Free samples
Free tonic waters provided to sample for this post by all brands except Fever Tree.

It took a while to gather pace, but unsurprisingly the last few years have seen a significant rise in the number of tonic water options for gin lovers. Given the boom of mother’s ruin, it was only a matter of time. The UK tonic water industry now has sales of over £110m, growing 35% compared to the same period last year. Brands are springing up at pace, with everyone looking to take a slice of the market- a market dominated (for the last few years at least) by Fever-Tree.

It’s fair to say that what Hendrick’s did for gin, Fever-Tree has emulated for tonic.

It’s fair to say that what Hendrick’s did for gin, Fever-Tree has emulated for tonic. Where the Scottish gin led the way in the ‘the ginaissance’, Fever-Tree is largely responsible for the growth and interest in premium tonics. But is the leader the best? Choosing ten different brands, we sought out to test what, in our opinion was the best premium tonic for a G&T.

Free samples:
Free tonic waters provided to sample for this post by all brands except Fever Tree.

Meet the tonics
We picked out ten of our favourite classic tonic brands to carry out the test. These were:
Thanks to 1724, Bon Accord, Double Dutch, Fentimans, Franklin & Sons, Inginius, The London Essence Co., Merchant’s Heart and Summerhouse Drinks for providing samples for the test.

It’s fair to say that what Hendrick’s did for gin, Fever Tree has emulated for tonic.

It took a while to gather pace, but unsurprisingly the last few years have seen a significant rise in the number of tonic water options for gin lovers. Given the boom of mother’s ruin, it was only a matter of time.

The UK tonic water industry now has sales of over £110m, growing 35% compared to the same period last year. Brands are springing up at pace, with everyone looking to take a slice of the market- a market dominated (for the last few years at least) by Fever Tree. It’s fair to say that what Hendrick’s did for gin, Fever Tree has emulated for tonic.

Where the Scottish gin led the way in the ‘the ginaissance’, Fever Tree is largely responsible for the growth and interest in premium tonics. But is the leader the best? We sought out to test what, in our opinion was the best premium tonic for a G&T.  

 

Meet the tonics
We picked out ten of our favourite classic tonic brands to carry out the test. These were:

Thanks to 1724, Bon Accord, Double Dutch, Fentimans, Franklin & Sons, Inginius, The London Essence Co., Merchant’s Heart and Summerhouse Drinks for providing samples for the test.

Methodology

In order to create as balanced a test as possible, we used a strict methodology. Equal measures for every band with two parts tonic to one part gin.

Each tonic was tested against Martin Miller’s, which was chosen for it’s well balanced qualities and traditional botanicals. It’s also reasonably priced (expect to pay in the ballpark of £25) considering just how good a gin it is.

Our four judges then blind tasted each tonic before selecting their top 3 brands. No garnish was added as it was felt that this would mask the flavours of the tonic. Scores were awarded with first place getting 3 points, 2 points for second place and 1 point for third place.

None of the judges disliked any of the tonics. Indeed, we found it quite difficult at times to differentiate between a few of the brands. Some, however, were very different, and this was highlighted in the varying opinions as we discussed the flavours.

So what is, in our judges’ opinion the best tonic for mixing with gin? Read on to find out.

The runners up

1724 Tonic Water

About the brand: 1724 is a premium tonic water with an intruiging story. It takes its name from the altitude at which their quinine is hand-picked – 1724 metres above sea level, on the Inca Trail.

It’s here that it’s said quinine was first discovered. Launched by Vantguard, the company behind Gin Mare, it’s designed to subtly enhance the gin’s natural flavours. It’s also got an aesthetically pleasing, slender bottle which aids its premium status.

What our judges said: Collectively it was felt 1724 was quite a different tonic. Less bitter than some , it was very citric on its own, reminiscent of lemonade. Mixed with gin it was quite balanced with delicate bubbles. It made the top 3 for one of our judges.

Franklin & Sons Natural Indian Tonic Water

About the brand: Franklin& Sons was first introduced in 1886. The range has been developed with natural ingredients, balanced to ensure they bring out the flavours in the spirits its mixed with.

Made with Staffordshire spring water, it’s carbonated as much as possible “to lift the most delicate botanicals of any spirit.” It’s quinine is sourced from Ecuadorian cinchona tree bark.

What our judges said: The high carbonation really comes through. It’s a really nice tonic, quite lemony when tasted straight, with a subtle bitterness – very fresh and crisp. Despite not making our top spots, it was given high praise by all judges.

Inginius Tailored Tonic Classic Tonic Water

About the brand: Inginius tonics were developed in partnership with John Gordons gin bar in Cheltenham. The brand’s classic tonic is developed to pair well with London Dry gins.

By using less sugar and quinine Inginius aim to provide the perfect balance for mixing with gin.

Launched in March 2017, the mixers are made by hand in small batches, with a key step being careful soaking of citrus peels, before mixing with other ingredients.

What our judges said: The flavours of the gin weren’t lost, as Inginius claim. A subtle tonic, not too sweet and quite dry, almost palate cleansing.

The London Essence Co. Classic London Tonic

About the brand: With Britvic as its parent company, London Essence has a strong brand behind it. Launching in 2016, they currently have four mixers – classic, grapefruit and rosemary, bitter orange and elderflower, and ginger ale.

The shapely bottle is easy on the eye, and the classic tonic tested here  is carefully crafted by steeping juniper berries for up to a week prior to distillation.

Lighter on sugar than many tonics in the category, each 200ml bottle of classic tonic has just 36 calories.

What our judges said: There’s a piney smell owing to the juniper presence, while there was an almost cola-like flavour on the palate when tasted neat – definitely let the spirit shine through.

Merchant’s Heart Classic Tonic Water

About the brand: A relative newcomer to the category, with the backing of Suntory, Merchant’s Heart is a range of mixers worth shouting about.

It was made with the help of experts from some of the UK’s best bars in conjunction with scientists, who explored how the drinking experience was altered by garnishes, ice and carbonation.

It’s the science behind the carbonation which is particularly intriguing, allowing for high levels of carbonation for considerable periods after pouring.

What our judges said: Along with Franklin & Sons, this was the tonic which seemed to have the most fizz. Both tonics were thought to be quite similar in flavour as well with citrus notes throughout. It was well received by all and made one judge’s top three.

Walter Gregor’s Tonic Water

About the brand: The first Scottish tonic water, Walter Gregor’s takes its name from renowned 19th century minister who used botanicals in his garden to flavour tonic water.

Summerhouse Drinks brought the garden of Gregor’s manse back to life, using it to grow the botanicals of their tonic, which was launched in 2015.

A favourite with many Scottish distilleries, including Isle of Harris who recommend it as their perfect serve.

What our judges said: Less fizz than any of the other tonics. Quite a balanced flavour, a hint of bitter quinine and a more subtle note of citrus than brands on the table. Carbonation reduced quickly, so maybe not one for a slow-sipper.

Did you know?

Quinine is one of the key ingredients usually found in tonic water and is responsible for the bitter taste in the drink.

It comes from the bark of the cinchona tree and was historically used to treat malaria. This is where the tree’s nickname of the ‘fever tree’ comes from.

The winners

4. Double Dutch Indian Tonic Water

About the brand: Founded by Dutch twins, Joyce and Raissa de Haas, the playfully named Double Dutch range includes tonics waters as well as flavoured sodas.

It was during their masters degree at UCL in London that the idea for their business started. After graduation in 2014, with some help from the university, they set to work on creating their range of mixers. 

After 7 months the twins were happy with the flavours and Double Dutch was launched in 2015. The range has found favour with critics, distillers and consumers alike. Notable awards include the Virgin Foodpreneur award, while their Pomegranate & Basil Soda is a favourite with gin brands such as KURO, recommending it in their perfect serve.

What our judges said: The most divisive of our ten tonics, it was the favourite of one judge, while others were not as keen. Citric notes of orange and grapefruit shone through when sipped on its own.

When mixed with gin it was very different to any of the other tonics on the table – less bitter on the finish perhaps, with a subtle flavour.

3. Bon Accord Scottish Tonic Water

About the brand: Once a favourite Scottish brand, Bon Accord was founded in 1909. It was wound down in 2000 as the demand for weekly deliveries of fizzy drinks declined.

Karen Knowles, the great, great granddaughter of Bon Accord’s original founder, resurrected the brand in 2016 and the range includes soft drinks as well as tonic water..

The tonic water is made with 100% natural sweeteners and a subtle hint of citrus and vanilla. Using less quinine than many other tonics, it aims to appeal to those who find the bitter after-taste associated with the drink unpalatable.

What our judges said: All judges agreed that Bon Accord Scottish Tonic Water had a delicate flavour, perhaps unsurprising given its ingredients.

Crisp and fresh, it seemed to have a bit less fizz than some of the other brands on show. A flavour reminiscent of soda water when tastes straight, it didn’t alter the flavour of the gin. The second favourite of two of our judges.

2. Fever Tree Indian Tonic Water

About the brand: “If 3/4 of your Gin & Tonic is the tonic, make sure you use the best,” is the slogan Fever Tree have used to take on the market.

It appealed to the psyche of consumers who were spending increasingly more on premium craft gins. It opened the mind of the ever-educated consumer as to how much a great mixer can enhance a G&T.

As mentioned earlier Fever Tree was arguably the game-changer for premium tonics. The market was pretty much dominated by Schweppes with people also purchasing supermarket brands of tonics.

Launching their first tonic in 2005, it’s now the number one brand by value in UK off-trade. Taking its name from the colloquial title of the cinchona tree, where we get quinine from, Fever Tree now has a range of tonics including Mediterranean, Light and Elderflower. Now, you’ll barely find a bar worth its salt not serving it.

What our judges said: A beautiful G&T, crisp and refreshing, and not too bitter. There’s a good level of carbonation, with a smooth finish. Highly drinkable on its own with fresh citrus and fruity notes coming through.

When we discovered it was Fever Tree we were drinking there was some discussion as to whether our familiarity created some bias – as if it’s how we expect a G&T to taste.

1. Fentimans Connoisseurs Tonic Water

About the brand: Formed in 1905, Fentimans has a rich British history. Owned by the great grandson of founder, Thomas Fentiman, it’s still in the hands of the Fentiman family.

Of the popular premium tonics in the market, Fentiman’s has been playing second fiddle somewhat to the juggernaut Fever Tree. But it’s still been a staple in gin bars up and down the country.

Looking to cement its place against the fierce array of competitors, or perhaps try and take a slice of Fever Tree’s share of the market, this year they’ve gone through a £1.2 million rebrand, looking to modernise their image.

Supporting this revamp is the newly launched Connoisseurs Tonic Water, which just pipped Fever Tree to top spot in our taste test, perhaps a little to the judges’ surprise. None had tasted the tonic water prior to judging, ensuring there could be no bias in the scores.

Described as a “versatile”, as with most of our tonics, it’s marketed as a spirit “enhancer”. While the sentiment is admirable the message is now a bit saturated. On the plus-side, it’s a wonderful tonic, and the favourite of two of our judges.

What our judges said: A very subtle flavour, it’s likely to work well with a wide-range of gins. Both judges who scored it top marks said they much preferred it to Fentiman’s Indian Tonic Water, which is intriguing given they have the exact same botanicals. Despite its name, it’s the perfect tonic for any gin lover – even those who don’t identify as connoisseurs!

1. Fentimans Connoisseurs Tonic Water

About the brand: Formed in 1905, Fentimans has a rich British history. Owned by the great grandson of founder, Thomas Fentiman, it’s still in the hands of the Fentiman family.

Of the popular premium tonics in the market, Fentiman’s has been playing second fiddle somewhat to the juggernaut Fever Tree. But it’s still been a staple in gin bars up and down the country.

Looking to cement its place against the fierce array of competitors, or perhaps try and take a slice of Fever Tree’s share of the market, this year they’ve gone through a £1.2 million rebrand, looking to modernise their image.

Supporting this revamp is the newly launched Connoisseurs Tonic Water, which just pipped Fever Tree to top spot in our taste test, perhaps a little to the judges’ surprise. None had tasted the tonic water prior to judging, ensuring there could be no bias in the scores.

Described as a “versatile”, as with most of our tonics, it’s marketed as a spirit “enhancer”. While the sentiment is admirable the message is now a bit saturated. On the plus-side, it’s a wonderful tonic, and the favourite of two of our judges.

What our judges said: A very subtle flavour, it’s likely to work well with a wide-range of gins. Both judges who scored it top marks said they much preferred it to Fentiman’s Indian Tonic Water, which is intriguing given they have the exact same botanicals. Despite its name, it’s the perfect tonic for any gin lover – even those who don’t identify as connoisseurs!

How we voted

Judge One

  1. Fentimans Connoisseurs Tonic Water
  2. Bon Accord Scottish Tonic Water
  3. Walter Gregor’s Tonic Water

Judge three

  1. Double Dutch Indian Tonic Water
  2. The London Essence Co. Classic London Tonic
  3. Merchant’s Heart Class Tonic Water

Judge two

  1. Fentimans Connoisseurs Tonic Water
  2. Fever Tree Indian Tonic Water
  3. Walter Gregor’s Tonic Water

Judge four

  1. Fever-Tree Indian Tonic Water
  2. Bon Accord Scottish Tonic Water
  3. 1724 Tonic Water

How we voted

Judge One

  1. Fentimans Connoisseurs Tonic Water
  2. Bon Accord Scottish Tonic Water
  3. Walter Gregor’s Tonic Water

Judge two

  1. Fentimans Connoisseurs Tonic Water
  2. Fever Tree Indian Tonic Water
  3. Walter Gregor’s Tonic Water

Judge three

  1. Double Dutch Indian Tonic Water
  2. The London Essence Co. Classic London Tonic
  3. Merchant’s Heart Class Tonic Water

Judge four

  1. Fever-Tree Indian Tonic Water
  2. Bon Accord Scottish Tonic Water
  3. 1724 Tonic Water