Gin O’Clock – Part Seventy Eight

I’ve always thought that if you are going to spend over thirty pounds for a bottle of so-called premium gin and don’t propose to drink it neat, you need to be a bit choosy as to what you mix with it. A duff tonic can ruin a great gin but sometimes a great tonic can rescue a mediocre gin. If there is one thing I have learnt from my exploration of the ginaissance is that there is not a one size fits all solution to finding the perfect tonic. You need to find a tonic which will complement and enhance the flavours of your chosen gin and, inevitably, as gins occupy a wide taste and flavour spectrum, so you need an array of tonics to create the perfect G&T.

One of my bugbears is that for those of us looking for diversity in our tonics, we are poorly served by the market. The old hegemony of Schweppes has been successfully challenged by the remarkable rise of Fever-Tree. This has prompted Schweppes to rethink their offering and launch a reinvigorated and heavily discounted response, Schweppes 1783, which I wrote about some time ago ( Welcome as this, I am always a little uneasy about an oligopoly and there are signs, I’m pleased to say, that several micro tonics are beginning to emerge to give discerning drinkers a wider choice.

During a recent visit to Cornwall I was introduced to a couple of local tonics which have emerged, specifically to enhance and complement gins distilled in the area. Sea Buck Tonic comes from St Ives and at first blush you wonder whether you should pour it into your gin. The reason for my hesitation was that it is a golden colour rather than the clear liquid you would normally associate with a tonic. The reason for the colour is that the quinine is extracted naturally from cinchona bark. Cornish water, rich in minerals, is used but what gives the tonic its distinctive taste is the tiny, orange berries from the sea buckthorn bushes which grow nearby.

It is a very intense, citrusy tonic. I preferred the lighter version which seemed a little more subtle. A welcome addition but I suspect that its colour will preclude it from penetrating the mass market.

Many a good idea (and even more bad ones) are hatched in a pub and the idea behind Navas Tonic was born in the Ship Inn in Mousehole when Kim Conchie and Marcus Rampley surveyed the spirits shelf groaning with Cornish gins but not a local tonic to complement them. The tonic, launched in February 2019, takes its name from the little village of Port Navas, nestling in the countryside around the Helford estuary.

The bottle has a rather impressive design, using green and red to good effect, supposedly reflecting the colours of the rocks found in Kynance Cove and the Lizard Peninsula. Whether you buy that or not, it is pleasing on the eye. As with Sea Buck natural Cornish spring water is used and the quinine is extracted naturally from cinchona bark.

But there the similarities end. The colour of the tonic is clear, the intrinsic bitterness of the quinine is pared down with the introduction of woody notes and its distinctive flavouring is provided by a combination of citrus elements, principally pink grapefruit, lemon and bitter orange, along with bergamot and lime leaf oils. I found it had a very vibrant, crisp taste and it is a very welcome addition to my range of tonics.

If I was a betting man, Navas is likely to have wider appeal, not necessarily one to worry the likes of Schweppes and Fever-tree, but one that may encourage others to tap into a tonic market that has considerable room to grow.

Until the next time, cheers!

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