On it like a gin and...which tonic?
Feb 21, 2019
Assuredly, there is no occasion under the sun – or moon for that matter – that isn’t improved with a stiff G&T. Over the last few years we’ve seen different waves of a ‘gin renaissance’ that focused on everything from exotic botanicals and different brewing methods to small batch distilleries and country of origin gins – but what of the humble tonic? The unsung hero of the world’s favourite spirit mixer can make up anywhere from half to three quarters of your drink, depending on how you like it. Perhaps it’s time that we shine a light on this quinine-spiked always-a-bridesmaid beverage?
Tonic: A Brief History
For those unaware (perhaps you ticked the ‘Yes, I’m over 18’ firewall a little too soon?), tonic water is a tart, bitter-tasting drink that’s often mixed with gin but sometimes drunk on its own. The bitter flavour is attributed to its key ingredient, quinine, which is derived from the bark of the cinchona tree.
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Cinchona bark was originally used by the Inca tribe to cool fevers and ease the symptoms of malaria. It came to Europe through Spanish explorers who were introduced to its properties by the Inca tribe whilst navigating South America.
Word spread like wildfire of quinine’s effectiveness both as a treatment for and prophylactic against malarial disease. The medicine was soon adopted by the British military and played a vital role in Britain’s success as a colonial empire, especially with regards to the East India Trading Company.
The taste of pure quinine is pretty unbearable, so to make the officers’ daily dose more palatable it was mixed with water, sugar, gin and lime. The gin and tonic was born!
Does the brand of tonic really make a difference?
Yep! During the ’80s, soft drink companies began sweetening soda and tonic water with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) which has three times the amount of sugar as fruit juice. People tend to unfairly blame the spirit on the morning after but more often than not it’s the HFCS that has taken your hangover from headache to hellfire. It’s for this reason – along with the overpowering sweetness of modern day tonics – that cocktail connoisseurs prefer to either make their own tonics or choose a premium brand that uses natural sweeteners instead.
But if the gin is good, surely that’s all that counts?
Premium small-batch tonics are pleasantly bitter, much less sweet and – bonus! – lower in calories. These pared-down flavours allow for the profile of whichever gin you’re drinking to really shine through. It won’t matter what top-shelf gin you’ve bought – if you’ve matched it with a budget tonic, all you’re going to get is juniper.
So, why is it important to have the right tonic as a mixer?
A well-chosen tonic will allow aromatic gins to really strut their stuff. You’ll be able to sense a lot more of the floral characteristics as well the different herbs, roots and spices used in the distillation process.
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Which type of tonics go with which gins and flavours?
Finally – the how-to bit! There are literally countless (okay, fine, figuratively countless) different gins available. So, we’re gonna break it down into gin types, their usual flavours and the kind of tonics you should be pairing them with:
Taste: Classic, juniper-led gin with citrus overtones
Popular Gins: Beefeater, Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire
Best Tonic: Go fully dry and citrus-led with something like Q Tonic for that distinctive raspy flavour.
Taste: Similar to London Dry but slightly sweeter and a little earthier
Popular Gins: Plymouth Gin
Best Tonic: Create a rounder flavour profile with Fever Tree’s Aromatic Tonic (or a similar aromatic tonic).
Taste: Less like juniper, with more of an emphasis on other aromatics such as floral botanicals and citrus
Popular Gins: Hendricks, Botanist, Gin Mare
Best Tonic: Something subtle to bring out the aromatics like Boylan Heritage Tonic Water.
Taste: Like London Dry with a punch!
Popular Gins: Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength, Four Pillars, Sipsmith V.J.O.P.
Best Tonic: Stay simple with something like Fever Tree’s classic tonic water. You want the full-sugar option to take some of the heat away from that increased ABV.
Taste: A little malty with a lingering sweetness
Popular Gins: Tanqueray Old Tom Gin, The Dorchester Old Tom
Best Tonic: Cut through the malt and sweetness with a high quinine tonic, such as BTW.
Taste: Depends on the flavour used but all are generally quite sweet
Popular Gins: A lot of brands offer flavoured gins – the most common is sloe gin but other berries and fruit flavourings are also popular
Best Tonic: A bitter lemon tonic like Fever Tree’s Sicilian Lemon range.
So, there’s your guide to all things tonic! Up your game in the mixer department and you’ll be able to artfully avoid both yours and your Mother’s Ruin!
Photo by @jeztimms on Unsplash