Tonic water sales have risen above £100 million for the first time, a rise of 37 per cent in the past year, driven by upmarket versions and the demand for gin. This piece by Susy Atkins was originally published earlier this month.
The appeal of adding tonic to gin is much to do with ritual – pulling frosty bottles from the fridge, the ‘phish’ on opening and spritz on pouring.
But take a harder look at the tradition. In the days of empire, the strong quinine in tonic was used to fend off malaria, but, today, why do we splash out on fine gin, only to dilute (some would say drown) it with a fizzy, sweet mixer?
For tonic is sweet (if lower in medicinal quinine these days). Typically 100ml contains about 8g of sugar. That’s two teaspoons in each drink, or four teaspoons per 200ml bottle.
Can we really taste the subtle botanicals of a sophisticated gin – foraged camomile flowers, wild sea kelp etc – through that?
So, only use a little, trade up to a premium mixer, and choose a light version. I pour 50:50 gin to tonic, unusual I know, but small portions of each (you can always have another). Decent tonics are popping up everywhere after Fever-Tree’s founders cleverly brought out their upmarket, natural-tasting version in 2005.
And ‘light’ versions from the top brands can contain less than half the sweetness of normal ones, without tasting artificially saccharine, as cheap diet tonic invariably does.
If you go easy, modern tonic’s hint of bitter quinine (from the bark of the cinchona tree) has a natural affinity for juniper and the other herbal, spicy botanicals in gin.
Not just a ritual, then.
Double Dutch Indian Tonic Water ocado.com, £3 for 4x200ml
Do look out for Double Dutch mixers – all have a clean, juicy appeal. This, its regular tonic, is slightly sweet but lively and crisp with it.
Fever-Tree Naturally Light Indian Tonic Water Widely available, £1.69 for 500ml or £3 for 4x200ml
The daddy of the premium mixers makesavery decent light tonic, with only 2.9g sugar in 100ml, and that comes from fructose, with no artificial sweeteners.
Fentimans Naturally Light Tonic Water Widely available £1.80 for 500ml
Also lighter in sugar than most with no artificial sweeteners. Softly spritzy, with subtle quinine – nothing fierce here.