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.

Archive: 2012’s Gin Tasting

In which Old Parn — with the able assistance of Amy — blind-tastes an array of seven gins in a noble quest to find out which gin makes the very finest of gin and tonics

A cut-glass tumbler of gin and tonic, with an out-of-focus blue bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin in the background

This post is an old one, from 2012. A much newer, bigger, better and ginnier version can be found here: The Best Gin for Gin and Tonic — 2019 Edition.

Below, for posterity/shits & giggles, the old version…

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Skip straight to the results

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.

A line of six tumblers of gin and tonic, receding into the distance

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.

The logo of Beefeater London GinDecidedly 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.)

The logo of Hendrick's GinNext 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!)

The logo of Greenall's GinIn 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.)

The logo of Plymouth GinAnd 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.

The logo of Gordon's GinThird 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.)

The logo of Bombay Sapphire ginIn 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 logo of Tanqueray GinThe 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.