That was a favourite joke of Mr Jarvis, my A Level English teacher. To the degree, I seem to remember, that he had to ask someone in the class to provide him with the setup question in order that he might triumphantly deliver the punchline. Which is nice for you to know.
What’s also nice for you to know is that Copperfield Gin may be the most handsomely packaged gin I’ve seen. Obviously I dig it because it’s literary, innit, and given that my idea of a perfect sitting room is one bedecked with books floor to ceiling, how could I not be seduced by a book-themed gin bottle? Or, at least, one so bloody well executed. Hats off to the designers, who presumably like Dickens.
This gin was one of the leaving presents bestowed upon me as I scrammed from my last job, along with a couple of grape vines (how well they knew me!) and suchlike. So, fortunately, it turns out to be good. One of the innumerable perils of blogging about booze is the potential awkwardness of reviewing a mediocre bottle received as a gift. Fortunately, at least one of my former colleagues must’ve liked Dickens.
So Copperfield London Gin is rather good. It’s fairly classic, I’d say, and balanced — not trying to do anything too funky. Its flavour isn’t dominated by a particular characteristic, and as such, it’s a versatile beast. So let’s put it through the usual tests, shall we?
Copperfield Gin and Tonic
This is a decent, honest G&T. There’s a backbone of juniper, though not a hoofing amount, a dab of citrus (a dab, not a smudge), a bit of spice and pepper to tingle things up a bit, and a rich, smooth, woody quality that ties it all together. Nothing is done to excess. I’d liken it to something like 6 o’Clock Gin, which has a similarly balanced quality and shares the smoothness. Despite whacking in at 45% ABV, there’s nothing remotely rough about Copperfield. It’s good stuff. I’m putting it with lemon in my G&T, though lime might also work nicely.
That balance I was just talking about? That stands Copperfield in pretty good stead when it comes to the ultimate test. It makes a martini that’s squarely classical, rather traditional. Which I like.
There’s a fantastic marzipan smoothness holding the whole thing together. As that implies, there’s a touch of sweetness, but that’s balanced by pepper and spice and, yeah, a bit of fire. Lime comes through towards the end, cutting the creaminess rather nicely. That sounds as if there’s a lot going on (which there is), but this is far from a try-hard gin. It’s pretty clean and subtle, in fact. I think that subtlety betrays a great deal of careful tasting and balancing on the part of the makers.
So. A fine martini and a fine G&T. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that Copperfield Gin is the kind of thing of which you could happily partake every night and not get bored.
In that respect, rather like Dickens? I suppose I should ask Mr Jarvis.
Which tonic is supersonic? According to the laws of physics, none of them. But what care we for physics? We have gin. So the idea of this post, in case the title didn’t tip you off, is to taste and rank the numerous premium tonics in a quest to crown the best tonic for your gin.
You remember, don’t you, my pretties, the time that we blind tasted ten gins in an attempt to crown 2019’s best gin for a G&T? Well, this is the inevitable tonic-centred follow-up.
The market for premium tonic waters has become a lot livelier since Fever Tree first booted it up the arse. The question is, with which of these new wanky tonics should you grace your G&T? Which, in short, is the best tonic for a gin and tonic?
To find out, I (aided as ever by the delectable Amy) blind tasted fourteen of the buggers. FOURTEEN. Imagine, ten years ago, even being able to lay hands on that many tonics! Okay, so it turns out you wouldn’t want to lay hands on some of them, but hey, I guess progress punches both ways. I tasted them blind with Gordon’s — the classic, natch — as well as the frankly outstanding Society’s High Strength Gin (£19, The Wine Society) to see how they fared against a more hoofing spirit. Finally, I tasted them on their own, because I’m a masochist.
Below, my impressions of each — and, at the end, the ranking.
This one has cardamom aplenty, along with the usual lemony goings on. It is balanced and there’s a bit of bite there. It does taste like tonic but definitely pushing the boundaries with that big dose of cardamom. It’s actually nice to drink on its own. But too sweet for me in a G&T. Get used to this last observation, won’t you?
Main flavour: Cardamom/spice Bite: 2/5 Sweetness: 4/5 G&T rating: 6/10
Quinine dominates here. A classic tonic. Nice and moderately bitter; dry yet also full. Not too sweet and feels like a proper, serious G&T. Extremely goddamn nice. Barker, Quin — I don’t know who you are, and you probably only exist in the imagination of some branding arsehole who didn’t think adequately about how Barker & Quin would be abbreviated (B&Q is surely not a brand adjacency that does you many favours), but I nevertheless raise my hat to you. Your light tonic is excellent.
Main flavour: Quinine Bite: 4/5 Sweetness: 1/5 G&T rating: 10/10
A pretty classic, down-the-line approach from Mr Henry. There’s a decent amount of quinine dryness here, which I like, but too much sugar. Lemon is the other dominant flavour. Compared to the strongest contenders here, this is on the lemonadey side, but definitely better than many in that dodgy neck of the woods.
Main flavour: Lemon Bite: 3/5 Sweetness: 3/5 G&T rating: 6/10
This is relatively balanced, but quinine is again pushed further back in the mix than I like in favour of lemon. Note to y’all, tonic makers: if I want to add lemon to my drink, I have a super-simple way to do that. The same is not true of quinine. Adjust your mixers accordingly, please. Anyhow, B&Q’s regular variant is close to Fever Tree Regular but a little less savoury/complex and a little less assertive. The fizz is quite soft and frothy compared to most. And — what do you know? — it’s too sweet.
Main flavour: Lemon Bite: 2/5 Sweetness: 3/5 G&T rating: 5/10
Not too sweet! What’s more, it has good character. It’s similar to Barker & Quin Light in being quinine-led and serious. Comparing the two side by side, I think Fever Tree is possibly slightly less dry and quinine-driven. Bloody good though.
Main flavour: Quinine Bite: 3/5 Sweetness: 1/5 G&T rating: 9/10
Balanced. Although it falls into the ‘too sweet’ category (along with the goddamn majority), it’s one of the strongest contenders otherwise, with a decent dose of quinine assertiveness and savoury complexity that supports but doesn’t overwhelm.
This one has a lemony initial hit but a brutally bitter aftertaste. There’s decent quinine bite to begin with, but the bite becomes a chew, then a gnaw, then finally a gnash. It leaves residual bitterness lingering in your gob for a long time. All I can say in its favour is that at least it’s not sweet. Tastes like what Amy imagines dandelion juice would, if that’s helpful. The bottle says it’s the “distillers’ choice”; I’m afraid it’s not mine.
Main flavour: Bitterness Bite: 5/5 Sweetness: 0/5 G&T rating: 1/10
I wrote about the new premium Schweppes tonics at some length before, and my verdict there stands: Schweppes 1783 Crisp Tonic is sweetish, softish, but with lemon and bite enough to make its presence felt. A somewhat less compelling take on Fever Tree Regular, with the same problems (too sweet, too sweet — sing along with me, children! — too sweeeeeeet…)
Most of the ‘light’ tonic variants focus in on the quinine elements, but Double Dutch has a distinctive softness: it’s not sweet, which is great, yes, but it ALSO has the quinine dialled back. What you do get is a cloudlike impression: soft, enveloping, ephemeral perfume which dies away incredibly quickly. There’s also some artificial lemon flavour in there. I like the lack of sweetness, but not the lack of punch.
Main flavour: Perfume Bite: 1/5 Sweetness: 1/5 G&T rating: 4/10
Well, okay. This one is utterly without sweetness: it sure is dry. There’s some quinine bite there, but the whole thing has an odd sense of being watery: empty. This could work well with some new-wave high-flavour gins, but with both Gordon’s and Society’s High Strength Gin it just tasted like a G&T with too much ice-melt. A shame.
Main flavour: the absence thereof Bite: 2/5 Sweetness: 0/5 G&T rating: 3/10
Again, you can read more about this tonic in my Schweppes vs Fever Tree post, but the gist is that it’s funky and weird: violet and sherbert and shizz. It’s not actively nasty, but nor does it taste much like I want a tonic to taste.
Main flavour: parma violet and suchlike Bite: 3/5 Sweetness: 2/5 G&T rating: 3/10
Argh, Jesus, take it away. This is truly horrible. It’s not really like a tonic water at all. There’s lashings of vanilla, which is all very well, but not something I want added to my gin, and the flavour is pitilessly artificial. And in case you were looking for further reasons to sling this fucker as far as you can hurl, it’s got artificial sweeteners in it. Piss off.
Inoffensive. 1724 is another tonic that seems slightly worried about being a tonic, and ends up tasting lemonadey and diffident. And it’s far too sweet, even by the standards of most of this lineup. If it weren’t for the sweetness, it’d be fine. Y’know, just fine. But needs more quinine.
Main flavour: lemonade Bite: 1/5 Sweetness: 5/5 G&T rating: 4/10
The Best Tonic Water: Rankings
So, from best to worst, here’s a summary of how they fared.
Barker & Quin Light Tonic (10/10)
Fever Tree Naturally Light Tonic (9/10)
Fever Tree Regular Tonic (7/10)
Schweppes 1724 Crisp Tonic (6/10)
Thomas Henry Tonic (6/10)
Le Tribute Tonic (6/10)
Barker & Quin Regular Tonic (5/10)
Double Dutch Skinny Tonic (4/10)
1724 Tonic (4/10)
Schweppes 1724 Light Tonic (3/10)
Distillers Dry Tonic (3/10)
Double Dutch Original Tonic (2/10)
Distillers Original Tonic (1/10)
London Essence Tonic (0/10)
So Barker & Quin Light snatched it by a whisker. Good luck finding it in your local supermarket, though. Waitrose shoppers needn’t be disheartened: to be honest, there was very little to choose between B&Q Light and Fever Tree Light; I found it rather tough to pick a winner. But nobody said the life of a booze blogger was easy, did they?
And what have we learnt along the way? Firstly, I suppose (and forgive me if I should’ve made this more obvious above), that the vast majority of tonics are far too goddamn sweet. I suppose I ought to be grateful that most of them (with the ignoble exception of the revolting London Essence) at least eschew artificial sweeteners.
Second: while Fever Tree may’ve been first to start gobbling from the premium tonic cash trough, it’s no clapped out old sow yet. Most of its would-be challengers are significantly less nice, even while they’re frequently more expensive.
Third: a surprisingly large number of so-called ‘premium’ tonics are not very good. Over half my list scored 5/10 or lower. No supper for them.
Shall we stretch to a fourth? Oh go on. Fourth: tonic has a classic flavour profile you dick about with at your peril. You think a dash of violet or vanilla might zazz up this party? You are almost certainly wrong. The one tonic that didn’t fail too badly on this score was Le Tribute, which whacked in the cardamom without being disgusting. But still, not really what I want to add to my gin.
Anyhow. If I missed any blinding tonics (not literally), please shout at me in the comments or on whatever social network takes your fancy, so long as it’s not sodding Pinterest. Much obliged.
You’ll have observed, no doubt, my proclivity for starting new ‘series’ on this blog which fail to extend beyond their first post. And I’m sorry if you mistook the expression on my face for that of somebody who gives a shit about THAT. It is with an arrogant, Dominic Cummings-esque defiance bordering on sociopathy, indeed, that I double-down and inaugurate another. This one I shall call ‘Commuter Belters’: chronicling a journey both literal (Waterloo to Petersfield, many many times) and metaphorical (the search for BELTINGLY good alcoholic beverages with which to aneasthetise oneself against the tedium of the aforementioned).
Let’s have at it.
Waterloo. It’s Friday, 6.15. Amongst the thronged congregation on the concourse, eyes raised reverently to the departure boards, waiting for the hallowed platform number to blink into existence; ‘on time’ to flip to ‘boarding’.
And when it happens, the usual weary surge of bodies is a little faster, a little looser. It’s Friday.
If you’re clever (you’re clever), you’ve anticipated your platform number and you’re quick to the gates. The gates that all operate on fractionally different timings, so that the interval between inserting your ticket and the door-flaps clacking open wrong-foots you each time. They’re open. Jerking abruptly forward, you’re through. It’s Friday.
Walk nearly all the way to the far end of the train, and walk fast. Storm past those lumbering middle-managers and dithering execs. Get a good spot, minimising the (sadly still high) probability that some coffee-breathed drone will sit next to you with his fat playmobil laptop crammed onto the crappy little food tray and his elbows poking your side. Mate. It’s Friday.
Settle in for the homeward voyage. But what’s that you’ve got in your bag?
I can explain. Oh Officer, for god’s sake, I can explain.
But I can’t speak for my friends. Occasionally, a gentleman named Barnaby, of a neighbouring parish, is known to patronise the same railway service. It was for this Barnaby that the offending can was bought. I swear.
But Barnaby had to catch a different train and I, for my innumerable sins, was left with this object in my possession.
There’s only one thing to be done.
M&S Gin and Tonic in a can review
Drinking G&T straight from a can is ODD. There’s no objective reason not to do this, provided the can is extremely bloody cold. But, subjectively, it’s just not very nice, is it? It’s like eating a steak off a paper plate or getting into bed with your clothes still on. ODD AND WRONG.
G&T occupies a hallowed place in my aesthetic schema, whereby I apparently believe it is owed a certain level of reverence. It’s interesting to note that I’d choose a can of basic lager over a can of G&T — even though on a totally objective level I probably like the G&T more. But of the lager, I expect no better.
The gin in a can is, you see, actually not too bad. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not a goddamn patch on a Parn-concocted G&T. But it’s not hideous. Which is an accomplishment. That it achieves this is down to the fact that (a) it goes heavy on the quinine, (b) it’s sharp and bracing and (c) it contains no filthy artificial sweeteners.
I’m really surprised. I’d expected oversweetness, but in fact this is far sharper and drier than the G&T you’d get in many bars (or homes). It tastes pretty old-school Schweppesy to me: bite like an alligator, absolutely no sentimentality or concession. The dry hit of quinine is excellent: almost abrasive.
They’ve clearly amped up the citrus in consideration of the average commuter’s inability to lay hands on a nice wedge of lemon, which takes it too far towards bitter lemon in my view, but — again — it’s not offensive (see how high I set the bar?).
Where this concoction falls down, though, is in its ratios. That’s a roundabout way of saying: NOT BOOZY ENOUGH. This is squarely a tonic & gin rather than a gin & tonic. The gin they’ve used is too light and simpering; the tonic too heavy and swaggering. As a result, especially with the amped-up lemon flavouring, I feel like I’m drinking a can of (admittedly pretty nice) fizzy pop.
Bottom line: this isn’t the belter we’re looking for. I’m sticking to my lager, and leaving the gin-in-a-cans to Barnaby’s consummate guzzling.
I mean, when a gin’s called Boxer, how am I meant to avoid the most bloody obvious metaphor? Christ. Give me something to work with. Fortunately, Boxer Gin does exactly that, in abundance, as soon as you get it into your gob. Here’s how it measures up.
I bought Boxer Gin because it was the gin of choice at Poco Tapas Bar, the excellent Bristolian tapas restaurant at which I first discovered the Negroni Manzanilla. And given my predilection for punchy gins and stooping to lowest-common-denominator wordplay, what could be more auspicious than a gin that is literally punchy?
You know how this works by now, right? I’ll taste Boxer Gin in a martini and a gin & tonic, and I’ll tell you what I think. Let’s get on with it, shall we?
The Boxer Gin Martini
Yes. This is very good.
First thing you need to know: this is a proper gin. That means it has a good whack of juniper and isn’t trying anything fancy. That’s good. There’s an assertive oomph to the Boxer Gin Martini that I resoundingly commend.
But while the juniper and pine shenanigans make it abundantly clear it’s a gin martini you’re drinking, there’s a background of rather wonderful, unexpected things. Imagine you’re in a restaurant you’ve not eaten at before. You ordered steak (my, how bold of you) and it’s perfectly cooked: rare, yielding, delicious: exactly as steak should be. A few mouthfuls in, you notice they’re playing a fabulous piece of — oh, I dunno, Prokofiev — in the background. Not loudly; in fact, at exactly the right volume. So that the people who don’t give a shit about Prokofiev (fools) won’t really notice it much.
But you. You, my dear, exquisitely tasteful reader. You will appreciate the crap out of it.
This is not an attention-seeking, look-at-me gin, in other words. It bares its sophistication subtly and with elegance.
The Boxer Gin Martini is fairly smooth, and while characterised by juniper and pine and citrus initially, it has a delicious spiciness: the warm, aromatic spices like cinnamon and pepper and nutmeg. Perhaps the merest sprinkling of anise? Yeah, perhaps.
You’re drinking your martini ice-cold, I hope, so the spice will be very much in the background, but as you near the bottom (of your glass, as opposed to your moral and spiritual decline), you may notice that it comes through more assertively.
Boxer Martini Verdict
That’s no excuse to linger, though. A martini that’s lost its frigidity is a sorrowful thing. Gulp the bugger down and let’s move on to…
The Boxer Gin and Tonic
Very good also: I approve. The elegance I admired in the martini is present here too. The citrus elements make more impact with a Boxer G&T than with some of the hoofers I commonly reach for (the Wine Society’s High Strength Gin, par exemple, or our old friend Tanqueray), but there’s still plenty of juniper to keep us tethered. And those same warm spices come through — perhaps more so than in the martini, but by no means aggressively. It’s all wonderfully balanced (a nimble-footed, deceptively graceful boxer, then, rather than a thuggish slugger).
There’s a beguiling touch of sweetness (very subtle, but there) while it’s in your gob, but don’t get carried away: the finish is dry as you like. Assuming you’re using the right tonic (Fever Tree Light, I implore you).
Boxer Gin & Tonic Verdict
I’d probably gravitate towards lemon as the best garnish for a Boxer Gin and Tonic, but if you want to amp up the spices, you could be all wanky about it and shove a cinnamon stick in there (in your glass I mean. Shove it right in your glass. Your GLASS, I said) or black peppercorns.
Just don’t, for the sake of the weeping lord Jesus, use already ground pepper, like the idiots in some bar I went to, a few months back.
I’ll not be going back.
Boxer Gin Verdict
Excellent. This isn’t a wild, out-there gin, as you’ve probably gathered, and I like it all the more for that. It is balanced and has an admirable classicism. I’d sit it in the vague proximity of 6 o’Clock Gin (another handsome blue bottled gin) and Adnam’s — gins that make an excellent, rounded, mellow G&T that has unusual complexities and exotic qualities but doesn’t shove them up your GLASS.
It’d make a nice house gin for someone who’s too cool for the gins they stock in big supermarkets but still wants something versatile and classical.
If I were a tiresome wanker, you know how I’d close this?
This is wonderful gin. It’s not trying to be anything else. It’s juniper and citrus and booze. And it’s smoother than you could ever hope to be, mate.
Christ, yes. A martini with the Wine Society’s High Strength Gin.
I know it’s been a while, and I know this is going to look cursory. Like I’m fobbing you off.
Fob fob fob.
But, listen. The Wine Society’s High Strength Gin costs £19 for a bottle. That’s got to be some kind of fabulously benevolent joke, right? I mean, every artisanal gin-wanker on the planet is selling their wares for £30+ a pop — and good luck to them. But, right here, you have a bloody fantastic gin (at 50% ABV, no less) for nineteen sodding quid.
So you get home. You grab your martini glass from the freezer. You lace it with a dash of vermouth (mine’s Noilly Prat at the moment, but more often Dolin). You swirl the glass to get that vermouth coating the sides. Then you lift your Wine Soc Gin out of the freezer and you pour it on top. Generously.
You sling on your lemon twist. And you Friday.
This is wonderful gin. It’s not trying to be anything else. It’s juniper and citrus and booze. And it’s smoother than you could ever hope to be, mate.
The name Fort isn’t arbitrarily chosen: the distillery occupies one of Portsmouth’s old naval fortresses — designed, I suppose, to ward off whatever bunch of undesirables Portsmouth was worried about at the time.
You’d expect a gin called fort to be rather solid, heavy, strong — wouldn’t you? Probably pretty classic, punchy stuff? Well, follow me, my pretty one. Follow me into the Fort and you may be surprised…
I had my first gulp of Fort Gin at a tasting here in Petersfield, organised by the lovely General Wines. But a gulp was not enough. On the back of that gulp, I went to General Wines’ shop and bought a bottle of the stuff.
Fort Gin, you see, is bloody delicious. This is so smooth a gin that you can very happily sip away at it without any tonic or other accoutrement, pretending to be all mannered and sophisticated. Because that’s how society regards people who drink gin neat, isn’t it?
It’s smooth and it’s sweet. I don’t mean actually sweet in the sense of being sugary, but the botanical elements give it a powerful impression of sweetness. There’s definitely juniper there, but there’s also a lot of (warm, aromatic) spice, which we’ll talk about more below.
As usual, I’ll burble a bit about how Fort Gin tastes in three contexts: the G&T, the Negroni and the Martini. But I do suggest you try this bugger on its own too.
The Fort Gin and Tonic
Right. You need to use a light tonic here. Fever Tree Naturally Light is the one I’d suggest. And don’t you go sloshing it into your glass like a maniac. Because this gin needs remarkably little tonic to reach its ideal balance, in my view. Try it with 1:1 ratio and see what you think.
The Fort G&T is bloody good. It has that delicious creaminess of toasted nuts (almonds or cashews), and while there’s plenty of juniper to keep us anchored, the dominant flavour I taste is cardamom. Which is good, because I happen to like cardamom quite considerably. There’s also coconut and plenty of floral shenanigans going on. In concert, those flavours gel beautifully, as they might in, say, a South Indian curry. Double down on that, I suggest, by chucking a wedge of lime in there. Sodding delicious. A benefit (or danger) of the fact that Fort requires so little tonic is that you can get a good few drinks from a single Fever Tree mini-bottle or can.
You’ll get through them quickly, I’ll warrant.
Fort Gin and Tonic Verdict
The Fort Gin Negroni
Hmm. This one’s a bit weird. The negroni context amps up the sweetness already present in Fort Gin, which isn’t really called for. What’s more, adding cardamom to the negroni’s already crowded flavour profile turns it into a bit of a riot. It’s still nice, I should say, but rather all over the place. You don’t get the benefit of Fort’s elegance and subtlety, here, that’s for sure. It does have a rather lovely creamy aftertaste though.
Personally, I’m not sure you’d want to spend over 30 quid on a bottle of Fort Gin only to use it to make negronis.
Fort Gin Negroni Verdict
No. Instead of negronis, you want to use it ALL for…
The Fort Gin Martini
Christ, this is smooth. Smooth and sweetly floral. Rose. Soft cinnamon. Vanilla. Cream — oh god, cream.
A Fort Gin Martini is alarmingly easy to drink. It makes a martini that slides down your throat in the sweetest, softest, most beguiling way. It’s rather a long way, then, from the typical experience of this noble cocktail: if you’ve read me blathering on about the perfect martini, you’ll know that my platonic ideal of the martini is a pretty punchy piece of work.
A Fort Martini, though, caresses rather than thwacks. It’s, as I may have mentioned, extraordinarily, creamily smooth. It makes an extremely accessible martini. It is not standard Parn issue stuff, but it is bloody delicious nevertheless.
Serve it with lemon twist, for god’s sake; an olive in this context would be barbaric.
I tried it with Blackdown Vermouth (£20.15, Master of Malt — made in neighbouring Sussex; review in the works) and the result was almost indecently floral. Genuinely quite extraordinary. I also tried it with my staple, Dolin Chambery (£10.49, Waitrose). I prefer it with the more austere and pared-back Dolin: I don’t think Fort Gin needs extra florality and sweetness, and the Blackdown slightly over-eggs a pretty damn deliciously eggy pudding. The Dolin keeps it in better balance.
Fort Gin Martini Verdict
In summary, then: this is a very fine gin. If you prefer your gins trad, or aggressive — or if you don’t like cardamom — it won’t be for you. But otherwise I urge you to give it a gulp. Hole yourself up in your fortress, mix up a martini, sit back and enjoy the siege.
A vain quest, you might say, to find the best gin for gin and tonic. I might agree. But it’s an enjoyable quest nevertheless. And not all gins are equal. Read on for a taste test of 10 common gins and a ranking of their G&T prowess…
You have cash in your pocket, and you have a thirst. Specifically, a thirst for that most noble of drinks, the gin and tonic. But you don’t just want any gin and tonic. No. You’re better than that. You, my friend, want the best. And that means you need to know what is the best gin for gin and tonic.
post attempts to guide your stumbling steps in the right approximate direction
— which really is all the committed gin drinker can hope for.
If you’re impatient (and with the prospect of a G&T ahead of you, who could blame you?), you can skip straight to the results. Or stick with me for a bit of comfortable preamble while you work up your thirst still further.
Prelude to the Gin
So. Yes. I know. I said before that posts like ‘the best gin for gin and tonic’ are terrible Google-baiting things. I stand by my words: there’s no ‘best’ in a world of huge variety. I am not claiming that the winner of our taste-tests below is objectively the absolute best gin in the world, because that would be ridiculous.
But. Not all gins are equal. Some are definitely better than others in a G&T. And the point of this is to compare the most commonly available ones and rank ‘em. Mainly because it’s fun and an excuse to drink gin in the interest of science.
that alright with you?
This isn’t Old Parn’s first brush with gin-ranking: back in 2012, Amy and I performed a similar ritual, albeit with fewer gins and using (argh!) Schweppes tonic. So one motivation for this post was to see how our rankings compare in the blighted hellscape that is 2019. Of which, more later…
The Tasting Method
Amy and I tasted 10 branded gins in the low to medium price range — mostly ones you’d find in normal supermarkets & offies. We tasted them blind (meaning we didn’t know which was which) and in two separate rounds: first with Fever Tree’s Naturally Light Tonic Water and second with their Regular Tonic.
I mixed the G&Ts with a 1:2 ratio of gin to tonic and added no garnish in order that there be no extraneous flavours.
As we tasted, we made notes (well, I did, anyway. Amy is only in it for the booze, not the — ahem — scholarship), rated the gins out of ten for each tonic pairing, then unveiled their identities and worked out the final ranking. I repeated the exercise a week later, to check the results were consistent (which they were, to a remarkable degree).
The Different Gin and Tonic Styles
Before I present the rankings, a few observations if I may (and I may, because it’s my sodding blog).
Firstly, we found that the gins resolve themselves into three groups fairly neatly, irrespective of the tonic with which they’re served.
The first group is the basic gin and tonics. These are characterised predominantly by citrus, and they are not surprising or particularly grabby. It’s difficult to ascribe a great deal of complexity to them in the G&T context, and they are differentiated predominantly by how well they balance the sweetness of the tonic (typically struggling to avoid a slight lemonadey quality).
The second group is the punchy gin and tonics. Like the above group, these also taste very much as expected of a G&T, but rather than being citric and slightly wet, they are juniper-led, drier and considerably more assertive. They don’t bring outlandish or unexpected flavours, in general; instead, they bring what is scientifically known as hoof. Spoiler: I like these ones.
And the final group consists of the unusual gin and tonics. These are gins which (to varying degrees of success) mainline in flavours that sit outside the standard G&T spectrum. They therefore exhibit a broad range of personalities. They may also be light, and they may also have hoof, but they are to my mind principally characterised by other more unusual flavours and qualities that set them apart from the mainstream.
A Note on Price
The gin selection also contains a fair amount of price variation. While I’ve avoided niche/artisanal brands, 6 O’Clock, Sipsmith and Hendricks are all towards the premium side of gin pricing. Meanwhile Gordon’s and Beefeater are amongst the cheapest branded gins available in most UK supermarkets, with Plymouth, Bombay Sapphire, Martin Miller and Portobello falling in between
You could argue, therefore, that we’re not comparing like with like, and that, of course, the more expensive gins are likely to do better.
Well, wait until you see the results, my pretty little one, before you jump to any conclusions.
Which brings us neatly to—
The Best Gin for Gin and Tonic: Results
I’ll list the gins in reverse order, from our least-favourite up. Alongside each, I’ll note whether they are cheap (£), mid-price (££) or at the upper end of the range (£££) — though as I said above, none of these are ridiculously expensive or niche gins. I’ll also note whether each gin made a ‘basic’, ‘punchy’ or ‘unusual’ gin and tonic (see notes above).
I should also say: none of these G&Ts was bad. There are some low ratings here, primarily because I needed to show the spread of results (rather than having everything clustered at the top end of the rating scale). The difference between the worst and best G&Ts was pronounced, but just remember that my ratings are relative rather than absolute.
10. Martin Miller’s Gin and Tonic (££)
G&T Style: Unusual
With Light Tonic: 2/10
With Regular Tonic: 2/10
Okay, we’ll start off with a weird one. I don’t drink Martin Miller, so I wasn’t sure what to expect of it — but imagined it was likely to be a relatively generic gin. Well! It’s far from generic. With both Light and Regular Fever Tree Tonics, it is overwhelmingly scented and flavoured with violet (specifically, it tastes like parma violets, those powdery sweets you’d give to a child whom you despise). Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my gin and tonic to taste like this. So for me it is the opposite of the best gin for gin and tonic. Obviously, if you can’t get enough of parma violets (you freak), YMMV. It does have a decent heft to it, I guess. But, c’mon, parma violets.
9. Beefeater Gin and Tonic (£)
G&T Style: Basic
With Light Tonic: 3/10
With Regular Tonic: 2/10
Beefeater, Plymouth and Portobello I’m going to talk about together, because I found these three gins very hard to tell apart. All had relatively little going on and were dominated by the tonic (though Plymouth fared somewhat better with Regular Tonic and the other two with Light): all are citrus-led, lemonadey, somewhat sweet, with little in the way of punch. I had to re-taste these to get a definitive ranking, and my opinion is that Beefeater is marginally the wimpiest of them, and it’s therefore in position 9, but only a hair’s breadth from …
8. Plymouth Gin and Tonic (££)
G&T Style: Basic
With Light Tonic: 2/10
With Regular Tonic: 4/10
Plymouth, too, had the lemonade problem. Here, though, it was more accentuated with the Light tonic and better with Regular. Whereas the low rankings for Beefeater and Portobello didn’t overly surprise me (neither cheap generic viagra cialis being gins I’d generally choose), I confess I was surprised — and a tad disappointed — at the poor ranking of Plymouth. On the strength of these tastings, probably best to save it for making martinis…
7. Portobello Gin and Tonic (££)
G&T Style: Basic
With Light Tonic: 5/10
With Regular Tonic: 2/10
Pretty much indistinguishable from Beefeater with Regular Tonic, Portobello scraped ahead because it is more assertive with Light. It’s still somewhat lacking in character, but balances the tonic better.
6. Hendrick’s Gin and Tonic (£££)
G&T Style: Unusual
With Light Tonic: 8/10
With Regular Tonic: 8/10
You’ll notice a huge gap in ratings between positions 7-10 and 6. Everything from here onwards is basically very good.
A strong performer with both tonic varieties, Hendrick’s brings its characteristic herbaceous qualities to bear. It’s subtler and more complex than the rest, managing to be light without being insubstantial or glib — but instead being rather goddamn delicious. With the Light tonic, there’s an interesting (and pleasant) hint of root vegetable (carrots!) whereas the expected cucumber comes more to the fore with the Regular tonic. Really rather nice whichever tonic you choose to pair it with, but keep the gin:tonic ratio heavy on the gin to avoid squishing its delicate character, I reckon.
5. Gordon’s Gin and Tonic (£)
G&T Style: Punchy
With Light Tonic: 10/10
With Regular Tonic: 6/10
Bosh! Gordon’s really is a bloody good gin for its price. With light tonic, it’s a goddamn barnstormer, punching way above its 37.5% ABV. I’m not quite sure how. It tastes fabulously strong and weighty — of all the G&Ts we tasted (light and regular), I think the Gordon’s with Fever Tree Light Tonic was one of the closest to the epitome of a bloody great normal G&T. You know, what you expect a gin & tonic to taste like, but superbly well executed. With the regular tonic, Gordon’s struggles a bit more (though still tastes far from shabby, I should add). Again, it makes for an honest, down-the-line G&T, but the fuller and sweeter profile of the Regular Tonic smothers it slightly. It’s interesting to note the degree to which Fever Tree Light accentuates the juniper of Gordon’s, whereas Regular brings out the citrus. Interesting to me, at least. Perhaps boring as hell to you. Gordon’s and Hendricks scored the same average mark out of ten, mathmos amongst you will note, but I’ve put Gordon’s in 5th position on the basis that it’s a good deal cheaper. They are very different beasts, however.
4. Sipsmith Gin and Tonic (£££)
G&T Style: Unusual
With Light Tonic: 7/10
With Regular Tonic: 10/10
Sipsmith is excellent with Regular tonic and rather good with Light. With Regular, it has a smoothness — almost a flatness, though I don’t mean that pejoratively. It glides across your palate, delivering a solid, serious, ginny flavour with a minimum of friction, backed up with a fabulous creaminess. With the light tonic, this smoothness is less pronounced; instead there’s a bit of a herby character and the overall effect is perhaps less cohesive. Still a fine drink, though.
3. 6 O’Clock Gin and Tonic (£££)
G&T Style: Unusual
With Light Tonic: 9/10
With Regular Tonic: 8/10
6 O’Clock Gin is probably the least common gin in this tasting. Still, the Whisky Exchange sold miniatures of it, so it’s in (and if that’s an insufficiently scientific inclusion criterion for you, I guess you can suck it up). With both types of tonic, it stood up commendably, managing the feat of tasting both unusual and distinctively ginny (as opposed to tasting, a la Martin Miller, like something entirely different). It has a great balance whereby floral flavours — plus, to my tastebuds, a hint of banana — are grounded by excellent heft and weight. Smooth stuff, and just as good with either Light or Regular tonic. Very tough to choose between this and Sipsmith for positions 3 and 4, as these gins all make such bloody good G&Ts.
…And now. Our two highest-rated gins. I cannot separate these two, so — in an audacious, breathtaking move — I’m awarding the number 1 spot to both:
=1. Bombay Sapphire Gin and Tonic (££)
G&T Style: Unusual
With Light Tonic: 10/10
With Regular Tonic: 8/10
With Fever Tree Light, Bombay Sapphire is bewitching. Smooth, clean, yet assertive. It balances the tonic superbly and has a wonderful nutty creaminess that fills out the drink. With the regular tonic, it’s slightly less good, but still damn good: the nuttiness is less noticeable (instead, there’s a smoky quality) and the effect remains savoury and balanced. There’s less juniper here than in some, though, so if that’s yer bag, you might instead want…
=1. Tanqueray Gin and Tonic (££)
G&T Style: Punchy
With Light Tonic: 8/10
With Regular Tonic: 10/10
Tanqueray was the winner of our 2012 taste test and again holds the top spot in 2019 (though this time sharing the honours). While Bombay Sapphire excels with light tonic, Tanqueray wins out with regular — which makes sense, given its more punchy, domineering character. It’s serious, strong, crammed with juniper. A G&T with proper weight to it. With light tonic, it’s still a fine drink: solid and powerful. However, unexpectedly, there was a slight (very slight) over-sweetness to this G&T which caused us to mark it down a little.
Two superb contenders here, but I’m giving the rusty Old Parn Ceremonial Corkscrew of Victory to Bombay Sapphire for a marvellously multifaceted G&T, with Gordon’s in the runner-up slot.
Best with Fever Tree Regular Tonic
Again, this could go one of two ways, but I settled on Tanqueray for its punch, its spunk. Sipsmith is bloody good too, though.
Best Value Gin for Gin and Tonic
How could this be anything other than Gordons? Sensational with Fever Tree Light and more than creditable with Regular Tonic too.
Most Interesting Gin and Tonic
A slightly pointless category, given its subjective nature, but — Jesus — you’re not reading this blog for its empirical rigour, are you? My favourite ‘interesting’ gin of the ten was 6 O’Clock Gin, which brings fascinating flavours but remains serious, complex and delicious. Honorable doffing of the cap in the direction of Hendricks, whose beguiling complexities almost snatched this one.
The gin lineup then wasn’t the same (Greenalls didn’t feature this time round, and Martin Miller, Sipsmith and 6 O’Clock were all new to the party in 2019). But of those gins that featured both times, the rankings are relatively similar. Tanqueray and Bombay Sapphire were at the top of the list, while Beefeater was low. Gordon’s punched above its weight both times. This time, though, Hendrick’s did notably better (perhaps because the harsher character of Schweppes masked its subtleties in 2012) and Plymouth notably worse.
So. That’s it for the gins. Next? I guess it’s time for the tonics. Watch this space (or, even better, subscribe…)
Lone Wolf is the kind of gin of which the captain of secret police in a repressive, totalitarian regime would heartily approve. Question is, does Old Parn feel similarly…?
Come in! Come in! Fortunate favourite of Old Parn — or else not so fortunate.
Okay, this is a bloody good gin. Depending upon your feelings about those publicity-hungry scamps Brewdog, you’ll either be heartened or dismayed (or, perhaps, a complex and unsettling mixture of the two) to know that Lone Wolf Gin is affiliated to the aforementioned company. But we’re here to talk about the booze, not the bizniz, aren’t we? So let’s get on with it.
Lone Wolf falls squarely into the punchy quadrant of the Old Parn gin-o-gram. So punchy, in fact, that it punches a hole through the gin-o-gram and splits the (stone) table it was sitting on. This is a gin that’ll have you reeling.
And that’s good, alright?
Lone Wolf Gin and Tonic
My usual G&T for gin review purposes is 1 measure of gin to 2 of tonic. I mixed one Lone Wolf G&T with Fever Tree Light Tonic Water and one with Fever Tree Regular. I also made G&Ts with Tanqueray, which I used as a frame of reference against which to compare, and certainly not an excuse to have more gin and tonic.
Zounds! The Lone Wolf Gin and Tonic is a belter. With both types of tonic, it tastes far stronger than the Tanqueray (itself hardly mimsy). It’s full of juniper and spice and pine. Cold, dark, coniferous forests fragrant in a winter downpour. Really quite excellent, in my view. This is how I like a G&T: powerful, serious, uncompromising. Wolfish.
I think I prefer it with Fever Tree Regular Tonic, though it’s good with Light Tonic too. Regular smooths and softens it just a little, teasing out some warmth, some voluptuousness. With Fever Tree Light, things are just slightly more perfunctory.
It’s not exotic (the prominence of pine is the most strikingly atypical thing about it, but it still very much tastes like gin), and the hoofing deep/dark flavours are nicely cut with citrus, keeping it from being too gruff. I’d suggest serving it with lemon (or grapefruit if you have one kicking about) — or you could chuck in a sprig of rosemary if you want to amp up the woody stuff even further.
Lone Wolf G&T Verdict
The Lone Wolf Negroni
The Negroni game is harder to play with a bossy bastard like Lone Wolf. My first attempt was terrible: equal measures of Lone Wolf Gin, Campari and Cocchi Vermouth di Torino. The Cocchi is crowded out (except for its sweetness), resulting in a Negroni with a thudding bass, a bit of shrill treble, but not much filling out the mid-range — like listening to your neighbours’ amorous antics the other side of your bedroom wall. There may well be good stuff involved, in other words, but you’re not getting the benefit.
What you need to make a Lone Wolf Negroni work is a similarly assertive vermouth. You may recall that I have an open bottle of Asterley Brothers English Vermouth lingering lugubriously in my fridge and that works far better. I also — as is my wont — substituted Sacred Rosehip Cup for Campari. This made for a hugely superior drink: quite a distance from the typical Negroni, but balanced, complex, strong. Rather damn nice.
Bottom line, though: Lone Wolf is not ideal for a Negroni, primarily because it’s too damn full of flavour itself. With Campari, there’s a bit of a clash (two motormouths at a dinner party). Work around it as I did above, or (perhaps more sensibly) save it for drinks where gin is unquestionably the focus.
Lone Wolf Negroni Verdict
I guess the clue’s in the name. This is a Lone Wolf, after all, not a goddamn Pack Wolf.
Which makes it no surprise at all that this egocentric gin should excel in the context of…
The Lone Wolf Martini
Yes, finally, the martini test. I was impatient — and so are you, because you already know it’s going to be good. Therefore I went for a Duke’s Hotel-style martini (no pissing around with ice and stirring, just a freezer-cold glass, rinsed with a little vermouth, freezer-cold gin poured straight on, large lemon twist) and, Christ alive, it’s good.
The pine and juniper heavies mug you at the beginning, in that charming mockney way of theirs — don’t worry, they won’t break the skin — and afterwards, as you lie there in the gutter, blissfully concussed, you’re in for a long, toasty-warm, creamy-dreamy finish — I’m talking ten, twenty seconds (exhausting, eh?) — during which the taste becomes ever more sweet and perfumed. If you squint your tastebuds, there’s rose in there. Fucking rose. This is the kind of thing that got Edmund into deep shit in The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, gobbling Turkish Delight while being whisked through the snowy forests by the queen of ice. If that’s not Lone Wolf Gin in the Witch’s magic hipflask, I don’t know what it is.
Oh, yeah, well done if you saw the Narnia metaphor coming. Your attentiveness makes this all worthwhile.
So sod Peter, Susan, Lucy and that fucking Faun. I’m in the sled with Ed. Ed, the Witch and the Wolf.
Lone Wolf Martini Verdict
Lone Wolf Gin is £31.95 at The Whisky Exchange and also stocked in Tesco and Sainsbury’s if those are more your (5p) bag. It has an ABV of 44%. I advise that you ignore if you can the fact that it is described as ‘gin for punks’. Brewdog, eh?
… is a big ol’ herbaceous gin. How will it fare in the Old Parn test-lab? G&Terrific or G&Terrible?
Oh. The leafy, herby, juicy green aroma of corriander. Heck. It’s like you’re a slug munching your way through a herb garden. (You are such a slug.)
Greenall’s Bloom is, I suppose, aptly enough named. It is a big ol’ herbaceous gin.
Here at Old Parn labs, we put Greenall’s Bloom through a rigorous and scientific testing procedure. I made a gin and tonic with it, and I made a martini with it. Then I repeated these tests several times (purely for scientific purposes, natch). Here’s what the results sheets said.
The Greenall’s Bloom Gin and Tonic
Yeah, it’s all about the corriander, here. In tonic-wedded form, Greenall’s Bloom isn’t as punchy as some (loyal readers will know that I like my G&Ts like I like my women: punchy and bitey*). When I made a Greenall’s Bloom and Tonic with my usual proportions of gin:tonic (don’t ask me what they are; I just feel it, y’know?), the result was a little bit lacking. A tad sweet, even.
But, next time round, perhaps my hand slipped. You know what I’m saying? MY HAND SLIPPED. And I ended up with a higher proportion of gin. And that, a bit like taking the path less travelled, made all the difference.
Suddenly, I was drinking an assertive, confident bastard of a G&T. One that’d just had a massive Thai stir-fry piled with obscene amounts of corriander, I guess.
The Greenall’s Bloom Martini
No surprises here, given what I’ve said already: the Bloom Martini is as green and herbaceous as you’d expect. Lighter, more hippyish than your usual Martini. And, yeah, nice for the novelty value. But I’ve not been tempted to make them for non-experimental purposes. Greenall’s Bloom strikes me as more of a G&T-friendly kind of gin; it doesn’t really gel in the context of the Martini. That magical masculine-feminine chemistry isn’t there; it’s all a bit too verdant, too lush, too goddamn fertile.
So long as you atone for its slightly less bolshy character by adjusting your gin:tonic ratio, this is a pretty nice G&T gin. I like the grassy, herby ebullience of it — though probably more as an occasional curveball to the palate than as an everyday highball-filler.
I’d recommend putting it with a lighter tonic (something like Fever Tree Naturally Light) — or, if you want to sample the hippy Bloom Martini, try using The Wine Society’s Chambery as your vermouth, and go for a twist rather than an olive.
* That’s not even remotely true. But didn’t it sound cool?
How (without the aid of a convenient butler) does one compare seven of the most commonly available gins — side by side — without knowing which is which? Such was the conundrum that faced me and Amy (you remember Amy? She gave me a pear, a few episodes — I mean posts — ago. Get used to reading about Amy, won’t you?).
The difficulty is as follows: whoever mixes ’em will (obviously) know which gin is in each — but when you taste ’em, you both need not to know. Finally, after you’ve tasted ’em, you must both be able to find out which was which.
Sounds complicated, eh?
No. For Old Parn, ’tis a mere bagatelle:
‘So I mix the gins and I make a numbered list of the gins. Then I give you a list of the numbers, Amy, but not the gins, and you make a list of — no — wait … I mix the drinks and I make a list of numbers. I give you the gins, and — um — damn it — wait a minute…’
Amy interjects: ‘Tom. Just make the drinks. I’ll work out the rest.’
And so it came to be that Amy took charge of methodology. And, with the aid of selotape and scraps of cardboard scavenged from the recycling, we constructed our experiment. Amy does this stuff with small children every day. She may not have expected to do it during her weekend as well. But if she felt a sense of weary deja vu, she concealed it gamely.
The upshot? Six anonymous tumblers of blessed gin and saintly tonic. Each with ice, a small wedge of lemon, a measure of gin and regular ol’ Schweppes tonic — to keep things simple.
We tasted ’em. We compared ’em. WE EVEN WROTE NOTES. We know how to have a good time, Amy and me. Believe it.
Then we ranked them from one to six. And, finally, we tried to guess which was which.
(Unfortunately, thanks to an administrative failure, we were unable to include Bombay Sapphire in this test. But I blind-tasted it against a couple of others, subsequently, and added it to the rankings.)
Anyhow. You’re slavering like a goddamn pitbull, aren’t you?, to hear the outcome. Well, for god’s sake, wipe your chin and slaver no more. You disgust me. I mean, honestly.
Right. The grand unveiling. Which is the best gin for gin and tonic? Here’s what we thought.
Decidedly our least favourite gin and tonic was made with Beefeater gin: drab, bland and insubstantial. Of all the gins we tried, this’n had the least gob-presence, the least to say for itself. Compared to the others, it tasted generic, weak. The overall effect, in Amy’s word: ‘Lemonadey’ — because the tonic was allowed to dominate the drink, giving it an unpleasantly sugary taste. Nicht so gut. (Tasted blind, we both correctly guessed that this was Beefeater.)
Next from bottom — and the enormous surprise of the proceedings: Hendrick’s. Hendricks! Now, I thought I liked Hendrick’s a lot, and I’d fully expected it to rank accordingly. So I was somewhat alarmed to find that, tasted blind, we found it slightly empty. Not unpleasant, but a tad meek. It has a nice breadiness to it, which I rather like — but not enough to set it apart. (I’d guessed this was Gordon’s, and Amy thought it was Plymouth. Alack!)
In 5th place, Greenall’s. Greenall’s is quite extraordinary: the stuff goddamn-well reeks of violets. It’s like drinking a flowerbed. But without the soil and grubs. It’s heady and hedonistic — and made the least G&Tish of all the G&Ts. Indeed, it was such an anomaly that we weren’t sure how to rank it: it’s undeniably enjoyable, in a decadent, fin de siecle kind of way. But not, really, y’know, what you’d turn to at a time of gin-thirsty crisis. (We both correctly guessed the identity of the Greenall’s gin and tonic.)
And then, in 4th? Plymouth. Which is nice and dry and punchy and altogether rather satisfactory. Maybe a tad middle-of-the-road, we thought — but when the road is signposted ‘Gin and Tonic’, who cares if you’re in the middle of it, eh? This was pretty much what we expect a gin and tonic to taste like. Bloody nice, in other words. (I identified Plymouth correctly, but Amy thought it was Gordons.)
So — the top three. These were all very sodding good indeed. Any of them would be a credit to your tumbler, and each one takes the noble drink in a different direction.
Third place — in the second surprise of the evening — went to Gordon’s. Which was really very good indeed. Crisp and supple and complex and savoury. And citrus, my friend, citrus! It’s got herby shenanigans going on, too, and it’s noticeably deeper and more serious-tasting than many of the rest. I was very surprised when I found out this was Gordon’s, because, honestly, it tasted more expensive. (We both thought this was Hendrick’s. And we were both wrong.)
In second place, just marginally above Gordon’s, was Bombay Sapphire. It’s a lovely savoury gin, with a riotous fanfare of corriander and brilliant balance.
And the best gin for gin and tonic?
The splendid Tanqueray. My scribbled note on this bad boy from the tasting: ‘BOSH.‘ Bosh indeed. Because this is a gin and tonic that doesn’t mess. It doesn’t flutter its lashes or mince around on the dancefloor. It grabs you and chucks you onto the bed. Fucking bracing stuff: big and dense and concerted like a punch. Masculine and dominant. Excellent.
So there you go. Of course, there are gins we left out. And to a great degree, the rankings above reflect our own notions of what a gin and tonic should be — a subject of almost philosophical weight. So if you like your G&Ts delicate and floral, you probably won’t agree with our elevation of Tanqueray.
Get over it.
And — hey — if you love gin and tonic as much as we do, I wholeheartedly recommend that you try your own blind tasting. You may be surprised.