The tonic trials: A blind tasting of Indian tonic waters throws up some surprises

By: |
New Delhi | May 06, 2018 1:00 AM

The panel of 13 tasters comprised both professionals from the wine and bar trade as also gin enthusiasts.

wine tasting, wine ,alcoholKarina Aggarwal, who organised the tasting, with the tonic water line-up and Monkey47 gin. (Frozen Pixel Studios)

As tasters, nothing binds us more (as also divides us more) than a blind tasting. Given the chance, we love to pour out liquids and serve them up to unsuspecting peers, all the while secretly hoping to throw them off their game. Well, when Karina Aggarwal, the force behind the formidable online alcohol platform,, called us for a blind tasting of Indian tonic waters, I was both curious and excited. No gins, no fancy cocktails, just tonics being tasted by a worthy panel.

Aggarwal started off with a simple statement: “Considering how tonic is the bigger part of a G+T, it is surprising how we all worry over the gin, but pay little attention to the tonics,” she said. We were handed sheets to taste the two flights—nine classic tonics and seven flavoured ones; I didn’t even know we had that many brands on our shelves!

We attributed marks to each tonic for their effervescence, balance of sweetness and bitterness, cleanliness of flavours, and the tonic quotient, which, simply put, was a measure of whether they did taste like a tonic or were more flavoured soda waters. Finally, we rounded off with marks for overall impression. The panel of 13 tasters comprised both professionals from the wine and bar trade as also gin enthusiasts. It was a good balanced mix and, soon, we got cracking.

The exercise seemed easier than it was; for one, we never really analyse tonics and the few times we do choose one, it is still being tasted with gin, so the flavours aren’t pure. Also, in a social setting, our palates are a lot more forgiving and what we might accept with our gin at a fancy soiree stood out as nearly-insipid here.

I can share the brands that we tasted: East Imperial, Fever Tree, (the ubiquitous) Schweppes and local ones, too, like Svami, O tonic and Bengal Bay, which is yet to be launched.

What I won’t do here is divulge the final tally. Suffice to say they were mildly shocking and definitely a learning (and humbling) experience. For the results, I will urge you to go to the website and read the extensive report, which should be up some time this week (yes, my column beat them to it)!

However, what I am at liberty to share are my results. In the classics, I was much taken by Fever Tree Premium as also by Bengal Bay, and both scored highest on my sheet. Svami, a very low-sugar tonic that I have enjoyed otherwise, seemed to lack the mouthfeel and persistence. Sugar, in drinks, is not just a sweetener, but also a binder of flavours, so to shun it completely isn’t a great recipe. Schweppes, by contrast, was too sweet for me.

East Imperial was a leader in my flavoured categories, with its unprecedented Yuzu and the grapefruit. Fever Tree Mediterranean was good too. Svami Cucumber was the best as a summer mixer.

All in all, a great evening. For the final ‘test’, we added some gin to the mix, Monkey47 no less. And at this point, the focus went all blurry, as we clinked glasses with tonics of our choice mixed equal parts with this black forest botanical beauty.

The writer is a sommelier

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