I do love a good G&T and have become hellbent on finding the right tonic because, in my opinion, one size does not fit all.
The idea that you can match tonics to syrup and change the strength to suit your taste intrigued me. Many premium gins, often with stacks of botanicals, can lose their flavours when put against the artificial flavourings of some pre made tonic waters.
JD from onlybitters.com who I met at Top Shelf Boutique Drinks Festival, kindly offered to do a personal tasting session for me at his extensive home bar! How could I refuse?
As he lined the tonic syrups along the bar, JD explained the “3 : 2: 1 rule” (not set in stone, it’s really up to you how you like your gin and tonic), 3 parts soda, 2 parts syrup and 1 part gin. Some syrups suggest different ratios, but I trust JD on this one.
I tasted (16!) tonic syrups: first neat, then with soda added and lastly with a tiny splash of gin. They ranged from the bland to the off-the-scale bitter (faces were pulled) to some that were as far removed from “tonic water” as you could imagine – think sweet sodas.
We started with Jack Rudy. This was the syrup most like a pre made tonic water. It has a pleasant, strong quinine flavour, I felt on familiar territory. JD said he started with this one for that precise reason.
But as we moved along the bottles, I kept thinking how different they were to what I was used to: Ear wax-Bitter, spicy, frothy, dark! I became concerned that I wouldn’t get to the end of the line, but then I began to get a sense of what I was looking for in a tonic syrup. The faces I pulled at some of the bitterest syrups in the beginning became less frequent. I even purchased a bottle of what JD describes a “bitter bastard!”(I’ll tell you which one at the end).
It was a great experience and challenged what my idea of a good gin and tonic should taste and look like.
Stand outs for me were:
Volstead Act Tonic Syrup A fruity/spicy syrup that gets its name from the prohibition act.
C&B’s Old Fashioned – good traditional quinine taste from California.
Bradley’s Kina Tonic: Bittersweet with a soft finish (from Seattle)
phenomenal Tonic Syrup, made by some German guys from the advertising industry, this tonic syrup was SO bitter I flinched but once I tasted it with gin and soda I wanted to take home!
JD also brought out a couple of ‘specials’. First a Hendrick’s limited edition tonic syrup made for as a promotion for some bartenders – how nice is the bottle? I really liked this one and thought it would be a perfect match for Hendrick’s gin. I am staggered they aren’t producing this for a wider market.
The other ‘special’ was a Bittermens Spirits (more well-known for their bitters, obviously) which was 21%ABV. It was very strong in flavour and strength. Too much for me, but I’d love to try it as possible replacement for Campari in a negroni.
Some tonic syrups were frankly, disgusting. Too sickly and sweet or too floral. One of the worst (I’m my opinion) was full of cloves and cinnamon, but JD has customers who love it.
Would I use tonic syrup over pre made? I’m not sure, but I love the option of creating a very personal G&T with a tonic syrup.
(Note: JD and his wife Sophia kindly welcomed me to their home bar for the tasting. I wasn’t paid for this review and paid for my bottle of PH tonic syrup.)