Is Fever-Tree the best tonic? We did a blind taste test to find out

The premium tonic market has boomed to match our insatiable thirst for gin, but which is really the best?

Rachel Hosie
Tuesday 14 August 2018 14:33
Gin and tonic blind taste test: Which tonic is the best for G&Ts?

The UK is in the midst of a so-called ‘gin-aissance’.

Brits buy 55 million bottles of gin a year (or 105 bottles per minute), last year the spirit made a return to the UK inflation basket and 37 distilleries opened across the country.

But of course, what is gin without tonic?

To accompany the gin-aissaince, there’s been a boom in tonic waters, with Fever-Tree storming ahead.

When the company launched in 2004, it shook up the tonic market with its notably pricey but premium offerings. And last week, Fever-Tree founders Charles Rolls and Tim Warrillow cashed in just over £103m of shares in the company.

But although Fever-Tree is the market leader, is it still the best? We decided to test the upmarket tonic in a blind head-to-head battle with four other tonic waters to find out if it really is noticeably better than the others.

To help us with our tonic tournament, we were joined by Leon Dalloway, founder of Gin Journey and all round G&T expert, at The Distillery in Notting Hill.

We had five tonics to test: Fever-Tree, Merchant’s Heart, Schweppes, Double Dutch and Folkingtons. Each one would be tasted by itself and then with Portobello Road gin - but crucially, we wouldn’t know which tonic it was.

Here’s how it went down:

Without gin: “It’s quite low carbonation, it’s quite relaxed, it’s not over the top,” said Dalloway. “The sugars taste natural and the citric content is soft as well. I think that’s going to go really well with a big London Dry.”

With gin: “It’s improved immeasurably, it’s working as a full drink now. It’s delicious, I would drink that,” he added. In fact it's almost too sweet by itself.

Score out of 10: Nine

Without gin: “For me, the balance isn't as good as number one. It’s more citrussy and fizzier - over time, tonics have developed and the carbonation isn’t quite so in-your-face, but this one is a bit more intense,” Dalloway said.

With gin: “Personally I prefer number one to this. I’m not saying I don’t like the drink, it’s quaffable, but not as good,” he said. We found the tonic slightly overpowers the gin.

Score: Seven

Without gin: “It tastes quite natural. Bubble levels are decent. Citric content isn’t too high either,” said Dalloway. It's sweeter than number two, and not very fizzy.

With gin: “It’s better with gin and has evolved - it’s become more interesting,” he continued, and we agreed that it was noticeably aromatic.

Score: Eight

Without gin: “It’s a little less carbonated than number two, probably the same as number one," commented Dalloway. "The citric level is nice, there’s no obvious big flavour there.” There's something extra to the tonic, nice aroma and spice, and the flavour has depth. “The carbonation level is nice, there’s a level of interest there," Dalloway said. "It’s intriguing me to see what it’s going to taste like with the gin as I think this is going to be a big-hitter.”

With gin: “That’s a delicious G&T right there. It’s good because the gin’s coming through - a classic London Dry - it stands up to a lovely tonic. It’s bubbly, it’s citrussy, it’s what I like to drink,” he said. We found this one dangerously drinkable, and the gin and tonic matched each other nicely, with neither one overpowering the other.

Score: Nine

Without gin: “It’s quite natural tasting, it’s a nice tonic,” Dalloway said, agreeing that it’s sweet but not too sickly.

With gin: “It’s sweeter but the gin balances it out a bit. It’s good!” he commented. We found it very refreshing but it didn't have as much depth of flavour as number four.

Score: Eight.

The result

We have a tie! It appears Fever-Tree really is the best tonic water around, but it’s not the only one - Double Dutch scored just as highly.

In joint third place is Schweppes and Folkingtons, and just one point behind in fifth place is Merchant’s Heart, but all the tonics scored highly and received Dalloway’s seal of approval.

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