If you have been following along you know that I like my gin with tonic. It’s classic. It’s simple. It’s good. But what is the best tonic to go with gin? There is only one way to find out and so this week’s edition of the gin blog features a tasting of tonics. With a little help, I blindly sampled five tonics (365, Fever Tree, Polar, Q, and Schweppes) straight and then mixed with Bombay Sapphire Gin to see which one would come out on top.
The plain tonic tasting was easy, just a few sips of refrigerator chilled tonic in each glass. It was interesting, but not very useful. How often do you sit down and drink a nice cold glass of tonic? Plus, tonics that tasted good on their own didn’t make for very good gin and tonics. I was really surprised with how different things could get once mixed. And that’s what really matters, how they pair with gin. For that tasting, I used in each glass two cubes of ice, one ounce of Sapphire, a wedge of lime, and three ounces of tonic. My normal gin and tonic ratio is two parts tonic to one part gin, but I went a little heavy on the tonic since this is a tonic tasting. All of the tasting was blind. I didn’t know what tonic I was tasting until it was over. Below are the results going from worst to first.
5. 365 Tonic from Whole Foods
I did not like this tonic at all. It was incredibly sweet with a lot of other flavors that got in the way of the gin. On it’s own it wasn’t that bad, but I’m not putting it in my gin and tonic ever again. Not Recommended
4. Q Spectacular Tonic Water
Q wasn’t as bad as Whole Foods, but it’s not “spectacular” as it calls itself. For a premium style tonic it was disappointing. On it’s own it had very little smell and it was highly bitter and astringent. Unfortunately with gin it just fell flat. As opposed to Whole Foods that had too much taste, Q didn’t have enough. Moreover, it wasn’t fizzy enough and the G&T tasted lifeless. Not Recommended
You can’t get much more traditional than Schweppes. And really you could do a lot worse. This is probably the only tonic that I would drink on it’s own. It has flavor and sweetness without too much bitterness, but when you mix it with gin it sits down right where it should. There are a slight off flavor (there is nothing “natural” about it) that keeps it from being a top choice, but it’s a good tonic, that is easy to find, and usually not too expensive. Recommended
2. Fever Tree
Fever Tree is the hottest name in tonic these days and it is well deserved. It has a lot of tiny bubbles which stick around even when mixed with gin. It has pleasant citrus flavor, but not too much to mess up a nice gin. It is pretty bitter and not overly sweet. This was my second favorite tonic to taste on it’s own. The G&T came out tasting what I expect a gin and tonic to taste like. This might be because this is my normal tonic water, but given that it didn’t win and I actually thought another tonic was the Fever Tree I don’t think I was too biased. Highly Recommended
1. Polar Tonic
Polar is a local brand out of Worcester, Massachusetts. They make sodas and seltzers and a very good tonic. Surprisingly good in fact. Alone, it seemed pretty boring, it had almost no smell and just a little sweetness with a mild taste. Mixed with gin it easily emerged as the taste test winner, letting the gin shine through. Even more so than the Fever Tree, Polar tasted like a tradition gin and tonic, tonic. I don’t want my gin and tonic to taste like some other cocktail. I want it to taste like a gin and tonic. For that believe it or not your best bet is Polar! Highly Recommended
In the end, maybe I just like cheap tonic. Polar and Schweppes both use high fructose corn syrup, but that’s what I grew up on and all the tonic coming out of the gun behind the bar probably has it in it too. Fever Tree uses cane sugar. It’s natural. It’s great. It’s way more expensive. It’s way harder to find. I’ll probably keep buying Fever Tree because I feel like I should like it best. But at least I know now, my favorite tonic is Polar, even if I’m having a hard time admitting it.