Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tonic Taste Test

At a recent Gin & Tonic blind tasting I set up for the New York Sun, St. John Frizell, one of the tasters and a spirits journalist and former bartender at The Pegu Club, brought me a small can of the kind of Schweppes Tonic Water that can be bought over in Britain. I'd been told it is vastly different from the U.S. stuff by both Yankees and Brits alike, and indeed it is. Well, maybe not "vastly," but it's different.

First let's start with the ingredient lists. Here's the American Schweppes: "Carbonated Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup and/or Sugar, Citric Acid, Natural Flavors, Sodium Benzoate (preservative), Quinine."

Now, here's the British product: "Carbonated Water, Sugar, Citric Acid, Flavourings (including Quinine), Sweetener (Sodium Saccharin)."

Notice how the High Fructose Corn Syrup drops right out of the list in England. However, Saccharin does make a strange appearance in Old Limey. Not sure what to make of that.

Anyway, the two products do taste different. The American tonic water is sweeter, more like syrup, and less bitter. The British tonic is brisker, less syrupy, and definitely leaves a distinct bitter aftertaste.

Going from there, I decided to see how the two performed in a Gin & Tonic. I made the American G&T the way it usually is, with a wedge of lime squeezed over the top. Many people have told me that the British take their G&T with lemon, so I decided to make the G&T with the British tonic with a wedge of the yellow fruit. I built both with Plymouth, since that tied with Tanqueray for the top spot in the Sun tasting (and I had no Tanq on hand).

The Yankee drink was a familiar treat, brisk and refreshing. Try as it might, the sweetish tonic couldn't mask the greatness of the Plymouth. The British drink was more streamlined, more of a bracer, with the bitter quality of the tonic marrying with the lemon to create a lasting pucker. I liked it. Though I thought I'd like it better with a lime—a sort of Hands Across the Ocean approach. The best of both worlds.

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