bitter.
The Take Home
Branding is one thing, but backing it up with quality is another. The elegant range of tonics is an imaginative and stylishly executed offering in a competitive market with excellent tonic waters. StrangeLove offer a distinctive and contemporary voice that marries very well with a wide range craft spirits.
StrangeLove also encourages you to get adventurous with your garnishes, and leave that slice of lemon alone and find new ways to take your G+T to the next level, or just enjoy them solo. 5/5 stars.
- Website: www.strangelove.com
- Facebook: find them here
- Instagram: tune in here
- Purchase: StrangeLove Tonics are currently available via leading independent Australian bottle shops (Prince Wine Store, Blackhearts & Sparrows, Camperdown Cellars) and also at all 130 Dan Murphy’s stores across NSW & VIC. For outliers, StrangeLove offer free shipping Australia wide if purchased via their website.
- They also make a range of sodas and mineral water.
- RRP: AUD$9.99/4-pack.
- Bottle Size: 180ml
- ABV: 0%
Disclaimer: this review is of an unsolicited samples provided by the distributor, opinions expressed regarding the product are my own.