By Jack Peat, Editor of The London Economic
I’m not one to blow my own trumpet, but I’ve long championed the use of more natural tonics as spirit mixers. For years on end I’d watch punters muse over which overpriced gin to taste from behind a bar only for them to ask for a sugar heavy, artificially flavoured Schweppes mixer to overpower it. Philistines, I thought, but it’s their cash, not mine.
Thankfully, this weekend I found long awaited solace at The Good Food Show where a new generation of craft distillers are educating the market on the importance of mixing the right stuff with the good stuff. After I’d stuck toothpicks into more cheese samples than I care to admit and lathered numerous sauces over cracked crackers (or lining the stomach, as they call it in the events world) I primed my nose to sniff out botanicals and moved in the direction of the gin stalls.
The first thing of note was how many of them there were, and how few of them were instantly recognisable. Anno Distillers, Brockmans, the Mediterranean distiller’s Gin Mare; all sporting unique branding and different philosophies on distilling (in a roundabout way), with one notable constant.
Fever Tree tonic was being used, almost without exception, across all the stalls. In some places it was being mixed behind the scenes, in others the distillers were outwardly championing a new generation of mixer. Vestal Craft Vodka exclaims “do not mix this with Coca Cola”, Gin Mare educated its visitors on the importance of pairing the right tonic with its various spirits, even Pinkster Gin advertised the ‘naturally light’ tonic openly on its stalls.
So what’s it all about?
Around 2005 Charles Rolls of Plymouth Gin and Tim Warrillow joined forces to shake up the drinks industry. They had found that the majority of mixers on the market were preserved with sodium benzoate or similar substances and that decanal and artificial sweeteners (such as saccharin) were widespread. If three-quarters of your Gin and Tonic is the tonic, Warrillow mused, make sure you use the best, and so started a 15 month quest to find the best ingredients that resulted in Fever Tree.
The company sources ingredients from Congo, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Tanzania and Sicily for their range of premium natural mixers, replacing artificial sweeteners, preservatives or flavourings with the highest quality quinine blended with spring water and eight botanical flavours.
Traditionally positioned as the premium offering in bars, they’ve since become considered to be the only option as consumers get a taste for a more genuine mix. And good on them. James Hayman of Hayman’s Gin estimates that more than 85 per cent of gin is consumed with tonic in the UK, and as the premium gin market continues to gain pace across the world and consumers seek more authenticity in their drinks, long may their success continue.
In the parlance of Swedish rockers The Hives, I hate to say I told you so.