Did you know that some tonic waters have as much sugar in them as a fizzy drink does? With more people watching the calorie count of their drinks, more tonic makers are introducing light versions of their tonic, or making this the centre of their brand. One such brand is Gallybird, who embrace a healthier way of life. Their tonic has no sugar in it, instead they spent two years experimenting in their kitchen in Sussex (hello neighbours!) to make a sugar free, zero calorie, natural tonic water. Instead of sugar, they use Stevia leaf from South America which has been used for centuries and is suitable for diabetics and vegans, as well as containing anti-inflammatory and antioxident properties. So, essentially, it’s good for you. They have designed their tonic to enhance your favourite spirit, rather than overwhelm it.
Note: The Artisan Drinks team sent me some samples to try, but I will always let you know what I really think.
Who are The Artisan Drinks Co.?
The Artisan Drinks Co. started as all good partnerships start – when a group of people met in a bar. Steve, an entrepreneur who previously created Feel Good Drinks, and Alan, a Yorkshire based artists, met Mikey, an award winning bartender, and the Artisan Drinks Co. was formed. They created their drinks in the bar as accompaniments for their favourite spirits. They use 100% natural ingredients and produce in both the UK and Australia in some damn fine bottles. So what is their range?
Note: The team at Glacier Fire tonic sent me some samples to try, but as always I’ll let you know what I really think
What is Glacier Fire tonic?
Based in Iceland, Glacier Fire produce a range of tonic waters (alongside a host of soft drinks, spirits and beers) using glacier water which has trickled its way down the mountains towards Reykjavik. This water is naturally filtered as it comes down through lava fields and so is free of pollution. They use responsibly sourced, non-gm quinine from Africa and all their tonics are sugar free. Alongside an Indian tonic, they also make a fiery tonic (with chilli), elderflower tonic, volcanic tonic (ginger and cinnamon), botanic tonic, and a berry tonic (both of which I am trying today).
Note: I contacted the Cushiedoos team and they kindly sent me some samples to try but as always, I’ll let you know what I think.
Cushiedoos is a new brand of tonic water from Edinburgh, but there’s something about it that makes it very different to everything else. This tonic water has no quinine in it. Which made me think, does it actually count as tonic water? They say it does so until I’m told otherwise, we’ll go with yes. Cushiedoos start with Scottish mountain water from the Cairngorns National Park which is then blended with Scottish heather and silver birch, plus some gentian and wormwood for bitterness (replacing the quinine) and British sugar beet to balance this with a touch of sweetness. They have an eye out for the environment, ensuring that all of their ingredients are close to home – plus as it is all natural and contains no added sugar, there is around 24% less sugar than other premium tonic waters. Cushiedoos is a Scottish word for a wood pigeon, who apparently partner up for life, like gin and tonic… Also fun fact for you: the samples arrived just as I was leaving to go on holiday to Edinburgh, and I spent the beginning of my gin tasting talking about the brand which they then bought out for us to try. Small world. Anyway, on with the tasting!
Remember the days of premixed drinks? My drink of choice as a teen was Smirnoff Ice, because I was classy. Nowadays, premixed drinks are making a comeback with all of the big brands and supermarkets getting in on the trend with tins of premixed gin and tonic (always go for the M&S pink gin FYI). Entering this market is the London-based collaboration between Sacred gin and BTW tonic. The bottle is certainly distinctive – the colour of BTW tonic comes from the use of natural quinine in their product. Sacred gin comes from the smallest commercial distillery and has quite the extensive range of flavoured gins to its name and this premix highlights the pink grapefruit to add a freshness and a bright citrus flavour.
I spent most of March unemployed. This meant I was pretty bored and feeling a bit down. So my Dad decided he would try to cheer me up and sent me a present. A box bearing the marks of Southwestern Distillery arrived. Underneath a mountain of packing chips was a bottle of Tarquin’s Gin and a card.
I had mentioned this gin to my Dad before as he lives down in Falmouth and I knew it was made nearby. Only after receiving the gin did I look it up – it is made 36 miles from his house. Good local gin. For those that don’t know, Tarquin’s Gin is made by Southwestern Distillery in Wadebridge on the north(ish) coast of Cornwall. They make their gin in batches of no more than 300 bottles at the time, each bottle corked, sealed, labelled and waxed by hand. Each bottle comes with a unique batch number and information about that batch’s individual tasting notes. The key botanicals in play here are hand-picked Devon violets and orange zest. These aren’t my favourite things in the world so I’m a bit cautious about what I’m about to drink.
Now the best part – drinking it. Peeling off a wax seal is one of the most satisfying feelings. The first smell that hits you is a strong citrus note – good start in my books. I pour out a measure with an equal amount of water. It smells like flowers, the citrus notes dropping off for the violet to come through. It smells quite sweet, which I’m not used to experiencing with a gin. I take my first sip. It’s very easy on the tongue for want of a better phrase. It doesn’t taste harsh or too strong (bottled at 42%). The zest comes through at the front of the mouth, giving way to the aromatics. It’s one of the most flavoursome gins I’ve ever had, there’s lots of tastes going on in my mouth. To quote my brilliant notes that I wrote: “Good hit to it. Definitely drinking gin. Not so powerful it’s overwhelming.” I clearly have a career in drink tasting ahead of me.
Deciding that I shouldn’t just drink straight gin, I mix a new drink with some tonic – because the real test of a gin is how it works as a G&T. To quote my rather brilliant notes again, “lovely stuff”. A hint of palma violets (can be added to the list of drinks that taste like sweets alongside Southern Comfort and Lemonade). My batch (104) has the tasting notes of candied oranges, and there is certainly a hint of it at the back of the throat. Not so much it is overpowering – which is good because (as we all know) I’m not an orange fan. But this tastes nice, the bitterness cuts through the sweet violets and balances quite nicely. It produces a very distinct flavour which, on first tasting I wasn’t super keen on. But I always believe in giving things a second chance, and once I had got used to the taste I found myself rather enjoying it.
Aside from the taste, the other thing that makes Tarquin’s Gin unique is that they have launched Taste with Tarquin.
To celebrate the unique tasting notes of each batch, they played with Apple’s FaceTime code so we can have a chat with Tarquin (sort of). I tried calling when I first tasted the gin but couldn’t get through. On my third attempt the call connected. Then the connection dropped. Twice. But once it finally worked it was good fun. It starts with Tarquin talking about Southwestern Distillery and what makes them different. Then you battle with voice recognition software to tell them your batch number. Tarquin (who, by the way, is rather beautiful) finds your bottle, pours a glass and tells you – well, pretty much what it says on the bottle. He told me my bottle tasted of orange. He wasn’t wrong. Then you have a chance to leave a video message. I think I accidentally left one going “your gin tastes like sweeeeeeeeeeetiiieeeeesssss thanks!” You’re welcome Tarquin.
Slightly disappointing FaceTime adventure aside, it’s a bloody good gin. If you’re into floral, aromatic gins then this is for you. According to their website, Tarquin’s isn’t available in Brighton yet, but is widely available around Devon and Cornwall and some places in London – you can find stockists here.
A few weeks ago I made a wonderful life choice that my bank account doesn’t quite agree with. I signed up to Craft Gin Club, getting a premium, craft gin delivered to my door monthly (well, I get it every 3 months because I can’t quite afford the £40 fee every month). I was very excited when they tweeted a photo of a van packed full of boxes, and even more so when I received my edition of Ginned! which said more about the gin I was about to get to taste.
As some background, Blackwater Distillery is based in Ireland, on the banks of the Blackwater River (unsurprisingly). Their gin (Blackwater No. 5) is new, the first commercial batch came off the still on February 9th, and is the first craft gin to come out of Ireland.
Let’s start with the bottle. What a beautiful bottle it is. The picture you see through the bottle depicts the 90 degree turn that the river makes. The design is simple yet so effective. I currently up cycle my nicer (empty) alcohol bottles by filling them with fairy lights, but that’s not going to happen to this one. Once this is finished and I’ve finished sobbing about my loss, this will sit as it is, the stunning label standing as decoration on its own.
Now I’ve finished nerding over the label, let’s move on to the gin. And oh what a gin it is.
So I returned to my pretentious tasting method as first demonstrated in my review of Brighton Gin. I added equal amounts of gin and water to a cup to release the aromas. The first thing I can smell is the juniper and citrus notes. It smells very clean – and most importantly for my untrained nose, no nasty sharp alcohol smells (something I haven’t missed since my student days of Asda value vodka. Even the thought of that brings back bad memories). The first sip is very smooth. Just the simple taste of juniper and citrus. They claim that they have liquorice botanicals in it, which I can’t taste but I’m fine with that as I’m not a liquorice fan, but there is a satisfying tang at the back of the mouth.
After a few sips I felt I should make a G&T to really test it/not just drink straight gin all evening. I had run out of Fevertree tonic so plumped for the solid Schweppes and a lime wedge for good measure. It made one of the best gin and tonics I’ve ever had. The coriander tastes come through more clearly when mixed with the tonic. It’s clean, smooth and simple. Exactly what a G&T needs to be. I love the citrus taste (I usually make gin and bitter lemon at home because I’m an old lady). Very drinkable. Worryingly drinkable as I can see an evening disappearing into that bottle with no problem at all.
The gin is currently listed on the Blackwater Distillery website but it isn’t available to order so I can’t encourage you to buy it quite yet, but when this comes out, get one. I think this gin will suit all palettes – except possibly those people who enjoy the strong alcohol flavour of a drink. But for those that want a lovely, uncomplicated drink to sip on in an evening, this is it.
If this is the standard that I will be getting with every delivery, then I would love for someone to fund the monthly subscription for me (and buy me a drinks trolley as our kitchen is overflowing…)