Patience Gould reports on a very exclusive tasting designed to discover which Tonic Water best matches the classic Beefeater Gin.
Six tonics went under the spotlight at London’s Beefeater Distillery in a blind tasting that was full of surprises, some good and some bad. With Gintime’s own take on the best Gin & Tonic combination currently underway, you can imagine that I accepted an invitation to the Beefeater Distillery to check out a range of tonics with alacrity! And so it was 12 of us, including master distiller Desmond Payne as well as brand ambassadors Sebastian Hamilton Mudge and Tim Stones, together with Portobello Star’s Jake Burger, huddled round the spur bar in the trade hospitality suite to do the business.
The modus operandi was to taste six tonics blind and mark accordingly and then to taste them on a 1 to 3 ration Beefeater to tonic, with ice but no fruit. The marks were out of 10 and mine ranged from a dismal 3 to a very creditable 9. Comments varied from scathing “saccharine-rich, yuk” and “tin can – stale – horrid, lost for words” to almost fulsome praise “clean citrus nose, not bad but not that good” and “citrus and dry notes – really good balance”.
The latter was for number 3 and I was privately, and utterly convinced that this was Fever Tree – so as Beefeater and that brand of tonic is a favourite combination of mine I was really looking forward to the next part of the tasting. The tonics were in the same order and we still did not know which brands had been selected – but of course this time around each had a measure of Beefeater and ice in them.
I was extremely dismissive of number 1 tonic: “spoils a good gin – saccharine comes pounding through – sadly”, and things didn’t improve that much: “Better with the gin! Beefeater does improve the tonic though!” and as for number 3 I was positively elegiac: “Great – salvation! It’s balanced and a very more-ish combination”. Tonic number 5 with Beefeater was deemed: “Very, very ok. It’s all there; it’s balanced, and has a nice bitterness (from the quinine) too”. Number 6 was considered “really unpleasant” and along with the Number 1 tonic scored a miserly 3.
So to recap for me the Number 3 tonic & Beefeater along with Number 5 were the tops both with 9 out of 10, and remember it was one measure of Beefeater to three of tonic. Of course the seminal moment came when the identity of the tonics were unveiled.
To my utter astonishment Number 3 tonic was in fact 1724 and not Fever Tree! Indeed Fever Tree was Number 2 tonic, which “was better with the gin”. As for Number 5 tonic this turned out to be Schweppes – another big surprise, but as Desmond Payne mentioned: “It’s the tonic we’ve been brought up with.” In other words “Sch… you know” is the taste a certain age group, shall we say the over 40 year olds, has been accustomed to as the optimum tonic for gin.
The other tonics in the tasting were Waitrose Sugar Free, Fentiman’s and 6 O’clock. The latter was developed by Bramley and Gage producers of the same named Six O’Clock Gin – and no doubt it goes very well with its spirituous namesake, as yet it’s a combination I’ve yet to try – but the tonic most certainly, for me at any rate, did not go at all well with Beefeater.
It just goes to show though how fickle the tasting process can be. I was absolutely convinced that I’d spotted Fever Tree and was even more convinced in round two – maybe it’s something to do with the mix; a one to three gin to tonic is a bit weak for me, it’s more 50/50 – and I very rarely drink tonic on its own! Excuses, excuses – but this was a fun/interesting exercise and it got even better when we were taken to lunch at the Bistro Union in Clapham – in short it was a great Beefeater and Tonic day.