Between sips by Magandeep Singh: Beverage sideshow | The Financial Express

Between sips by Magandeep Singh: Beverage sideshow

Here’s raising a toast to mixers that we mostly use to enhance, dilute or enrich our poison of choice but more often than not pay little heed to

Between sips by Magandeep Singh: Beverage sideshow
With so much variety (and variability) I find it terribly unsettling to have a tonic which is also trying to bring its own to the table.

Today, let’s take a moment to talk not about alcohol but the accompanying act —often non-alcoholic beverages, aka mixers that we mostly use to enhance, dilute, or enrich our chief poison of choice. Like Indian tonic water with gin, or soda with whisky, all the drinks that we consume alongside prized tipple (and in significantly higher quantities) but pay little heed to. Let’s talk about them.

Starting with soda, it is the most important mixer. From expensive sparkling water to simple club soda, take your pick, it’s all about the fizz. This is what you will hear most commonly—its fineness and persistence. To me, it’s also about the base water composition. Sparkling water will show more character thanks to its mineral content whereas soda will appear more or less inert. I love a Perrier or San Pelegrino as a sip but may prefer to get generic soda to dilute my blended whisky. And if it’s basic club soda I need, then I’ll always choose to make my own using my trusty Mr Butler and keep my carbon footprint in check. Soda in a can or a bottle is a wasteful resource.

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Next comes Indian tonic water and I feel I will rile up a few with my take here —I only like the basic version and can’t be bothered with all these flavoured gimmicks. In simpler times, when most bars had one stock gin which was mostly London Dry style, I can imagine how having a bevy of tonic flavours would have helped spruce up a dull drink. But today, there are innumerable gin brands and the permutations and combinations of botanicals that they deploy are more than the possible starting moves on a chess board. With so much variety (and variability) I find it terribly unsettling to have a tonic which is also trying to bring its own to the table. That’s just overkill.

Classic tonic water brings us a balance of sweet and bitter with little else, thereby allowing us to enjoy the expensive gin at hand. Using a heavily flavoured tonic not only distracts from the gin but might even clash with it and ruin it.

Next comes flavoured aerated beverages, from cola to lemonade and orange-flavoured chemical cold soups. They were possibly our first friends when most of us walked into a bar for the first time. Rum, whisky, vodka… they made all alcohol easier to swallow back then; so, we feel we owe them an allegiance. But come mid-life and we think we can balance a lifestyle which champions “healthy drinking”, the kind where we drink alcohol but skip the calorific mixers. Well, honestly, if a commercial cola is what is making your drink sip-worthy, you should either upgrade your choice of liquor brands or else quit cold turkey and maybe try kombucha.

For any mixer that you try, remember they need to let the flavours and textures of the original spirit shine through. So, balance is key, not just in the way we mix the two drinks, but even in the way the mixer was originally made. Fever Tree remains the most reliable tonic water money can buy, Schweppes, no matter how much people diss it, is still pretty good, and in case you are down with a bout of patriotism, pick any Indian brand you like. For juices, as also for soda, make it fresh at home and stay sustainable.

One category of mixers which is becoming so popular that it can be considered a drink unto itself is seltzers or, if you like the American nomenclature, hard seltzers. This is basically soda with a flavour and to me it is the most unimaginative way to consume alcohol. But hey, my high comes from the story behind a drink whereas for many it comes from the ethyl alcohol component. Each to their own.

And while speaking of stories, let me sign off this week with a short one – recently Bombay Sapphire had me over for a sundowner where we were also able to nose a perfume by homegrown perfumers Naso, who had tried to recreate the essence (and scents) of Bombay Sapphire, olfactorily speaking. I love it when something tickles the senses and makes them coalesce in such manners. It was a fun jugalbandi and I much enjoyed the fresh approach to making us revisit Bombay Sapphire. I had mine with tonic water (and no points for guessing if it was a flavoured one or not).

The writer is a sommelier

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First published on: 27-11-2022 at 04:30 IST