The quest for the perfect gin and tonic is one many of us undertake come summertime, but remember: the quality of the tonic is as – or dare we say even more? – important than that of the gin.
Ah, the G&T. Saviour of summer afternoons, mother’s ruin, warder-off of malaria. What would we do without it?
Most would say the crucial ingredient in the classic two-ingredient cocktail is gin, and indeed the spirit has been enjoying a renaissance in recent years, with craft distilleries and specialist gin bars popping up around the globe. It’s been quite the comeback story, a change in fortunes following a serious decline in the second half of the 20th century when drinkers turned away from what they saw as a stuffy old person’s drink.
But gin has been well and truly back for a few years now, and New Zealand is no exception – there’s now around 35 gin distilleries on these shores and many produce excellent gin, often using native New Zealand botanicals.
But what about the other ingredient – for what is a G&T without the T? Tonic makes up the majority of the drink, after all. For many of us, that familiar 1.5-litre plastic bottle with the yellow label remains the go-to when it comes to tonic, but in the UK, Fever-Tree is giving Schweppes a serious run for its money.
Fever-Tree was launched in the UK in 2004 by Charles Rolls and Tim Warrilow, both of whom worked in the drinks business and were frustrated by a lack of quality mixers to pair with the booming array of premium spirits available. They named the company for the colloquial name given to the cinchona tree, the source of the quinine that gives tonic its unique bitter taste. Fever-Tree sources its quinine from cinchona trees in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Quinine was first used as a medicine, taken by British officials stationed in India and other tropical posts in the early 19th century to prevent malaria. To make its bitter flavour more palatable, it was mixed with soda, sugar and gin, and the gin and tonic was born.
Since its launch, Fever-Tree has grown rapidly, floating on the London Stock Exchange in 2014. As of last year, it was valued at a cool £4.5 billion.
So what’s the appeal? With its small, stylish glass crown-capped bottles, it’s a totally different proposition from mass-market tonics right from the get-go, but what truly sets Fever-Tree apart is the taste. Unlike the traditional big players in the tonic market, Fever-Tree contains only natural ingredients, with no artificial flavourings or sweeteners.
Richard Poole is general manager of retail and operations at Fine Wine Delivery Co, and a self-professed G&T guru. FWDCo has been stocking the brand since its arrival in New Zealand, and Poole says customers are often converted to tonic through the Fever-Tree range.
“When people come into the stores and say they don’t like the flavour of tonic, we offer them a sample of Fever-Tree and they soon realise they just haven’t tried any good tonics – they’ve been drinking an inferior product and the taste of their drink was being masked by sugars and preservatives.”
Mirroring the increasing recognition that not all gin is the same, Fever-Tree produces several different varieties of tonic, each designed to pair with a different kind of gin. In addition to the classic Premium Indian Tonic Water and the Refreshingly Light version, which is lower in sugar, there’s Mediterranean, Aromatic and Elderflower, to name just a few. The Mediterranean has floral notes derived from lemon thyme and rosemary, and pairs well with citrus and herbaceous gins – think Pickering’s from Scotland, London’s Bulldog, the French G’Vine Nouaison or Malfy con Limone from Italy.
Aromatic, meanwhile, is a pink tonic (the colour comes from angostura bark) that pairs beautifully with juniper-forward gins such as the popular London dry gin Sipsmith and New Zealand’s own Lighthouse, as well as classics like Beefeater, Gordon’s and Tanqueray. The Elderflower version is great with fresh and floral gins such as Kiwi gin Black Robin and the English Martin Miller’s.
Paul Cibulskis from Eurovintage, which distributes Fever-Tree in New Zealand, says the beauty of the tonics is their subtlety. “The bubbles are fine – it’s not over-carbonated – and everything’s in balance. They want it to work in with the gin in harmony, rather than take over.”
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Cibulskis points out that pairing a premium tonic such as Fever-Tree with a premium gin is not essential – you can use it to fancy up a lower-priced gin. “In the UK, people who buy Beefeater or Gordon’s will now buy Fever-Tree to go with these entry-level gins to change the experience. You don’t have to buy a $70, $80 or $90 gin to enjoy it.”
To sweeten the deal even further, you could ditch the gin entirely and serve the tonic on its own as a refreshing, alcohol-free aperitif with a wedge of lime or lemon.
On that note, it’s worth remembering there’s a whole world beyond these when it comes to garnishes, says Cibulskis. Look to the botanicals used in the tonic and/or the gin you’re using – a sprig of rosemary is perfect with the Mediterranean tonic, for example.
This content was created in paid partnership with Fine Wine Delivery Company. Learn more about our partnerships here.