/ Food & Drink

Is premium tonic necessary for a good G&T?

Gin’s a crowded market these days, with dozens of brands jostling for space on supermarket shelves — but what’s the best tonic water to pair with the UK’s favourite spirit?

Like almost everybody else I know, I’m a big gin fan – and that’s not a niche opinion anymore, as it may have been ten or so years ago.

It’s fair to say the spirit has firmly shed it’s ‘hipster’ reputation and become genuinely mainstream. And that’s great: the more people drinking G&Ts (in moderation), the better.

Why? Because it’s a really good drink. There’s a fantastic combination of bitter and sweet in a G&T – a winning combo in the culinary world too, which may explain why some of my foody friends love the drink.

But here’s the dilemma for me: there are two elements to the drink; two variables; two different products you have to make a choice about.

And if like me you’re a bit of a perfectionist, choosing the right gin and tonic pairing can be a bit of a challenge – with so many flavours whizzing about in the gin and the tonic, bad combinations can easily be made…

Gin fling

Having tried a fair few over the years, I’ve become fairly sure of my favourite (and least favourite) gins.

Martin Miller’s is top of my list – it’s wonderfully clear and pure tasting. At the other end, I tend to steer clear of anything too floral or strongly flavoured.

Putting my opinions aside for a moment, we recently recruited some spirit experts to test popular high street gins – and the results might surprise you.

I’ve never been quite as certain on tonics though: some of the premium brands have released such a dizzying array of different types and flavours recently, it’s hard to keep up.

Tonic trouble

I’m sure of one thing though: diet tonics that contain sweeteners like aspartame are never welcome in my G&T; the artificial flavour is easily detectable and it ruins the drink for me.

Diet and slimline aside, I’ve tasted most tonics on the market but I don’t really think they add much beyond what you get from my G&T go-to: Schweppes.

The experts we recruited to test various gins and tonics had their own views on premium tonics, but agreed that Schweppes is perfectly good for everyday use.

The right balance

For me, the balance between the gin and tonic is the more important thing: while 1 part gin to 3 parts tonic is the popular advice, I usually go for a 1:2 ratio.

I like the gin to be clearly noticeable in my G&T – this may be because I got into drinking martinis a few years ago after watching a few too many episodes of Mad Men – but this won’t be to everyone’s taste.

This all means the tonic is less important to me – if it’s got some fizz, is nice and cold and I can taste the gin, I’m happy.

But what do you think? Are you a G&T fan or is it all a bit too faddy for you? Do you pay more for premium tonic?


Gin and tonic is a favourite long drink of mine, but not too much gin. I don’t like too much alcohol. 2oz G and 8oz T makes a nice half pint – enough gin to give it taste if the tonic is not too strongly flavoured, like Schweppes or M&S own. It is a refreshing drink, either on its own or with a meal. I agree about slim-line – give it a miss.

I used to buy Bombay Sapphire but also like the Wine Society’s house gin and their London Dry. Relatively inexpensive and straightforward. I’ve had no experience of the new fad for “artisan” gins as I think enough extra flavour can easily be added yourself if you want – half a thin slice of lemon or lime, a sliver of grapefruit. One of the nicest additions, I think, is a slice of cucumber; it is surprising how the subtle flavour comes through. I do have a bottle of Kew London Dry Gin to try; I’ll be interested to see whether the extra botanicals make it a good option.

Gin has always been my preferred spirit and I have never acquired a liking for any other except the occasional Cognac or Irish Whiskey. As the mixer I usually went for Schweppes Bitter Lemon or their Indian Tonic Water in default. Nowadays I tend to have Schweppes Indian Tonic Water more often than not because it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the small cans of Tonic in the shops and I don’t like opening a large bottle for a small quantity and losing the remainder due to deterioration. In my opinion a G&T must be ice cold but not overloaded with ice, so I keep a bottle of gin and cans of tonic in the fridge. I have stuck to Gordon’s Gin, have occasionally had Greenall’s when Gordon’s was not available, but having read the Which? report have decided to try Sainsbury’s London Gin which did well on test and, for alcoholic percentage by volume for the same price as Gordon’s, is excellent value for money. I have also bought some cans of Fevertree Indian Tonic Water to try both with Gordon’s Gin and with Sainsbury’s Gin for comparison with Schweppes. My wife does not like Gin and her preference is for Canadian Club Whisky and Coke; what can I say?

Never had Gin. But then I rarely drink alcohol.

Why mark it down without a comment to explain?

How odd…

It’s now even 🙂
I’ve just poured a Whitley’s London Dry with a cucumber slice and M&S tonic. Just 1.5 oz with tonic making up the half pint. Very refreshing. It will last all evening.

In my post at the beginning of this sub-thread I wrote “small cans of Tonic” instead of “small cans of Bitter Lemon”. It doesn’t make sense without the substitution.

Very odd to have so many disagrees on your comment Ian – I will presume people are being tongue in cheek. I’ve given you an upvote.

I love gin – used to dislike the taste of juniper berry, and used to go for vodka. But I now have a taste for gin and tonic.

It’s interesting how your taste buds change over time… so many things I used to dislike that I now like.

I have bought the Best Buy gin that come out top in our taste testing, and it’s glorious. What I need to do now is test it with a few different tonics, blind, and see if I notice the difference 🙂

Can’t see how marking a comment down is TIC, Patrick. But it does illuminate rather nicely the inadequacies of the current system.

Then why do you think you have something to contribute to a conversation about gin and tonic?

It’s a conversation Alan, 🙂 . Many comments in Convos seem not to be directly relevant.

I agree with you about Schweppes; I’m sticking with M&S standard tonic at 60p a bottle, naturally sweerened, currently with the Wine Society’s London Dry Gin that gives a very acceptable drink. The Kew botanicals gin is still unopened; not long now, though; is it worth twice the price?

I’ll give Lidl’s cans a try as a litre bottle does lose its bubbles once opened.

Linda says:
2 November 2018

There is nothing better than a Hendricks gin with Fever Tree Mediterranean tonic & a slice of cucumber. Absolutely way the best. Have tried a few artisan gins, not been over awed by any. Homemade rhubarb gin, delicious, as is homemade raspberry gin. Will try gooseberry next year & I think greengage plum might be good as it’s really hard. For an everyday gin definitely Bombay Sapphire with Schweppes tonic. Totally agree with an earlier comment, definitely no diet tonic, the aspartame ruins the drink & immediately detectable – yuk.

See above 🙁

I sampled the Kew London Dry Gin tonight and, at first tasting, wouldn’t choose it over M&S,or the Wine Society’s; just as nice but it didn’t stand out. However, another 657ml to go 🙂

Al M says:
3 November 2018

In my experience it’s worth using a good tonic in a G&T, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a fancy premium one; I’ve yet to find a better tonic to mix with gin than Waitrose own-brand Dry Indian Tonic Water.

The most important thing, though, is that the tonic must not contain any artificial sweeteners at all. Even in small quantities I find that sweeteners ruin a drink. This rules out not only most supermarket own-brand tonics, but also Schweppes. The diet versions are far worse, but even the regular versions use some sweeteners as well as sugar. Besides Waitrose, the only other own-brand tonic I’ve found that is completely free of sweeteners is M&S.

I totally agree with AIM’s comments on artificial sweeteners in tonic water – whether old-fashioned saccharin or currently touted aspartame and sucralose, they all add their unpleasant flavour to the tonic and therefore to one’s gin. For many years, Schweppes tonic that was made and bought on the continent tasted far better than Schweppes tonic in England, and made a G&T in the south of France a far more satisfying experience than at home – and that wasn’t just because of the holiday feeling! Sadly, a continental Schweppes is now the same as a Schweppes in the UK.
Over the past decade or more I’ve only bought Waitrose tonic – no artificial sweeteners, conveniently sized cans (250 ml) so always fresh and sparkling (no opened bottle going flat in the fridge), and very well priced. I can also recommend their Club Soda cans for spritzers – but that’s a different story… And no – I don’t work for Waitrose!

Grahama says:
9 December 2018

Agree continental tonic was much better, I remember it had extract of orange, which I suspect was orange oil, the oil from the zest.

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Bob L says:
20 June 2019

Sadly, M&S have discontinued their tonic water, so Waitrose Essentials Dry Tonic Water is now the only own brand tonic water without artificial sweeteners. Most supermarkets also sell premium versions from the likes of Fevertree or Fentimans, but they are ridiculously expensive and taste no better than the Waitrose tonic water. However, I have found another alternative for consumers, who object to the addition of saccharine, aspartame, acesulphame-K and similar chemicals in virtually every bottle and can. Freeway tonic water from Lidl UK (not Lidl’s top of the range version) is available in litre bottles, which contain artificial sweeteners, and also in 250ml cans, which do not.

Bob L says:
20 June 2019

https://www.coca-colajourney.co.nz/brands/schweppes/schweppes-indian-tonic-water is a New Zealand website, so I wonder whether Duncan Lucas purchases his tonic water in New Zealand. The manufacturers of Schweppes and Coca Cola products use different ingredients around the world and I have found that traditional Schweppes tonic water is available in North America (where it contains fructose syrup) and also in continental Europe, Asia and Australasia. Sadly, the nanny state in the UK has imposed a sugar tax to discourage the sale of sweetened products, so most manufacturers have replaced some or all of the sugar with artificial sweeteners.

I can understand why many people avoid artificial sweeteners but the usual criticisms don’t apply to stevia-based sweeteners. Stevia features in some brands of tonic water and they might be worth trying. (I have no experience of any form of tonic water but am happy to use stevia-based sweeteners.)

I miss M&S tonic – plain and straightforward. I use the type of gin for flavour, not modified tonic. I’ve just got a couple of bottles of Waitrose tonic and it seems very similar. I’m not keen on Schweppes or Fevertree, so cheap Waitrose from now on. Although Tesco’s isn’t bad.,

Strange . . . . I am sure I saw a large display of tonic water in M&S Norwich yesterday morning. I didn’t examine the label – perhaps it was not their own brand. Alternatively, maybe it was a final sell-off of their discontinued line.

David Paterson says:
3 November 2018

Gin is and always has been my favourite. In Times Gone By when the choice of tonic water was very few Schweppes and brickwork was probably the most popular today the choice is vast there is so many different makes all giving themselves the title of Premier tonic water .
The prices some places charge for these so-called premier bottles of tonic water can practically double the price of your glass of Gin .
When I’m at home I also like a large glass of gin with tonic water I always get my tonic water from Aldi or Lidl . Aldi store a quarter is very nice and it is selling at a fantastic price 38 pence a litre Lidl has also the same price a great price for a great tasting tonic water don’t take my word for it try it yourself.

A few weeks ago I tried a bottle of Schweppes Indian Tonic Water for the first time in many years and hated it because of the sweetener (Sodium Saccharin). I don’t remember it being quite as revolting so I’m assuming the sweetener is a new “improvement”. I notice that Slimline uses Aspartame not Saccharin.

Fever Tree for me.

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Bombay and Fever Tree Job Done👍

J J Whitleys London Dry, Schweppes (I’m right out of my preferred M&S tonic) and still a slice of cucumber. Cheers.

Edinburgh and Mahon gin are spiffing. I like tonic, but I wish it were slightly less sweet, no matter the brand/diet etc.

ms mably says:
6 November 2018

Sparkling mineral water and lemon or lime slices work really well as a less sweet alternative to tonic. It’s so much more refreshing and I love it.

I remember in the early ’50s Gin and Orange (Kia Ora) was popular. the grown-ups drank this while we were given small glasses of neat Kia Ora. Then it shifted to Schweppes Bitter Lemon in the later ’50s. Personally I like the gin flavour to come through the mixer, but not strong and as a long refreshing drink; I’m not trying to get inebriated.

Gin and Early Grey is said to be a good combination. Gin and water was, well before my time, mother’s ruin I think but maybe worth a try, particularly with a more complex gin, and the sparkling water sounds worth exploring..

I’d rather have a single malt but there is no denying the recent rise in popularity of gin. Seen in one of our village pubs: LET THE DRINKING BE GIN. It’s funny the first time.

The trouble (for me) with Schweppes is that it’s far from “original”. They swapped sugar for artificial sweeteners long ago. Artificial sweeteners don’t taste the same and leave a nasty, oily stickiness in the mouth.

There is answer: Lidl’s inexpensive Freeway tonic is made only with sugar, tastes like tonic used to and comes in 250ml cans, so it doesn’t lose fizz in a bigger bottle.

Iain Girling says:
8 July 2020

Always Plymouth Gin for me. Over ice, With fever tree Mediterranean tonic and a sliver of cucumber.

I don’t know how gin is produced [I only drink it, I don’t look behind the label], but there are so many gins on the market these days it cannot require the kind of investment that would be needed to start up a whisky distillery or an ale brewery. Also there is presumably no maturation process involved so space is not required for lengthy storage. Therefore, why is plain gin so expensive? And the gins whose contents resemble a greengrocery shopping list are even higher priced.

If you buy a decent gin with the botanical flavours you like, why spoil it with a competing and expensive tonic? A plain tonic with a natural sweetener makes a good long drink and let’s the gin’s flavours through. M&S and Waitrose sell unadorned tonic.

I buy a decent London gin from the Wine Society but as a treat I keep a bottle of Kew gin.

In order to distill spirits you need a licence and meet other requirements: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/spirits-duty#licensing-and-approval

“HMRC can decline an application if the largest still to be used has a capacity of less than 18 hectolitres.” That’s probably more than most enthusiasts would want, so maybe just buy some cheap gin and flavour it with sloes, which predates the current fad for different gins.

@oscarwebb your opinions on gin to tonic ratios reminds me of my mum teaching me to pour a G&T. I was sploshing in the tonic and I remember the panic in her voice when she warned me about drowning the gin. I was about 9.

Oscar’s preferred 1:2 ratio gin to tonic is far too strong for me. I like a half pint drink with 50ml of gin, the alcoholic equivalent of a glass of wine. It lets the gin flavours through without knocking me out.

Yesterday I had some wine delivered from the Wine Society. Included was a bottle of Tio Pepe Fino Rama, a very fresh sherry. But pricey. I like dry sherry from the fridge so ordered this as a hopeful treat. I was not disappointed.