The Best Tonic for your Gin — 2019 Edition

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.

An assortment of glasses filled with tonic ready for tasting
Glasses coded, labelled and ready…

The Tonics: Tasting Notes

Le Tribute Tonic Water

£1.75 for 20cl bottle from The Whisky Exchange

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

Barker & Quin Light at Heart Tonic Water

£33.95 for a case of 24 20cl bottles from Amazon

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

Thomas Henry Tonic Water

£1.15 for 20cl bottle from The Whisky Exchange

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

Barker & Quin Finest Indian Tonic Water

£33.95 for a case of 24 20cl bottles from Amazon

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

Fever Tree Naturally Light Tonic Water

£0.95 for 20cl bottle from The Whisky Exchange

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

Fever Tree Premium Indian Tonic Water

£0.95 for 20cl bottle from The Whisky Exchange

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.

Main flavour: Balanced (Lemon/Quinine)
Bite: 3/5
Sweetness: 3/5
G&T rating: 7/10

Distillers Tonic Original

£1.10 for 20cl bottle from The Whisky Exchange

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

Schweppes 1783 Crisp Tonic Water

£3.69 for 6 150ml cans from Waitrose

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…)

Main flavour: Balanced (lemon/quinine)
Bite: 3/5
Sweetness: 3/5
G&T rating: 6/10

Double Dutch Skinny Tonic Water

£0.95 for 20cl bottle from The Whisky Exchange

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

Distillers Tonic Dry

£1.10 for 20cl bottle from The Whisky Exchange

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

Double Dutch Indian Tonic Water

£0.95 for 20cl bottle from The Whisky Exchange

Oh, this is not very nice, I’m afraid. It’s TOO SWEET and has less bite than your toothless great aunt. There’s a not-at-all-welcome bubblegummy whiff hanging about, which doesn’t help.

Main flavour: confectionery
Bite: 1/5
Sweetness: 4/5
G&T rating: 2/10

Schweppes 1783 Light Tonic Water

£3.69 for 6 150ml cans from Waitrose

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

London Essence Co. Classic Tonic

£0.75 for 20cl bottle from The Whisky Exchange

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.

Main flavour: despair
Bite: 3/5
Sweetness: 3/5 (but satanic, artificial sweetness)
G&T rating: 0/10

1724 Tonic Water

£1.25 for 20cl bottle at The Whisky Exchange

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

Bottles of tonic water in a line. Lots of different brands.

So, from best to worst, here’s a summary of how they fared.

  1. Barker & Quin Light Tonic (10/10)
  2. Fever Tree Naturally Light Tonic (9/10)
  3. Fever Tree Regular Tonic (7/10)
  4. Schweppes 1724 Crisp Tonic (6/10)
  5. Thomas Henry Tonic (6/10)
  6. Le Tribute Tonic (6/10)
  7. Barker & Quin Regular Tonic (5/10)
  8. Double Dutch Skinny Tonic (4/10)
  9. 1724 Tonic (4/10)
  10. Schweppes 1724 Light Tonic (3/10)
  11. Distillers Dry Tonic (3/10)
  12. Double Dutch Original Tonic (2/10)
  13. Distillers Original Tonic (1/10)
  14. 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?

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.

A heap of discarded bottle tops from bottles of tonic water

The Best Gin for Gin and Tonic — 2019 edition

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.

This 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.

Is 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.

Contenders for the best gin for gin and tonic, shot from above

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
  • 40% ABV
  • 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
  • 40% ABV
  • 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
  • 41.2% ABV
  • 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
  • 42% ABV
  • 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
  • 41.4% ABV
  • 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
  • 37.5% ABV
  • 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
  • 41.6% ABV
  • 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
  • 43% ABV
  • 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
  • 40% ABV
  • 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
  • 43.1% ABV
  • 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 winning gins: Tanqueray and Bombay Sapphire

Phew. So, to summarise, the top 10:

10. Martin Miller’s Gin
9. Beefeater Gin
8. Plymouth Gin
7. Portobello Gin
6. Hendrick’s Gin
5. Gordon’s Gin
4. Sipsmith Gin
3. 6 O’Clock Gin
=1. Bombay Sapphire and Tanqueray Gins

Here are the special category awards…

Gin and Tonic Awards Ceremony

Best with Fever Tree Light Tonic

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.

2019 vs 2012 Results

And how did 2019’s results compare with those of our taste-test back in 2012? Not too far off, it turns out.

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…)

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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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.

You can’t tell the difference between cheap and expensive wine? Rejoice!

In which we address the news item of the day: people’s alleged inability to taste the wheat amidst the chaff.

Macro photograph of a wooden-handled corkscrew. The metal screw is in focus; the wooden handle out.

Someone’s screwed. But I don’t think it’s the consumer.

So, big news in the wine world (if that’s not an immediate contradiction in terms) is that a recent psychological study demonstrated that ‘people just [can’t] tell the difference between cheap and expensive wine,’ in the words of Richard Wiseman, who conducted the survey at Hertfordshire University.

You can read more about the story on the Guardian, but the gist is that people were, overall, only able correctly to identify the more expensive wine from a pair 50% of the time. In other words, they might as well’ve flipped a coin.

Predictably, this story is the cause of much wino hullabaloo. On Twitter, I’ve read a good number of tweets in which wine industry members and/or wine bloggers see this as a problem to be overcome.

And I’m not sure I agree. Because, in my view, if people are getting the same amount of pleasure from a £5 wine as they are from a £20 wine, MORE POWER TO THEM. They win. And can use the £15 they’ve saved to buy sex/drugs/rock & roll.

I agree it’s a problem for the wine industry, which wants to make money. That includes retailers and producers of wine. But can anyone tell me why it’s a problem for the consumer who can’t tell the difference?

Wine tasting to be defunct by 2030?

… In which I tell of scientific advances in automated taste-categorisation

Not a review, today, but a scientific tidbit that may interest you. An article caught my eye in the current issue of the Economist, describing a new system for the categorisation of smells.

‘Although the human sense of smell is keen, it is hampered by a lack of precision. When presented with hundreds of odours, the nose can simultaneously distinguish only a few. Keenly aware of these problems, Alírio Rodrigues at the University of Porto in Portugal and his colleagues compiled an extensive list of scent descriptions from the existing databases used by the perfume industry. They found that eight general terms for scents (citrus, floral, green, fruity, herbaceous, musk, oriental and woody) could work as families to which more than 2,000 specific scents could be assigned. The team then generic cialis from india safe plotted these eight families onto a map that resembled the plots on a radar screen.’

It turns out that Rodrigues’ “radar” is able automatically to categorise perfumes according to scent-family. Obviously, as the Economist points out, the potential impact of this reaches further than perfumers…

So might we one day see wine tasting relegated to the status of ‘quaintly old-fashioned’ activity – like basket-weaving or letter-writing? By 2030, will all our tasting notes be mechanically generated? It’d doubtless work out cheaper than hiring all these temperamental winos. And fewer hangov sick days.

Well, clearly the answer to that is no. But I couldn’t help but throw in a childishly provocative rhetorical question.

When a machine starts being able to generate metaphors, though? Then I’ll be worried.

Read the full article in the Economist online