In a Shot: After tasting four different gin and tonics, the unique and complimentary flavors brought by Q Tonic and Fentamins turn out the winners!
Let's face it. As much as I love making complex, flavor steeped cocktails, I enjoy the straight forward, tried and true classics more than any others. I love a dry Martini, a well crafted Daiquiri or Margarita on the rocks with lime and salt, Manhattans & Old Fashioned's. These are a few of my favorite things! One drink stands the test of time over and over again, however, the Gin & Tonic.
I know we're heading straight into October and the warmer days have sputtered off and the cooler climate is coming in, I have to admit, there were challenges obtaining certain products for this mission. Quick talk about what tonic water is. A carbonated beverage flavored with quinine (a bitter alkaloid extracted from cinchona bark originally used for Malaria therapy) was once used for specific medicinal purposes but has found recreational popularity amongst the patio, beach, spring and summer time crowd as the drink to enjoy. Traditional tonic waters that are available in super markets are made of synthetically created "quinine", packed with artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup. The ending result is incredibly sweet and you feel none of the healing properties "tonic" is supposed to offer. The lack of natural tonics on the market has lead to many bartenders and mixologist's to creating their own batches! Todd Thrasher of famed PX, Restaurant Eve and other Alexandria, VA hot spots have an unbelievable recipe to making your own tonic. For those with the time, initiative and finance, CLICK HERE!
Those who are skeptic in the kitchen or simply would rather someone else provide you with a great tonic water experience, there is finally high quality, naturally produced tonic waters available in most stores. I already did a post about gin & tonics (Click here to see that post) and did my research on the products, but never had them in the same room with me to do my own analysis. So without further a do, I present to you the tasting and comparative and personal opinion of the New York based Q Tonic, London famed Fever-Tree and another UK developed "naturally fermented" Fentimans Tonic Water (also, currently the most difficult to track down). For those of you in the Alexandria Virginia area, I have located Fentimans Tonic Water available for purchase in bulk or individual bottles at Unwined: Gourmet Wine & Cigars located on King Street.
All tonics were sampled first in a tasting glass straight after opening the bottle and then sampled over ice with tanqueray gin for a full on gin & tonic experience.
Schweppes: I chose to begin my tasting with what is considered to be the commercial best of the best. Mentioned in magazines such as the Sauce Guide as the tonic to choose from in contrast to other store brand names like Canada Dry, Schweppes is a clear commercial carbonated water spiked with industrial quinine, sodium benzoate and high fructose corn syrup. Upon opening the bottle there is a quick and soft hiss. The tonic smells very sweet. The flavor of quinine is sticky and acidic with big poppy bubbles. When 6 OZ's are served with 50 ml of Tanqueray gin, the tonic's sweetness subdues slightly but the characteristics of the gin are lost rather than amplified.
Q-Tonic: In the ingredients portion of the bottle it begins stating it has 60% fewer calories than other brand tonics. Triple purified water, organic agave, natural bitters, lemon juice and handpicked quinine and champagne carbonation. Unwrapping the foil top the way you would some sparkling wines, I remove the gold cap. The nose had medicinal notes packed with grapefruit and light sweetness. Amazingly soft tiny bubbles with a creamy texture and bright quinine and citrus notes. The tonic takes on a silver, almost grayish hue when mixed with ice and gin. The flavor for both the gin and the tonic are completely different when separate, but genuinely create a unique collaboration when brought together. Woody vanilla flavors surface with earthy undertones while showcasing the peppery, bitter and medicinal attributes from both components while lightly sweet yet citrus and effervescent. It truly is a superior tonic water when compared to ANY commercial brand.
Fever-Tree: Spring water based and sweetened with cane sugar and natural quinine, described as Indian Tonic Water, Fever-Tree is crystal clear. Opening the bottle released a quick sharp hiss and a release of vapor. The bubbles are small and dissipate rapidly. The nose is slightly sugary with aromas of quinine and oranges. The flavor is very clean, light and tart with subtle cane sweetness. Where the cloyingly sweetener found in Schweppes over powered the gin and you could not identify it's characteristics, this tonic water is so light and tart that it focuses primarily on bringing the gin out, thus loosing the characteristics of the tonic. The disappointing lack of bubbles also leaves a sort of one note memory to Fever-Tree. A true disappointment for a NEW tonic water experience, though it's similarities to the sort of lopsided finale make it a great alternative to brand names that use high fructose corn syrup and sodium benzoate which have been linked to hyper activity, mood swings, weight gain, etc. etc. (that list goes on and on). I also have a more hardened palate so I'd rather taste my gin than my tonic in the most extreme situations so I'd pick Fever-Tree over any commercial brand thus still.
Fentimans: Naturally fermented with herbal extracts, quinine, sugar and carbonated water, Fentimans adds an extra 0.5% ABC by volume of each tonic. This tonic is also clear but the effervescence is direct and punctuated. Herbaceous and lemony, this tonic's bubbles explode in your mouth, far more carbonated than the other tonics finishing more like a beer than a traditional tonic water. With ice and gin, the herbaceous qualities of both the tonic and the gin explode with flavors of coriander and yeast while maintaining a fantastic balance between both components. A definition of a proper gin & tonic.
The finishing result between the four available tonics, is without doubt Q Tonic and Fentimans. Choose between the herbaceous highly carbonated tart Fentimans tonic or the creamy vanilla intensely bubbly medicinal Q Tonic. I couldn't tell you which one I favor more (for very different reasons I believe they are both the superior and would have to have a one on one bout with them next season) but I'll definitely be keeping both in stock next Spring without current competition.