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10 best tonic water for mixing with everything from gin to vodka and vermouth

It’s the other big ingredient in your G&T – so take notice

Alicia Miller
Saturday 26 June 2021 11:01 BST
<p>Mixers matter – the best spirits in the world can fall flat if you’re mixing it with a subpar tonic</p>

Mixers matter – the best spirits in the world can fall flat if you’re mixing it with a subpar tonic

We all put so much focus on the spirit: which one are you using? Where’s it from? What’s it taste like, how’s it made, which botanicals went in? And, yes, obviously, all that matters.

But here’s the thing – you can have the best gin or vodka in the world in your glass, and it can fall flat if you’re mixing it with a subpar tonic.

Long gone are the days when tonic was synonymous with a single brand. Now, once you choose your poison – be it vermouth, non-alcoholic Seedlip, tequila or classic gin – you also must consider which mixer you’re going to pair it with.

Tonic has been boutique-ified, with start-up brands appearing across the UK. And, to paraphrase the marketing campaign from leading premium mixer brand Fever-Tree, if most of your G&T is tonic, it’s about time that you paid it some attention.

When pulling together our list of the best tonics, we considered texture; there should be a persistent, but not aggressive, bubble. Flat tonic can taste sickly, but equally anything too frizzante takes away from a spirit’s profile.

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Secondly, we thought the tonic should taste like what it says on the tin (or rather, bottle). For Indian tonic waters that means there should be a noticeable bite of quinine – the magic ingredient that elevates gins to the masterpiece that is the G&T. For other flavoured tonics, it should taste like its headline ingredients, without being artificial or overbearing – remember, the best tonics are supporting acts, making whatever spirit you pair with it shine.

Finally, we opted to evaluate brands as a whole because, as our tastings showed, if one bottling was good from a range, others tended to be, too.

To keep things consistent, we tested each tonic chilled and neat, then again with a classic London Dry gin to see how it mingled with alcohol. Where relevant – say, for a particularly fruity or herbal style of tonic – we also gave these a follow up taste with other spirits we thought would pair well.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

The best tonic waters for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Double Dutch Indian tonic water, 200ml: £1.19,
  • Best citurssy tonic – Luscombe elderflower tonic water, 200ml: 95p,
  • Best full flavoured tonic – Fever-Tree Mediterranean tonic, 500ml: £1.95,
  • Best zero-calorie tonic – Gallybird premium tonic water – botanical blend, 200ml x 12: £8.16,
  • Best feel good tonic – Belu garden tonic water, 200ml x 24: £23,
  • Best tonic for straight sipping – The London Essence pomelo & pink pepper tonic, 500ml: £1.85,
  • Best tonic water – Marlish dandelion and burdock, 200ml: £1.99,
  • Best range of tonic flavours – Franklin & Sons rosemary & black olive tonic water, 200ml x 24: £16.99,
  • Best quirky tonic – Intune tonic+ CBD mixer, 200ml x 12: £23.60,
  • Best “light” version – Navas light tonic, 200ml x 12: £14.40,

Double Dutch Indian tonic water, 200ml

Best: Overall

Indian Tonics are the classic go-to with a G&T – the medicinal, bitter kick of quinine and rounded sweetness are perfect partners to gin’s resinous notes. And we can’t get enough of Double Dutch’s version, which is balanced out with grapefruit and juniper to give it a long, soft finish. It’s drier on the palate than some, and fruitier, but still has a good weight to support flavourful gins and lighter pours alike. Basically, we can’t imagine many spirits that wouldn’t taste good with this tonic water.

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Luscombe elderflower tonic water, 200ml

Best: Citrussy tonic

What’s one major part of a good tonic? Good water, obviously. Luscombe – which has been a farm since the 11th century, and a drinks producer since 1975 – combines deliciously fresh Devon spring water with natural ingredients in its tonics to superb effect. Fresh, bright and light, almost its entire tonic range – which hops from a classic iteration to a zippy cucumber number – is underlined with a clean citrusy character, brought by a dash of Japanese yuzu, a fruit that’s somewhere between a lemon and a mandarin.

Any of these pair well with delicate, light vodkas, gins or vermouths, particularly for drinking on summer days. Start with the elegant elderflower tonic water, which unlike some other brands stays in the realm of bright and dry, gently perfumed and not at all sickly.

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Fever-Tree Mediterranean tonic, 500ml

Best: Full flavoured tonic

It started the artisan tonic revolution back in 2005 with its premium Indian tonic water, made with top-quality ingredients sourced from around the globe. Now, nearly two decades and a host of copycats later, Fever-Tree has a worldwide presence, and is still one of the best tonics you can buy.

Choose from a rainbow of flavours – cucumber, elderflower and lemon included, to brighten up your G&Ts with a punch of proper flavour. Our favourite? The Mediterranean tonic water, which whisks you away to sun-soaked Provençal coastlines with rosemary and lemon thyme notes. We like it best with a clean vodka or, for a proper holiday in a glass, a Mediterranean-herb-infused gin such as Gin Mare.

Stylistically, with the exception of its “refreshingly light” lower-calorie range, Fever-Tree is on the sweeter side, so you might find that after one or two pours you’re craving something a bit drier. But the flip side to this is two-fold. First, it’s great at balancing robust, juniper-heavy structured gins with its weighty body and mouthfeel. Secondly, because it’s flavourful and rich, we think you can get away with a bit less tonic in your glass – meaning each bottle can go a smidge further.

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Gallybird premium tonic water – botanical blend, 200ml x 12

Best: Zero-calorie tonic

Ethereally light, this sugar-free tonic has two major USPs. It’s zero-calorie and sweetened with natural stevia, rather than aspartame, so it is, according to some, a healthier choice. It’s also clean, fresh and light tasting, closer to a soda water than a heavy sweet tonic.

There are two bottlings on offer – a classic-style tonic, and the botanical blend, which has a citrusy herbaceous note to it that brings a bit of added interest. Though, do take note; stevia does come with a distinct liquorice-like aftertaste, which might not suit everyone. With that in mind, we’d pair Gallybird with a light, floral or fruity spirit, such as one of our best pink gins for 2021, to balance out that kick.

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Belu garden tonic water, box of 24, 200ml

Best: Feel good tonic

If you want your G&T habit to be doing some good for the planet, pick up a bottle of Belu. This brand is environmentally responsible, using 70 per cent recycled glass in its lightweight packaging, and opts not to export from the UK due to the carbon impact of shipping. But there’s more. It also contributes its net profit to WaterAid, which invests in bringing clean drinking water and proper toilet facilities to places they’re urgently needed, around the planet. Tick and tick.

It comes in three flavours – regular, light and garden – and the latter is our favourite for its aromatic rosemary and lavender notes. If we’re being critical, it’s got a slightly coarser bubble than some of the tonics listed here, but its light, dry style will no doubt win it plenty of fans.

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The London Essence pomelo and pink pepper tonic, 500ml

Best: Tonic for straight sipping

It’s hard to pick the stand-out from London Essence’s range. There’s the fragrant blood orange and elderflower, with its pretty – but not overly sweet – citrus and floral tones. Then, the tart grapefruit and rosemary, with its savoury nose and herbal palate. And, our personal favourite, the pomelo and pink pepper, blushing in hue but with a gentle nibble of peppery kick. It’s especially good with a classic juniper-forward gin.

But beyond the innovative, and distinctly sophisticated, grown up, flavours, what we like most about London Essence is that it’s just as nice to sip straight up over a glass of ice as it is with gin, vodka or vermouth. And, every single pour is light and refreshing.

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Marlish dandelion and burdock, 200ml

Best: Tonic for vodka

With its clean, light palate, Marlish tonics are perfect for sipping with vodka – they don’t overwhelm the delicate spirit with heavy sweetness or mega flavour profiles. Instead, they provide a delicate mousse and a super-clean finish – no doubt thanks to the fact that they’re made with Northumberland National Park spring water, filtered slowly by rock and mineral strata. If your go-to serve is a vodka soda, give this brand a whirl.

That’s not to say Marlish tonics don’t have flavour, mind. Our pick of the bunch is the innovative dandelion and burdock tonic water, which brings a summery, nostalgic feel to your glass. We’d sip it with a smooth but flavourful British-made vodka, such as Oxford Rye Organic, or Eight Lands Speyside.

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Franklin & Sons rosemary & black olive tonic water, box of 24, 200ml

Best: Range of tonic flavours

Why stick to plain old Indian tonic water when you can infuse your mixer with zingy Sicilian lemon; pink grapefruit and bergamot; or rhubarb and hibiscus? At least that’s the thinking with this long-running brand, which traces its roots to 19th-century London. These tonics are not only designed for mixing with gin – choose the right pour and you’ll find that they pair just as brilliantly with bourbon, rum or Port.

Made, as is all the range, with Staffordshire spring water, our favourite – rosemary and black olive – is properly complex enough to sip simply over ice, especially given that pleasant savoury, dark kick from the olive. But when it comes to stronger stuff, we’d save this to drink with sherry; serve it up with a generous slug of the fortified wine, and a plump fresh olive dished up on the side.

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Intune tonic+ CBD mixer, pack of 12, 200ml

Best: Quirky tonic

CBD (that is, cannabidiol) is all the rage these days, and it was only a matter of time before it found its way into a tonic. Enter Intune’s tonic+ CBD mixer, which pairs sparkling water, orange zest, hops, bitter quinine and woody cascarilla bark with 5mg of hemp CBD. There’s an earthy, spiced and grassy character to this unusual savoury mixer, which will make it pair best with bold, root-botanical-heavy gins or creamy vodkas with plenty of body.

As for CBD’s famous relaxation-related effects? We found these to be on the mild side, with just a gentle calming effect to enhance our drinking experience. Saying that, all CBD consumption can vary by individual, so start slow with just one mixed drink and see how you go.

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Navas light tonic, box of 12, 200ml

Best: “Light” version

Most slimline tonics feel like a compromise – you trade the flavour and balance of the original mixer for a cut in character, as well as calories. But we like Navas’s light tonic just as well as its original version, thanks to its crisp, dry and elegant profile and gentle ripple of flavour – citrussy bergamot, floral neroli and earthy cinchona bark, along with classic bitter quinine.

Like some of the other lighter, more citrussy tonics on this list, it’s a natural with vodka – or a blanco tequila, alongside a twist of lime. Or go local with this Cornish-made mixer with sublime, complex Monterey Gin from the banks of the Helford River. As for one more reason to buy: Navas donate 2 per cent of their bottle earnings to the Eden Project and another cut to 1 per cent for the Planet, a global membership scheme of environmentally savvy companies.

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The verdict: Tonic water

The “best” tonic will depend on your palate and what you like to mix with it, as much as the individual brand’s quality. But if we had to choose just one to drink with everything from gins to vermouths, Double Dutch would be it. Simply put, its classic Indian tonic just tastes great with everything.

If you prefer a richer, more intensely flavoured style of tonic, Fever-Tree is sure to please. Otherwise, if you favour particularly light, dry styles, give Luscombe or The London Essence a whirl.

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