There are a lot of rude stereotypes floating around Europe about ‘unsophisticated’ Australians. But though some of our Earl’s Court expatriates proudly prove some of them right, in recent years, at home, we’ve actually swung a little too far in the other direction.
No longer is it VBs and Great Northerns – it’s 4 Pines and Young Henrys. No longer is it “whatever’s on special” – it’s a Barossa Valley wine subscription. No longer is it beer… it’s craft beer. No longer is it cruisers… it’s hard seltzer.
Need further proof things have turned on their head? Gold Coast surfers are now launching tinnie brands Melbourne hipsters don’t mind sipping (see: Balter Brewing Company).
And that’s before we even mention gin. When it comes to gin we are reaching at a whole new level of
wankery refinement. And ironically enough, our latest revolution isn’t even about Only Buying Hendrick’s (that was so 2015). No: Australia’s latest gin revolution is all about the tonic. Namely: refusing to buy the cheap stuff.
That’s right, these days, in many gin and tonic enthusiasts’ houses, it’s a case of Fever-Tree Tonic or GTFO (va te faire foutre).
So: what happened to Schweppes? And since when did we all become so snobbish about digestifs? DMARGE hit up some experts to discuss.
Before we dive into that cultural crevice, first let’s understand how important tonic really is to your Mother’s Ruin.
Trish Brew, Fever-Tree’s Brand Ambassador, who was the Bar Manager at Gin Palace in Melbourne for eight years and the 2018 Time Out Melbourne Bartender of the Year and 2018 Australian Bartender Bar Manager of the Year told DMARGE: “The mixer is arguably the most important component of the drink.”
As for Fever-Tree (this is not a sponsored piece, it’s just every gin nut I know has converted to it), “Fever-Tree was founded with the idea that if 3/4 of your drink is the mixer, wouldn’t you want it to be the best?” Ms Brew asked us.
“In my experience, many people thought they didn’t like gin because it was paired with the cheap, cloying and poorly made tonic that was available. So, if not for Fever-Tree paving the way of premium mixing, who knows where the ‘premium gin’ category would be today.”
“Would you spend a lot of money on comfy socks if you were going to cover them up with ugly and uncomfortable shoes? You wouldn’t, so don’t apply that to your drink.”
Another reason to pay attention to what you mix your gin with is that “higher-quality tonics often contain less sugar” Joseph Judd, Co-Founder and Head of Marketing at Peddlers Gin co. told DMARGE.
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This is important because sugar masks the botanicals of gin, “which in the case of Peddlers gives our gin its distinctive flavour,” Mr Judd explained.
“A good tonic does make quite a big difference.”
“The tonics we like tend to have a bit more fizz and pop, making a Peddlers and Tonic more crisp and refreshing,” Mr Judd added.
Ross Lusted, Owner and Head Chef of Crown Sydney’s Woodcut and Hickory Bar similarly emphasised the importance of tonic to DMARGE.
“Tonic water has become an iconic pairing for gin due to its balance of sweet and savoury, that complements the complex botanical combinations within gin recipes,” he said.
“When creating tonic pairings for Woodcut’s Bespoke Gin, we want to ensure that guests can enjoy the drink whilst still savouring the true flavours of the gin, so we look for a tonic that features complementary ingredients to that of the gin botanicals to enhance the flavour.”
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Mr Lusted, however, pointed out that there is more to it than simply selecting a certain brand – no matter what label you choose you have to pair the right type of tonic with the right kind of gin (something Ms Brew also pointed out, saying, for instance, gins with Aussie botanicals work best mixed with Fever-Tree’s Mediterranean tonic, rather than the other types).
“The secret to a perfectly balanced gin and tonic is a mix of choosing the right tonic water and garnish that celebrates and enhances the flavour of the gin botanicals, plus ensuring the ratio of gin to tonic is balanced,” Mr Lusted told DMARGE.
What do our experts attribute Australia’s tonic renaissance to? And is our theory that Australians now care more about tonic than they used to correct in the first place? How much of our tonic obsession is just due to clever branding?
When asked this, Ms Brew said: “Fever-Tree is the fastest growing premium tonic brand in Australia and that’s simply because it tastes great! The reason Fever-Tree tastes so great is we are built like a gin brand, where every ingredient is well thought out.”
“We work directly with farmers globally to procure the finest ingredients and will never compromise on quality. The thing that further separates Fever-Tree from other mixer brands is the carbonation, and if I’ve said it once I’ve said it a million times, there is nothing more depressing than a flat G&T! We’ve got it all!”
“I often joke that today’s casual gin imbiber knows more about drinks than your average bartender,” Ms Brew added, hinting at this idea that tonics have improved as the Australian gin palate has become more discerning.
She also told us: “Australians are curious when it comes to flavour, and the hype around Aussie gin is mainly driven by bush tucker! Australia is an isolated environment containing incredible native ingredients which are unique in flavour and complexity. Many of these ingredients give classic gin botanicals a run for their money such as Lemon Myrtle and Pepper Berry, found commonly in Aussie Gins.”
Mr Judd told DMARGE that – contrary to the stereotypes discussed at the start of this piece – when it comes to premium spirits, “Australians have a very sophisticated palate.”
“So with cocktails that include a tonic or other carbonated mixer, often a higher quality product can make the difference between good and great and bring out the full flavour profile of the cocktail more.”
“I think it’s more than clever branding; when you taste different tonics side by side there are noticeable differences in taste and how each brings out the flavours of the gin.”
Mr Lusted, for his part, told DMARGE Australia’s tonic renaissance has been inspired by its gin renaissance: “More brands are now experimenting with their tonic, becoming inspired by the flavour profiles of gin, including Mediterranean flavours like citrus or elderflower, that when paired with the right gin, help further amplify the taste of the botanicals.”
“The right tonic pairing can completely change the way the gin and tonic tastes so it has become so important to trust your palate and find a tonic to match the profile of your gin.”
Mr Lusted also told us that the local (Australian) offerings for gin have grown immensely over the past decade, with more local distillers pushing the boundaries with fun and interesting new flavour combinations.
This is something which is also happening internationally (see: the recent launch of Premium gin Tanqueray’s Blackcurrant Royale, a unique new gin, made with French blackcurrants and vanilla notes, inspired by Charles Tanqueray’s travels to France in the 1840s). However, many reckon Australia is leading the way.
“Gin is such a versatile spirit so this growing trend has definitely encouraged Aussies and venues to experiment with new combinations of garnishes, tonics and cocktails on their menus,” Mr Lusted said.
“Our Woodcut Bespoke Gin is a great example of how you can build a variety of different styles of drinks – from a martini to a tonic to an aperitif – and still hero the integral botanic flavours within the gin.”
Mr Judd likewise told DMARGE Australians are now experimenting with gin far beyond the classic dry London.
“In one of the most exotic food regions in the world, Australia’s dynamic and modern F&B industry embraces cuisines from the likes of China, Japan and Vietnam, to name just a few countries. I think that carries over to craft products like gin.”
“Australians are discerning and adventurous drinkers.”
“There are a lot of typical London dry gins in the market, but just like the growing interest in different types of cuisine – from pho to ramen to Sichuan noodles – I think Australians are looking for unique gins with a more adventurous flavor profile.”
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Now for the important part: what are the experts’ top tips for mixing the perfect gin and tonic at home?
Mr Lusted told us using filtered water for your ice is crucial (“to eliminate adding any unwanted flavours”) as well as, if you can using larger icecubes (“the smaller the cube the quicker it melts, diluting the drink and changing the flavour”).
“At Woodcut we use ice cut into 40mm2 cubes and made with pristine Tasmanian water – the perfect ice for spirits.”
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Ms Brew agreed that ice is important, providing a cheeky tip on how to create big hunks of it at home.
“To make big clear ice cubes at home, get a 5L eski, fill it with cold tap water and leave it in your freezer with the top off for 3 days. After 3 days take it out, leave on the counter for an hour so it slightly defrosts. Bang it out on the bench. 1/2+ will, be crystal clear and free of impurities the remainder can be cut off and discarded.”
“Cut the clear half down to appropriate size with a butcher’s cleaver and a hammer, or any powertools you have available. *Insert chuckle* Mind the fingers!”
Then there are ratios. This comes down to personal preference but as a baseline, Mr Lusted told DMARGE: “We traditionally use a ratio of 1 part gin to 2 parts tonic, but also offer guests the chance to add tonic water to taste as everyone’s palate is different!”
Finally, mixing your gin, as we mentioned earlier, with the right kind of tonic, is another way to keep your tongue smiling.
“The secret to a perfectly balanced G&T is to compare the flavour of the tonic to bring out the best in the gin,” Ms Brew told DMARGE.
“If you like big punchy gins, the Indian tonic will stand up strongly, if you like herbaceous gins, you can’t go past Mediterranean [style tonics], for floral gins Elderflower tonic is sensational, and for a bit of spice in your life the [Fever-Tree] Aromatic tonic is a dream!”