A look at the Fentiman’s Tonic Water Range
It will come as no surprise that tonic has been bubbling up over the past 5 years. Not just the amount of new brands on the market, but the volume of cases each are now selling is mind blowing.
It’s easy to see the correlation between a rise in amount of gin being consumed and a growth in the mixer market too. In the absolute simplest of terms, the growth of gin means a sharp rise in the amount of G&T’s being made and resulting in the growth of the mixer market. It’s not one way traffic though, and the popularity of the G&T as a drink isn’t just a reflection of the popularity of a love of gin – in some countries like Spain, one could even go as far as to say that it is solely because of the popularity of the G&T that there is the boom in all things juniper-infused in the first place.
There are now more classic tonics, more flavoured tonics and more mixers of all sorts to peruse on the supermarket shelves. They are available in more sizes to pick from in order to create a perfect dosage in each glass. There are more flavours to contrast, more to compliment or more to accentuate because of gin’s continued expansion too.
In brief in this world of MORE, the options for what can be done around the G&T has become complicated and because of this, there is a need for all drinkers to better understand what’s inside those little bottles of bubbly tonic.
Fentiman’s, originally founded in 1905, and still owned by the same family, have been in the game of botanically brewed beverages for generations and over the past 18 months have been keeping up with this new sense of adventure that’s fizzed over in the mixer market. Not only have they launched new products, recently they have invested a whopping £1.2 million into revamping the look of their entire range, including a new look 125ml offering that’s particularly eye catching.
We decided to take a look at the range to see what all the fuss was about. Namely, asking the question – if botanical brewing is the key point of difference here, what does it even mean, what difference does it make and most importantly can you taste it come Gin O’Clock?
Botanical brewing as we’ve come to understand it, is the process of taking ginger root, grinding it up with a little bit of water and slowly bringing it to a simmer. At this point, they add natural sugar, herbs, brewer’s yeast, some fresh water and let it brew. As the mixture ferments more flavours are released. Unlike champagne however, this does not create a natural effervescence (or “micro bubbles” as some of the bigger houses like to say). Once this process is over, the various filtrations have occurred (to remove any sediments) – fresh water is added and the mixture is carbonated to ensure the right effervescence is captured in the end product.
The process is much the same as it used to be in the early 1900’s although, the equipment, scale and know how involved has radically improved as one might expect. Age old techniques with a face lift if you will (and take a look at the videos on the side here for context).
Does this make a difference though? We decided to see if there was something in this claim, get to better know the range and uncover some potential G&T pairings as we go along. For those of you who track these things (and to avoid repeating it a dozen times below), the sweetener / sugar being used across the range is derived from beets.
Premium Indian Tonic Water
Any range of tonics has a flagship of sorts. In the case of Fentiman’s it’s the conveniently named Premium Indian Tonic Water. Brewed with juniper, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, the aroma has an unmistakable assertive citrus zing to it, that counters the dry cinchona bark (quinine) that’s also clear to smell.
To taste, the dry, crisp nature of the tonic water continues on and the ingredients used to make it reveal themselves a little more (lemongrass in particular). As for pairings, it’s got a little too much zing for the softer floral gins in our opinion as the lemongrass nips a little too much to allow the nuance of delicate lavender’s, shier gorse or calming chamomile. This is a tonic for the lower shelved gins in the supermarket, where the tonic needs to provide a little oomph to accompany it.
Alternatively, try something heartier like a juniper forward classic (which in fairness many of the value option gins also are) or even, something with a prominent citrus top note. The kaffir and lemongrass certainly add some weight to the finish keeping that extra dry sensation lingering, which makes us wonder if a softer citrus like an orange peel would naturally work best as a garnish too.
With the exact same botanical line up (juniper, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass) added to cinchona bark as the Premium Tonic, the difference here is a notably softer nose to the tonic (less acerbic and with a fuller, more rounded citrus). It’s a lot more approachable on its own and less drying on the finish, which is a testament to the flavouring team, who’ve managed to harness the same ingredients to a very different outcome just by tweaking the balance of the recipe.
In our opinion, the result makes for an easier tonic to pair up with gin in general compared to their flagship Premium Dry. Perhaps ironically given the name, it requires less connoisseurship to pair up perfectly with the right garnish too, as many are allowed the chance to shine with this mixer. Consider this the neutral middle in the Fentiman’s range and good to partner up with most brands.
Botanical Tonic Water
The Botanical Tonic Water is a slightly different beast to their flagship or their latest addition, the Connoisseurs Tonic. While many of the same ingredients are part of the brewing process (juniper, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves) and of course the same cinchona bark to add the distinct quinine hit, there is an addition of orange extract and lime flower too. In the case of the Botanical Tonic Water, once the base liquid is made – more botanicals are infused including myrtle and hyssop to name a few – lending a slightly yellow hue to the liquid.
To taste, the myrtle and hyssop are noticeable additions that differentiate this tonic to rest of the range. They are clear on both the aroma and on the palate, creating a complex mixer in its own right and have us wondering about combining it with gins that sway from citrus to floral such as Brooklyn Gin, Cotswolds Gin, Garden Tiger or Locksley Gin. As the tonic has a green, grassy edge to it – it might not be the friendliest glass partner with herbal gins however.
Pink Grapefruit Tonic Water
Kaffir lime leaves, juniper, lemongrass, orris root, grapefruit oil are all part of the botanical brewing process on this occasion, and once done are joined by quinine, as well as natural orange and pink grapefruit flavourings. The vibrant colour seen in bottle is made by adding carrot and hibiscus concentrates, allowing the already pinkish hue to pop resplendently in an all-natural way on the shelf.
To nose the zingy citrus isn’t as pronounced as the colour would suggest. The same is apparent to taste, where the more juicy elements of pink grapefruit become more evident. It’s a great tonic to work with for all three of the “main decisions” drinkers face come G&T time – it accentuates a citrus forward gin (and if doing so, consider using a rosemary sprig or herb as a garnish to balance it out), it compliments a classic gin in that it provides an added edge upfront but leaves space for the gin to emerge, while it can contrast a spiced gin like Ophir or Isle of White Mermaid Gin by giving them some much needed levity upfront.
As a rule of thumb, consider using this instead of citrus garnish, as opposed to in addition to, but obviously, doubling down on citrus in some occasions can be brilliant!
Mediterranean Orange Tonic
With the core juniper, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf botanicals intact in the brewing process, Valencian orange oil is added in order to create this mixer. Both the colour and taste have also been further accentuated by adding a natural colourings and other flavourings (concentrate of apple, hibiscus, safflower and lemon for those curious) while lemon thyme is also infused afterwards to add its distinct tones.
While the orange is noticeable to the eye and to taste, the dryness throughout is much more akin to the Premium Indian Tonic. The orange note is closer to a skinnier orange oil as opposed to the juicy, ripe fruit and goes from being prominent up front, to disappearing, to becoming turbo charged alongside the lemon thyme at the finish. Pair it with big gins that have either a strong herbal core (like Makar) or a prolonged spice finish (like ELLC’s London Dry) – or ideally both these attributes!
With such a distinct aroma of heady perfume and blossoming rose, Rose Lemonade is hard to ignore once the cap is undone, let alone when in the glass. In its creation, Bulgarian rose oil is added to the botanically brewed ginger base – along with pear juice concentrate, lemon and orange flavourings as well as a natural colorant made from red cabbage extract. As for the lemonade part – that’s been made from clarified lemon juice and given a little extra zip from tartaric and citric acids. The sum of these parts is something quite spectacular.
Once the process is complete the result is a domineering, commanding mixer that needs to be harnessed wisely (and in moderate ratios) when it comes to gin pairings. As a mixer it’s the most distinctly three dimensional of the range and where there’s clear layers of flavour to the liquid. When frozen as ice cubes incidentally (just add it to a tray and pop it in the freezer), the underlying orange-like tones of the mixer really emerge and in doing so, sharpens the mind to wonder quite what a slushy would be like using it…
As for specific pairings, of course it can work with a classic London Dry, but we feel that it is the solution for many a Fruit Gin that are otherwise hopelessly lost with most tonics. Bright raspberries of Tiptree or Pinkster set to the backdrop of the Rose Lemonade are a treat. Alternatively, the rich fruit of Hernö Blackcurrant Gin is a delight, while the more candied tones of many rhubarb infused gins are offset by the slightly cutting nature of the lemonade, which somehow resurrects the rose oil once more to continue the fresh flower scent on the finish.
So there you have it folks! An interesting range that’s full of possibilities. Overall, there’s certainly an undeniably bold and enduring amount of flavour in each bottle of Fentiman’s – and if the depth of flavour is because of their botanical brewing technique as they say it is, then who are we to argue!
Hit us up on Twitter (@GinFoundry) with your favourite pairings and let us how you get on!
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