Beyond gin – Alternative serves with tonic

With a strong claim to be our national drink, the Gin and Tonic was first developed as a way to make anti-malarial tonic water more palatable to British soldiers in the tropics. Tonic water was infused with the bitter, quinine-rich bark of the cinchona or ‘fever’ tree as it was known, because of its healing qualities. The resulting drink was bitter and unpleasant to taste, but highly effective in preventing and curing malaria.

In those days British soldiers’ rations included gin (naturally!), so someone had the bright idea of adding it to their tonic water along with some sugar and a slice of lime to make it a little tastier. And thus the Gin and Tonic was born! Saving the men from malaria, and coincidentally scurvy, because of the lime. But what if their rations had been tequila, vermouth or sherry…? The history of British drinking could have been very different.

Tonic gets a premium makeover

The recent explosion of craft gin has come hand in hand with a growing demand for more premium tonics. After all, if you’re prepared to pay a premium for some lovingly-crafted small-batch gin, why settle for post-mix?

Luke Benson from Fever Tree says, “Customers care much more about what they’re consuming. A bad-tasting, lower-quality option just won’t cut it anymore, especially with the craft and premium gins on the market. Mixers are no longer a secondary priority and the importance of high-quality ingredients has never been greater.”

These well-crafted drinks in their own right are becoming more than gin’s side-kick and are playing a key role in a whole variety of more creative serves.

So what goes well with tonic?

Tequila and tonic

One drink that has been premiumising fast is tequila. No longersomethingto be ‘slammed’ during the course of a boozy evening, tequila is now the fastest growing spirits category in the Off Trade, and just behind gin in the On Trade, with premium brands growing fastest of all.

Luke says, “Recently we have seen a resurgence of tequila served as a long drink rather than a ‘shot’ meaning we are seeing our range used in Tequila and Tonic serves. Our new Aromatic Tonic works particularly well with the honeyed agave notes in Reposado."

Vermouth and tonic

The unique taste of tonic corresponds with a growing preference for more bitter flavours, as witnessed by the growing popularity of Negronis and spritzes. For Ian Baylis of Vermouth brand Belsazar, “Bitter sweet drinks are more popular than ever, yet nothing has created quite the buzz in the bar scene as Vermouth.

"This forgotten-about ingredient in so many cocktails has now become an important factor and even the base of a drink, rather than just a modifier. Carrying so much natural flavour, Belsazar is the perfect base for a low ABV cocktail or light aperitif with tonic."

Sherry and tonic (a.k.a. the ‘She&T’)

A sherry renaissance has been in the making for a few years and we are now starting to see some momentum. On Trade sales of fortified wines are up 10%, driven by a 14% rise in the volume of premium sherry sold.

But it’s not just about sales – there’s innovation too, with bartenders starting to use sherry in cocktails or with tonic for a light and refreshing aperitif. The crisp, savoury, almost salty tang of a Fino or Manzanilla is the perfect partner for tonic, creating a refreshing, lower-alcohol alternative to the traditional G&T.

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