Best Tonic For Gin – Canada Dry vs Fever Tree vs Schweppes and More

5 Tonics Go Head to Head for The Best Tonic For Gin and Tonic
The Best Tonic For Gin and Tonic

One of the drinks we love in the summer is the classic Gin and Tonic. It’s an easy drink to prepare that doesn’t require any special barware and is a perfect complement to hot summer weather. Choices in tonic water have expanded over the years to include boutique specialty waters that cost as much as $3 per bottle. We were curious if these premium tonic waters make a difference, so we decided to do a blind tasting with our tasting panel of five Gin and Tonics each using a different tonic water.

Picking a gin to use for this face off was a difficult choice. While we love Organic Nation’s Gin and often mix with Dry Fly, neither of these gins are widely available nationally. We also considered Junipero Gin and Blue Coat Gin, but ultimately decided on the gold standard of gin – Beefeaters. This London Dry style gin can be found at almost every liquor store and bar nationwide, and while it’s a huge branded spirit, we quite enjoy it as it’s extremely well distilled and easy drinking.

The five tonic waters we put head to head against each other were: Fever Tree Tonic Water, Q Tonic, Fentiman’s, Canada Dry and Schweppes. It’s important to note that both Canada Dry and Schweppes are owned by the same company that produces Dr. Pepper and Seven Up, and both contain high fructose corn syrup. Both the Fever Tree and Fentiman’s sweeten their tonic water with sugar, and Q Tonic uses agave.

For our tests we used a fairly basic Gin and Tonic recipe:
2oz of Beefeater’s London Dry Gin
3oz Tonic Water
1 wedge of lime

Pour over ice, stir, add lime and serve.

Here’s how the tonic waters fared:

Q Tonic – Of all the tonics the Q-Tonic seemed to let the juniper notes shine the brightest. The Q Tonic was a little sour and sharp but not too bitter and made for an extremely enjoyable gin and tonic. A bottle of Q Tonic is 6.25  oz and retails around $3 per bottle. Q Tonic is only 14 calories in our per 3oz, less than half of Canada Dry or Schweppes.

Canada Dry – Perhaps the sweetest of the tonics, Canada Dry Gin and Tonic was closest to sipping a soda and gin. A bottle of Canada Dry is 10 oz and retails for around $1 a bottle. Canada Dry is 33 calories per 3oz used in our Gin and Tonic recipe.

Schweppes – Much sharper than the Canada Dry or Q Tonic, Schweppes may be too sharp and much more bitter than sweet. Not bad, but probably better suited for people who are looking for more bite in their gin and tonics. From a price and calorie perspective Schweppes is identical to Canada Dry: a bottle is 10 oz and retails for around $1 a bottle. Schweppes is 33 calories per 3oz.

Fever Tree – Of the five tonics this one had the lowest amount of carbonation which made it taste a little on the flat side. The taste was pretty sour with an undercurrent of sweet. A bottle of Fever Tree is 6.8 oz and 33 calories per 3oz and runs about $3 a bottle.

Fentiman’s – Way too sweet with overbearing citrus notes, Fentiman’s made our gin and tonic taste more like an alcoholic 7up. Fentiman’s bottle is the smallest at 4.2 oz and the most expensive of the tonic waters  at $2.75-$3 a bottle. No calorie information is available for this tonic, either on the bottle or on Fentiman’s site.

  • Dug

    I love Fever-Tree tonic, but it needs a gin with a strong character – it doesn’t blend well with a mild, subtle gin. I agree completely with you about Fentimans; its flavours are overbearing and dominate even a powerful gin. I have yet to try Q Tonic, but I am holding some high expectations.

    Interesting that Canada Dry came out on top. A similar UK comparison had Schweppes placed top, and I wonder if there is an element of the most common marketplace tonic setting the expectation about the taste of a G&T. All of the boutique tonics are very different and lead to a taste experience that is a significant departure from the standard.

    I will have to try and hunt down some Canada Dry in the UK; it is not all that common here

    • It’s possible the formulation for Schweppes is different in the UK than the US, the soda beverage companies are known to use different ingredients in different markets. The Schwepps was pretty bitter and sharp. Q-Tonic handled the balance better and would probably be a good step up if you enjoy Schweppes over the sweeter Canada Dry.

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  • I really appreciate seeing a review of Tonic water, it has a bigger effect on the taste of a gin and tonic than the gin sometimes. I really like the slight sour taste of the Fever tree as I think it among all of the tonics (save Fenteman’s, which I’ve never had before) really lets the gin take the lead.

    Though when using a gin that I think less highly of, I find a tonic like Seagram’s Canada Dry or Schweppes helps mellow if out a bit and make it more acceptable.

    So whereas I would recommend a Canada Dry to go with a lower end like New Amsterdam or Beefeater that needs the tonic to lift it up, I prefer Fever Tree to compliment a higher end gin like Hendrick’s, Miller’s or any of G’vine’s offerings.

    • In many ways a good follow up article would be a grid that lists the most popular gins and then tonics which go best with them. We picked Beefeaters as our baseline because we felt it was the iconic london dry that most people would easily be able to find. Since doing this piece we’ve also discovered a few hand made tonics that we intend to cover. So look for that in the months ahead.

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  • Ed Giralt

    Piety that the USA Boylan tonic was not tested. It is quite sweet, 33.76 cal/100ml but mixes very well with dry, dry gins.

    • Thanks for the comment. We’ll keep our eyes out for it. Always interested in revisiting these things when we have new options.

  • Mike Brinza

    I think one problem that people run into is simply using too much tonic water, which makes the G&T too watery or too sweet, if not both. I’ve noticed that the British method of making G&Ts is equal parts of the two, which would suggest that British tonic water is indeed heavier on the quinine, therefore requiring less tonic water to get the right balance. So the result is a stiff drink with enough tonic sharpness to balance the gin, without being overly diluted.

  • zeromaus

    the bottle of fentimans tonic water i purchased today has the calorie information on it (73 calories per bottle, 9.3 fl oz). fentimans was the first tonic water commercially available in my neighborhood that uses cane sugar as a sweetener rather than high-fructose corn syrup (as indicated in your blog). since high-fructose corn syrup has been proven by scientists to be toxic, i was naturally pretty excited.

    the fentimans bottle you used was obviously much different than mine because it was only half as big. i don’t understand why you used the same recipe for each cocktail/tonic water. did you consider that perhaps the fentimans might be more concentrated (and thus more sweet than the other tonics) due to the fact that it was smaller and more expensive?

    i usually mix mine with mineral water because i dislike things that are overly sweet.

  • Gringo Bandito

    Both Canada Dry & Schweppes use cheap and cost cutting “high fructose corn syrup.” Thanks for using actual real sugar “Fever Tree.”

    • I think schwepps “Indian Tonic” in europe doesn’t have HFC’s and after traveling there it’s one of my favorite tonics. Wish it was available in the US.

  • Mawy

    What about the low cal versions of Schweppes and Canada Dry? I like the sugar-free Scweppes especially with Beefeater. Certainly don’t need those carbs.

    • Spirits do much better with sugar than artificial sweetener. Better to cut down on carbs in other spaces than to try and do it with your G&T. Better off going with a sipping gin like Hendricks over ice.

  • Pshaw

    Just one more comment on this old old post — if there’s a Whole Foods in your neck of the woods, my new favorite tonic is their 365 brand, made with cane sugar. It’s actually really nice on its own, but I’m currently drinking it with plain Bombay gin. I loathe the tendency to smugly assert that more $$ spent = superior drink, so it makes me happy that it’s a bargain combination that’s also delicious.

  • LChapin

    Totally disagree with this assessment. I’ve tasted all of these tonics, and would rank FeverTree and Fentimans the highest, followed by Q and more distantly by Schweppes with Canada Dry dead last. The first three all use cane sugar and natural flavorings, for a couple of things, while the two big commercial brands use corn syrup and god knows what. If you can’t taste the differences here, well…you don’t have a sense of taste.

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  • Glider2001

    To all you dum-dums who go out of their way to choose cane sugar and avoid high-fructose corn syrup, go back and review your biochemistry. There is no significant nutritional difference between the two and the corn syrup product has no discernable ill effect on your health. You are willing to pay more for a cane sugar product because you are being dupped by the advertising of cane sugar producers.

    • It’s less about the nutritional difference and more about the taste. Corn syrup tastes much different from cane sugar and it impacts the final flavor of the Gin and Tonic.

  • Barry

    I know I’m severely late to this party and doubt my question will be seen but I’ll give it a shot.
    Having seen recipes for many ‘ultimate’ G&T’s where a Cointreau or Combier, or some type of orange flavored liqueur was used as a rinse would seltzer or some other type of carbonated flavored water work? Or even in a regular G&T, could seltzer replace tonic?

  • Bob Lucas

    You should not generalise about the taste of Schweppes tonic water, because there are at least three different types. All versions are based upon carbonated water, with varying quantities of quinine. The ingredients of the American version are high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, sodium benzoate, quinine and “natural flavors”. German and many other European versions contain sugar, citric acid, natural flavour, and quinine, with no artificial sweeteners or preservatives. That is the original recipe and in my opinion, it has the best taste. Other European versions, which contain glucose syrup instead of sugar – but no benzoate preservatives – also taste OK. European tonic waters contain more quinine than US brands. However, the declared ingredients of the UK version include sugar, citric acid, flavourings, quinine and sweetener (Sodium Saccharin). Saccharine leaves a nasty, bitter after taste, so the UK version is best avoided.