Schweppes 1783 vs Fever Tree Tonic Water

Startled from its decades-long slumber, the leviathan Schweppes has cooked up a new range of premium tonics, called 1783. How do they fare against the upstart Fever Tree? Let’s find out, shall we?

So, today — as the rather prosaic title might imply — we’re comparing Fever Tree’s tonic water (both Naturally Light and Regular versions) against Schweppes’ fancy-pants newish 1783 sub-brand (again, Light and Regular variants). And while we’re at it, let’s chuck in a comparison against classic bog-standard Schweppes tonic water for good measure.

I’ve tasted the five of the above tonics blind with dependable old Gordon’s gin. Is Schweppes’ new offering a Fever Tree beater? And how does 1783 compare against standard Schweppes tonic? I suppose we’ll find out, otherwise these two paragraphs will have been an extraordinarily cycnical instance of bait-and-switch.

Mini-cans of Schweppes 1783 Crisp Tonic water and Fever Tree Premium Indian Tonic Water

Poor, dozy old Schweppes, eh? You have to feel sorry, don’t you?, for a global brand when it takes its eye off the ball for a mere decade or so and misses a renaissance within its core category. It’s easily done.

While Schweppes was lounging around in its anachronistically colonial hammock, the upstart Fever Tree coshed its way into the marketplace and ended up with a multi-billion-pound stock market valuation (which does sort of seem, y’know, um, fizzy? But still…). In the process, a new category of ‘premium’ tonics was created — and now throngs with other challengers such as Double Dutch, Barker & Quin, 1724 and more (of which, more to come in a future post…)

At some point, I suppose, the Schweppes execs awoke from their slumbers, tumbled comically from their hammocks, and realised something was amiss.

Cue the rebrand of Schweppes Tonic and the launch of an offshoot family of tonics: 1783. The fact that I’d entirely missed this launch, despite being, as you know, fairly committed to the pursuit of gin-induced shit-facedness, is perhaps an indication of the prominence of the launch. Anyhow. 1783 is the year Schweppes started doing its anti-malarial thing, obv, and it’s the premium spin on the familiar old brand.

As soon as I realised this had happened, a mere year or two after the fact, I knew I’d be obliged, dear squidgy reader, to let you know what this new uber-Schweppes, this heritage-Schweppes, might taste like. They have a bunch of flavours including cucumber tonic, floral tonic, salty lemon tonic and suchlike. Bah. Call me a boring fart, but I go to gin for my flavour. So I’ve only bought and tasted the two normal ones.

Here’s how they fared in my blind tasting, from least nice to best. Links are all to Waitrose.com, because of course they are.

Four tonic water mini cans (Fever Tree and Schweppes 1783) plus a big bottle of Schweppes regular tonic

Schweppes vs Fever Tree Tonic Tasting

5. Schweppes 1783 Light Tonic Water

Schweppes 1783 Light is a bit odd. I mean, it doesn’t really taste like tonic, does it? It’s not hideous, I should say, but I feel like it’s more of a skinny bitter lemon than a genuine tonic water. Which is fine if that’s what you want — you misguided imbecile — but not really what I’m after, tbh. It’s got a school-trip-packed-lunch-fizzy-pop hyperactivity to it with lots of artificial perfumey stuff going on: violet and sherbert and shizz. It’s enough to give you a headache just thinking about it.

I suppose it’s possible this could partner well with certain gins (I suppose I’ll be seeing if I can find any, given I have five more mini-cans of the stuff to get through, so will let you know) but with a classic London gin, I just don’t think this works. At all.

A six-pack of Schweppes 1783 Light Tonic Water is currently on offer for £2 at Waitrose. Regular price will be £3.69, making it 61.5p per can.

4. Schweppes Tonic Water

Then we come to regular ol’ Schweppes. Now, this is sad. Because — you know what? — in so many respects it’s actually really good. It has more of a quinine kick than almost any other tonic out there. And quinine is great! It’s far more pronounced in classic Schweppes than in 1783. It’s harder, drier, more aggressively one-dimensional than any of the other tonics here. And, you know, that’s a wonderful thing. I mean, drinking it on its own, it’s nasty, obviously. But you, my friend, you are drinking it with gin. The gin is where the interesting stuff comes from, let’s be honest. Where Schweppes basic gets it TOTALLY right is in its commitment to a limited role that leaves the gin to shine. It makes for a wonderful dry G&T in which its contribution is largely limited to that dry laceration of bitterness; no floral crap and not too much sweetness.

But.

You know what’s coming, don’t you? Fucking sodium saccharin, that’s what. Jesus Howling Christ, I cannot stand artificial sweeteners. I know plenty of people don’t have this problem, and, yeah, I’m immeasurably happy for them (dickheads). But, really. That ganky catch at the back of your throat, that pissy, chemical bitterness. How can you stand it? Rank.

If you don’t have this problem, Schweppes basic tonic may well be the best tonic out there. Enjoy it. You bastard. If you want the rest of my bottle, drop me a line.

A 12-pack of Schweppes Tonic costs £4.09 at Waitrose, making it 34p per can.

Now. With those first two out of the way, things get really rather interesting. And really rather nice.

3. Schweppes 1783 Crisp Tonic Water

Third place goes to Schweppes 1783 regular. It’s good. There’s an echo of that old Schweppes bite, though as I said it’s less quinine-heavy. It has slightly less depth and complexity to it than Fever Tree Regular, which (meine meinung nach) tastes that bit more adult, more savoury. With 1783 Regular, lemon zestiness is more forward, and there is a slight lemony loo cleaner aftertaste (that sounds dreadful, I realise, and it’s not nearly as bad as all that, but you know what I mean?). So it’s not quite as nice as Fever Tree, but that’s comparing the two side-by-side — and you absolutely would not be anything other than delighted if somebody gave you this G&T. It’s a good, solid, honest drink. Sweetish, softish, but with lemon and bite enough to make its presence felt.

A six-pack of Schweppes 1783 Crisp Tonic Water is currently on offer for £2 at Waitrose. Regular price will be £3.69, making it 61.5p per can.

Good stuff. But not quite as good as…

2. Fever Tree Indian Tonic Water

Fever Tree’s Regular tonic is jolly nice. I think this might possibly even be a tad sweeter than 1783 (though there’s not much in it; both are too sweet for my own preference, though not nearly as much so as some tonics). The thing that lifts Fever Tree Regular above 1873 Crisp Tonic, though, is its fullness, its depth and slight savoury element. There’s something subtly yeasty going on, alongside the usual citrus and quinine, that really fills out the drink and complements the gin without dominating. If only it were less sweet.

An eight-pack of Fever Tree Indian Tonic Water is £4.25 at Waitrose, making it 53p per can — cheaper than 1783 at full price.

Which leaves the winner. By a furlong:

1. Fever Tree Naturally Light Tonic Water

Best in show. I mean, this is normally my tonic of choice, and I’m reassured to find it remains my favourite when tasted blind. It’s the only one of the five tasted here (with the massively qualified exception, perhaps, of Schweppes basic) that isn’t too sweet, and that lets the gin shine to its fullest extent. I’m strongly of the view that the better and more interesting your gin, the more compelling the case for accompanying it with Fever Tree Light Tonic. It’s lean and clean and modest — as it bloody should be — and it steps back from the limelight. It’s got a good bite to it and it balances your gin very easily (whereas I find that the Fever Tree Regular and Schweppes 1783 both demand very careful adjustment of ratio to make sure they tip over into neither tonicky over-sweetness nor gin-heavy alco-belch territory). Fever Tree Naturally Light is far more forgiving, simply because it’s less goddamn sweet.

An eight-pack of Fever Tree Naturally Light Tonic Water is £4.25 at Waitrose, making it 53p per can — cheaper than 1783 at full price.

Please, god, tonic-makers, just tone it the fuck down with the sugar, can’t you? I realise most people presumably disagree with me on this, otherwise why would the sweet stuff be the default option? Obviously, most people are idiots.

You’re not an idiot, are you, though? No, you read this excellent blog. So you’ll stick around for the conclusions.

Fever Tree beats Schweppes 1783…

…but it’s not the thrashing I half-expected. Sure, Fever Tree Naturally Light craps on all the other options from a fairly considerable height — and it’s disappointing that the 1783 Light option isn’t close to being a worthy adversary.

But the two ‘regular’ tonics are really both very good, and Schweppes’ premium effort is only a whisker less nice than Fever Tree’s.

Not a bad effort after a few decades swinging indolently in one’s hammock, I suppose.

Booze of the Week: Jameson’s Whiskey

The confluence of aesthetic principles and undergraduate pretension? Jameson’s Irish Whiskey, apparently. God knows why; I suppose you’ll have to read my Booze of the Week to find out.

I don’t think we should underestimate the role nostalgia plays in our alcoholic predilections. We’re all just walking bags of meat and memories, after all.

My comfortable cohabitation with Jameson’s Irish Whiskey has its root in the confluence of — or compromise between — genuine aesthetic principles and appalling undergraduate pretension. (Writing the above, I am troubled at the possibility that the same contemptible triangulation is applicable to vast swathes of my life.

Oh well.)

Bringing a tumbler of Jameson’s to my lips can still conjure the inside of somewhere like this:

Interior of the Bear Inn, an old and small pub in central Oxford
The Bear in Oxford, one of the oldest (and perhaps also the tiniest) pubs in the country. A bloody nice pub, but not the place to order a gin and tonic.

Even these days, I pretty much always have a bottle of Jameson’s in the booze cupboard. Just the standard one — 40% ABV, generally about twenty quid for a bottle. Nothing fancy.

I was a latecomer (scandalously late) to the joys of beer. Instead as an undergraduate I drank G&Ts, wine and cocktails. For those young scamps among you who’ve only known an adult existence during which gin has been elevated to an extent that approaches deification, you ought to know that there was a time at which you’d order a gin and you would not be asked which one you wanted, because there was only one. In most pubs, gin meant Gordon’s. Occasionally, it meant Beefeater instead. If you were somewhere wanky, there might be Bombay Sapphire. Tonic was quite possibly on tap. If bottled, there was a fair chance it’d be sodding Britvic rather than the preferable Schweppes. Fever Tree was still a mere twinkle in a private equity fund manager’s eye.

Entering a pub, I’d routinely perform the Britvic check: approach the bar, try to get a good enough view of the fridges to ascertain the tonic brand, then choose my poison accordingly.

(To be fair, I still do this today. You can never be too careful.)

So it was that I acquired my taste for Jameson’s.

I told myself a story about Jameson’s, too. And booze is about stories, isn’t it? I loved James Joyce when I was at university (I mean, I guess I still do, in some ways, just from a much much greater distance. I’ll let you into a secret: it’s actually a hell of a lot more brand cialis for sale comfortable this way) — and I think Jameson’s actually shows up in Finnegans Wake… Yup, these guys did the research and I do remember correctly:

‘Rot a peck of pa’s malt had Jhem or Shen brewed by arclight and rory end to the regginbrow was to be seen ringsomee on the aquaface.’

Finnegans Wake, James Joyce

Jameson’s was (and remains, I’d contend) a drink you could order in pretty much any pub in this forsaken country of ours. You’d be asked, no doubt, if you want it with ice (no you do not), and you’d get a glass (god knows what kind of glass, but it’s not so very important) with which you could retreat to your secluded corner, your whiskey clutched in one hand, a copy of Ulysses in the other (careful, careful, make sure you hold it so that people get a good view of the title.)

Closeup of glass of Jameson's alongside copy of Ulysses by Joyce. Bottle of Jameson's in the background.

Jameson’s… it’s not a drink you really expect to write about, is it? I mean, it’s odd enough perhaps to earn you a raised eyebrow from some bartenders if ordered early in the evening, but it’s hardly an exotic or trailblazing choice. It’s not something I really think about. And as I sat here, half an hour ago, wondering what the hell I should write to you about, my dear, it didn’t remotely occur to me. I was all set to crack out another post about bloody vermouth, but—

But.

My eye fell on that bottle of Jameson’s in the cupboard and I thought, no.

And I poured myself a familiar dram.

Listen, it’s just an unassumingly nice drink. It tastes like late afternoon sunshine towards the end of August… Warm, mellow, sweet. It doesn’t challenge you, it wants no aggro. Even the heat of the alcohol, when it arrives, is soft; the crescendo of flavour very much that of a string quartet rather than an operatic overture.

I think there’s a lovely balance between the honeyed sweetness and the gentle, spreading heat.

Look, I know it’s not particularly complex. I know it’s easy to drink. But it’s easy to drink in the right way; it’s not at all banal. It’s honest and accessible and comfortable.

And it shits all over a Gin and Britvic Tonic with two rapidly dwindling icecubes just as comfortably now as it did in 2002.

The Best Tonic for Gin and Tonic

In which an array of nine tonic waters are put through their paces in an attempt to find, once and for all, the tonic to rule them all

This post is part two in a three-post series devoted to the gin and tonic. Part 1 endeavoured to find the best gin. Now, in part 2, the mission is to find the best tonic for gin and tonic…
A closeup of a mini can of Schweppes Tonic

Some time ago, we had the gigantic joust of the gins. Now, at long last, it’s time for the titanic tiff of the tonics.

Oh, fuck, how much of a wanker does that pair of alliterations make me sound? DON’T ANSWER.

Today’s mission, then, is to find out which tonic makes the best gin and tonic. The deal here was pretty much the same as with the gins: taste ’em blind in one joyously ginny lineup. The gin used was my favourite common brand, Tanqueray.

(When I say common, I don’t mean lower class; I mean the kind of gin you’d be able to find at any half-decent UK supermarket or off-license.)

And I make no apologies for the fact that the lineup includes no slimline tonic varieties whatsoever. Because slimline tonic is the corrosive piss of satan.

Anyhow, here — from worst to best — are the results…

The best tonic for gin and tonic — results

9. Schweppes Tonic Water

Oh Schweppes, oh Schweppes. You fell, my boy. You fell bad. You landed on your arse.

I grew up on Schweppes G&Ts. Since my first mini-fridge at university, I always had a rank of yellow-and-silver mini-cans available, on ice. Alas.

Schweppes came out bottom of the taste test. Not marginally; clearly, and by some distance. It has a back-of-the-throat catch that I associate with artificial sweeteners, and a cheap, metallic quality to it. That said, it does also have bite. And it’s sure as hell better than sodding Britvic, which is a heinous tonic I didn’t even bother to include in this tasting. Compared to other tonics (including all the supermarket brands) it made for a sweeter, blander, more tacky gin and tonic. A saccharine blagger of a tonic, a little too confident that his illustrious background will win your admiration. The kind of tonic who hangs around in Chelsea and talks shit all the time.

I should add, though, that even the Schweppes G&T was nice. I criticise it relative to the others, but, Christ, let’s keep a sense of perspective.

8. Marks & Spencer Tonic Water

M&S only seems to do tonic in big 75cl bottles. A silly omission. In a G&T, M&S tonic is inoffensive. It’s got an unexpected bready sort of quality, but not much bite. It’s refreshing, but rather nothingy. A diffidently pleasant tonic without much to say for himself. Probably enjoys listening to Coldplay.

7. Fever Tree Mediterranean

The first of three Fever Tree variants, this character didn’t combine enormously well with Tanqueray. Like M&S’s effort, it sits toward the inoffensive side of the spectrum. It’s also a tad on the sweet side. A slightly wet ex-hippy of a tonic.

6. Waitrose Tonic Water

A gin and tonic with Waitrose tonic is a balanced sort of affair. It too has a slight breadiness, which I rather like. Again, though, there’s a tendency towards oversweetness — though neither as extreme nor as artificial as that of Schweppes. A balanced, middle-of-the-road kind of tonic. Squarely a Radio 2 listener.

5. Fever Tree Naturally Light

Nice. The gin and tonic made with Fever Tree Naturally Light — perhaps unsurprisingly — was less tonicky than most. With a bolshy, no-nonsense gin like Tanqueray, that’s not particularly necessary, but for the more subtle, aromatic, delicate gins (Greenalls Bloom, for instance, or Hendricks), this would be rather a splendid thing. A sensitive, quietly-spoken tonic; a good listener.

Closeup of the yellow label of a mini-bottle of Fentimans Tonic Water4. Fentimans Tonic

Here’s where things start to get interesting. Fentimans makes for a damn good gin and tonic. It’s crammed with flowers (violets!) and citrus. I’d gleefully drink this tonic on its own; in many ways it has more in common with something like bitter lemon than what I think of as tonic — there’s so much goddamn fruit in there. The gin and tonic it makes is delicious, lemony, full of zing and zang. But, I have to say, it’s nothing like my idea of a classic gin and tonic. An unabashed attention-seeker — the kind of tonic that ignores the dress code — but you can’t help liking it, nevertheless.

3. Sainsbury’s Tonic

Wow. This one came in from left-field. The coveted Old Parn Value Award goes to Sainsbury’s for this fantastically strapping tonic. Savoury, bready, confident.  Really far in excess of my expectations of a supermarket own-brand tonic, it’s a diamond in the rough — a good looking charmer in a down-at-heel nightclub.

2. Fever Tree Regular

Yup. It’s good. It’s very good. This is Fever Tree’s most successful tonic for a straightforward G&T. It’s balanced and rather delicious. What keeps it from topping the poll is a slight oversweetness. Far less pronounced than elsewhere, but I’d still prefer a bit less sugar; a bit more bite. Nevertheless, a very fine tonic indeed. Generous, charismatic and considerate.

A bottle of tonic water by 6 o'clock1. 6 o’Clock Tonic

And, finally — just sneaking in ahead of Fever Tree — comes 6 o’Clock Tonic. This is goddamn outstanding. A pity it’s a bugger to find (I’ve so far only been able to locate it in Whole Foods and online), because it has everything I want in a tonic water (including pleasantly minimalist packaging design). Why do I like it? Because it’s dry, it’s grown up. There’s a leafiness to it, a sharp, bracing sting. It’s not even slightly confected, not sugary or patronising. Set a gin and 6 o’Clock Tonic alongside a gin and Schweppes tonic and compare the two. You will be astonished at the difference — at how facile and glib the Schweppes one tastes.

A self-confident tonic with a dry wit and fucking excellent style — and deservedly crowned Old Parn’s best tonic for gin and tonic.