When you order a gin and tonic it is customary to specify your preferred label: Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire, Hendrick’s. But what about the tonic water? Little attention is paid to this bitter-sweet seltzer, even though it makes up 3/4 of the drink. Ignoring the bubbly is like failing to notice the quality of juice that goes into a lemon drop. Fresh squeezed or bottled, Meyer or regular, the mixer makes the cocktail as much as the alcohol gives the buzz.
To taste the variation, two longtime “g&t” drinkers compared four brands of tonic water, hoping to determine which makes the best cocktail. They first tasted each plain over ice, and then again with Beefeater London Dry Gin and lime. It turns out that, although quinine is the dominant flavor characteristic of this fizzy beverage, sweetness is what really sets each brand apart. Some use cane sugar or agave, others use high fructose corn syrup, and each label shows wide variance in the total sugar per serving. From now on, one taster plans treat himself to either of the two winners when he has good gin on hand, but when budget is a concern, “I may stick to the cheaper stuff,” he says. Now that he has tasted the difference though, we’ll see if he is able to go back.
Plain: Aroma is “sweet” with hints of “cinnamon and clove.” Flavor is light and “aromatic,” with only enough sweetener to placate the bitterness.
With gin and lime: refreshing, smooth, light. “James Bond could drink this.”
$6.99/25-oz., Whole Foods Market
Fever-Tree Premium Indian Tonic Water
Plain: Aroma is “limey and bright.” Quinine is the dominant flavor, but overall still very sweet. The sugar “doesn’t coat the tongue,” however, which keeps it refreshing.
With gin and lime: “Sweet but refreshing.”
$3.69/16-oz., Whole Foods Market
Schweppes Tonic Water
Plain: Aroma is bitter and tangy. Taste is “very sweet with a bitter bite.”
With gin and lime: Enjoyable, but tonic is “too syrupy.”
Hansen’s Natural Tonic
Plain: Aroma is absent. Taste is nearly flavorless. “Mostly just sweet, carbonated water.”
With gin and lime: Way too sweet, “not enough flavor.”
$3.69/six 8-oz. cans, Whole Foods Market