Monday, January 3, 2011

Northern Tonic

Over the New Year I came across Fentiman's Tonic at a local farm shop. Despite being a fan of Fentiman's for years, this was the first time I'd encountered their Tonic Water. Launched back in 2007 (alongside small bottle versions of their coke and ginger beer lines) Fentiman's made similar statements to those from other alternative mixer producers. In short, the overly sweet, mass produced, corn fructose based mixers just don't cut it when combined with quality spirits. Sounds like common sense, so I was keen to try it out.

The mouth is watering. Export strength Tanqueray and wedges of lime are at the ready. Let the G&T's commence... Unfortunately it was a bit of a let down. Fentiman's cut back on the Quinine and added Lemongrass to their Tonic. The resulting G&T doesn't taste a lot like a G&T. The Lemongrass is pleasant but nearly obscures the weighty botanicals of the Gin (and this was with export Tanquer: no shrinking violet of the Gin family). With less Quinine than a typical tonic, the usual bite and character of the G&T is missing.

Like the other product's in Fentiman's line, this makes a quality soft drink to enjoy on its own. I love their classic Dandelion and Burdock or the spicy Ginger Beer on a hot summers day. But this really misses the target as the accompanient to a fine Gin.

I'm reluctant to draw conclusions from advertising material, but I wonder if the problem is a fundamental misunderstanding of this classic mixed drink. The first line of their poster reads "The gin and tonic is a drink with only two vital ingredients, the clue to which is in its name." Of course as any discerning G&T drinker will know, a wedge of lime or lemon is the essential third ingredient. Oh ok, ice makes it 4 essentials. A great Gin and Tonic requires a balance between a Gin with character, a subtle Tonic, and a burst of citrus juice. Destroy that balance and the drink is dead.

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