Here at Gin Foundry, we’ve always loved tonics but never found the time to review them since the gin usually comes first! This is not to say tonics aren’t a crucial part of gin’s rich history, it’s just that we simply haven’t got round to them yet. According to James Hayman of Hayman’s Gin – over 85% of gin is consumed with tonic in the UK, and just under half in the US. So, it’s with that in mind that we recently talked to a brand that really took the entire tonic market by storm, Fever-Tree Tonic.
Fever-Tree goes as far as the Congo, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Tanzania and Sicily to source the best ingredients for their range of premium natural mixers. Their Tonic Water uses the highest quality quinine blended with spring water and boasts a total of eight botanical flavours which include ingredients such as marigold extracts and bitter orange. No artificial sweeteners, preservatives or flavourings are added to the mix at any stage of the production. It’s impressive. So too is their rise in the soft drinks category and their positioning as the premium offering in most bars. We caught up with founders Charles Rolls and Tim Warrilow to see just what the pair were up to –
Gin Foundry: You both took the world of mixers by storm and specifically took the classic serve that is the G&T to the next level. Since, Tonic Water as a category has really burst back to life. Was tonic always the plan or did you have other areas in mind first?
Charles Rolls: We always intended to start with tonic. With my background in premium gin (Plymouth), and knowing that these quality gins needed a tonic that enhanced, rather than masked, the wonderful aromas and tastes. But also because tonic is the largest segment of the classic mixers.
GF: There has been a really positive response to your product range – have you ever thought about developing further a field, say towards quinine cordials or concentrates. We have seen a few come in and fade out of the market – with mixed results from a flavour perspective, is this something you have considered?
CR: No. It’s great for gin that there is so much experimentation going on in Gin Tonics. But the trouble with anything that is made in house from a cordial is that the carbonation is lost and there is variation between drinks. The very worst is when the bar uses “gun soda” to make up the drink. Personally I like my G&T without the smell of chlorine!
GF: We can’t agree more, the tonic you choose is imperative to the overall flavour and experience of your drink. We feel that gunned tonic played a large part in the demise of the gin category and a generation were put off by the poor quality. Anyway, Fever-Tree has opened people’s eyes to the importance of the quality of mixers in their drinks. The company itself really took off in 2008, although that was a couple years after you had began to sell in Waitrose. What was the most challenging part of creating a new type of tonic and changing buying habits back then?
CR: Creating it? Definitely the ingredients and flavour profile. It took over a year to get what we wanted. But changing buying habits was an even harder and longer task. We had a journalist who loved what we were doing and who wrote about Fever-Tree. But then his editor decided to run a story on “another xxxxxx Chardonnay” as he put it – safer for their readership than a breakthrough in mixers.
GF: Missed out on a scoop then… You’re now selling up to 50 million bottles a year and growing. How many people are now working for Fever-Tree and is there a ceiling to the amount you can produce?
CR: And growing fast. Selling to 50 thirsty countries the volumes will continue to grow. We have over 20 people in the UK and if you include others around the world it’s a bigger number. Can we keep growing? Oh yes. There is no shortage of these wonderful ingredients we choose to use. It’s simply that our competition have made their choice to buy cheaper alternatives.
GF: Fair enough, but in time, cheaper alternatives make for lesser products. The ingredients do really make a huge difference and it’s clear that you have gone far and wide in search for yours. We have also noticed that your tonic is quite lightly carbonated (in comparison to Schweppes for example) – is this a chosen point of difference or just a natural phenomenon in the way you create your tonic? Can you tell us what it takes to make tonic the way you do?
CR: The level of carbonation of Fever-Tree tonic is as high as any in the industry at 4.5 bar. The difference is in the mouth feel. The water and ingredients we use creates a softer feeling than our competitors. That is deliberate and we think makes the perfect drink.
GF: So same amount of bubbles but different mouthfeel then? Onto a controversial question for you, many have debated long and hard over this… After 9 years spent creating tonic, you must have perfected the balance between tonic and gin. What would you say is the best balance in parts gin to tonic?
CR: “If 3/4 of your gin and tonic is the tonic, make sure you use the best”. That is our slogan which we use for a reason. We think that is the best proportion. Americans typically make theirs stronger but that remains our advice. A great G&T is not about getting a big hit of alcohol. It’s about celebrating a delicious, well-balanced and refreshing drink.
GF: No messing about! What is your top tip for making them at home? Do you have any advice for picking the right type of garnish?
CR: Balloon glass (large wine glass) plenty of clear ice, 1/4 your favourite gin 75ml, 3/4 your favourite Fever-Tree tonic water (Indian, Naturally Light, Mediterranean or Elderflower). The garnish is hugely important and can transform the drink. With a dry gin try twisting just the peel of lemon around the rim and dropping into glass. Then try again with just the peel of orange. Part of the fun is in trying new garnishes like cucumber with Hendrick’s.
GF: The Balloon glass is great for capturing all the aromas and it’s something that hasn’t quite yet taken-off in the UK yet, but the G&T has continued to evolve throughout history. It’s nice to see the influence of the Spanish market having a global impact on how such an iconically British drink is being consumed in the UK. What do you think is the future of the G&T and how do you see it being served next?
CR: I went to a restaurant in London a week ago where they served a frozen Gin and Tonic granita alongside a Juniper meringue. Fabulous!
GF: That does sound delicious! Making Juniper meringue is definitely an experiment that’s going to happen this weekend. From a wider perspective – Gin is the predominate spirit used to mix with tonic (let’s just pretend that Vodka doesn’t actually exist for a minute…). Do you feel the gin category is still rising or do you think it is a bubble that will soon burst?
CR: It is growing and that has been a long time coming. Wine became the drink of the last generation: gin and tonic one of the drinks of this one. Isn’t that exciting to think that after a lost generation, a great, refreshing invention of gin and tonic is back.
GF: For sure. And long may it continue. We’re extremely excited to announce that you are the official and exclusive tonic sponsor for Junipalooza which is set to be the biggest gin show in the UK ever. Junipalooza will feature dozens of gins – you guys have a huge variety of flavours in your range – which gin pairs really well with which tonic?
CR: No personal favourites allowed. From dry gins, to citrus gins, to slightly perfumed gins. The point is that all the sophistication it takes to make these great gins deserves a mixer which does not overpower. To create a clean bitterness and support with delicate aromas. That’s the job of a tonic for gin.
GF: Shortly after Junipalooza, it’s World Gin Day and there has been a lot of talk about Malaria, given the history of the botanical are you guys looking to do anything on this side too?
Tim Warrilow: The invention of tonic water came about as a way of preventing people from catching Malaria and as a result at the outset of the business we spent a great deal of our time researching the history of quinine and its inextricable links to malaria. Furthermore, where we source our quinine from in the democratic republic of Congo represents the epicentre of the malaria epidemic.
As a result we are only too aware of the links. To this end we have been supporting a charity called Malaria No More who are not only raising awareness about this devastating disease but are at the forefront of the fight against Malaria.
GF: Great to hear you are supporting the communities and charities related to your work. What can we expect to see from Fever-Tree in the future?
Charles Rolls: More of the same but hopefully on a bigger scale. So finding ways to reach all those people out there who have not yet found a decent mixer for their gins, rums, whiskies…
Looks like there’s a lot up your sleeve! It’s been a pleasure chatting with you both and getting the inside view of the most exciting tonic brand currently on the market. We’re looking forward to working with you at Junipalooza and seeing all your tonics being mixed with all these fantastic gins!
With two of their tricycles and a boatload of tonic by each gin producer, guests will have the opportunity to try out the Fever-Tree range alongside a plethora of gins during Junipalooza. Don’t miss out and book your tickets now!
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