Drinks guru and gin distiller, Nick Strangeway, has helped Britvic’s new incubator company WiseHead Productions develop its new range of premium tonics and mixers that he believes helps put the spotlight on the botanicals in a gin. The Buyer was on hand to see him and the new premium mixers brand, the London Essence Company, bring the tonics to life.
What came first the tonic or the gin? And how should a premium tonic water behave when mixed with one of the many new artisanal gins that are gracing our shelves? The Buyer went to find out…
It’s odd to think how some famous partnerships might have turned out, but for the order of things.
Would Wise and Morecambe have been funny, or a Royce Rolls an object of desire? Would you rush home on a Friday night to eat chips ‘n’ fish? And in this game of egg and chicken, what came first, the tonic or the gin?
Given the history of this now ubiquitous mix, a tonic and gin is the most logical order, since it was the gin that was first added to the malaria medicine, quinine (extracted from the bark of the cinchona tree, aka the fever tree), and tonic water, to mask the bitter taste of the quinine.
And so it was that gin became the hero of that story and has been, quite literally, since the dawn of the Raj.
2015 was a multi-record breaking year for gin, with 49 new distilleries opening countrywide and the nation spending more than ever before on the growing number of new craft spirits gracing bar shelves.
But, as the artisan gin bubble nears bursting point, it is gin’s humble partner, tonic, that is fast undergoing a boutique makeover of its own.
Heralded by the market leader Fever-Tree , which is predicting £94 million sales of its premium mixers to the end of 2016 (an annual growth of 95%), many more brands are undergoing the ‘premiumisation effect’, in a bid to claim a share of the sparkle.
Currently Fever-Tree is the best selling, top-trending brand of tonic water which is stocked by 73% of the world’s best cocktail bars* and is the best selling tonic water in 60% of them. It has an estimated 50% share of the UK’s current luxury mixers market, estimated to be worth a total of £66 million.
With margins 70% higher than its Schweppes equivalent, it’s not surprising that there are more and more boutique labels entering the mix.
Britvic lays out its hand through The London Essence Company
And today is Britvic’s turn. The soft drinks giant is launching The London Essence Company, with a collection of four different distilled mixers, developed and marketed through its dedicated incubator team, WiseHead Productions.
Headed by Ounal Bailey and Jonathan Gatward, the range has been developed in close partnership with premium gin maker (Hepple Gin), master blender, bartender and renowned drinks consultant, Nick Strangeway.
Bailey explains: “We felt there was an absolute opportunity to create a mixer that would genuinely flatter botanical spirits, without masking their complex flavour profiles.”
Strangeway’s credentials made him WiseHead’s go-to guru in the development of the product.
And so it was that The Buyer’s special gin envoy was sent to the official launch held at London’s Connaught Hotel last night, Monday 28th November.
And, from the inner sanctum of the hotel’s exclusive and intimate Champagne Room bar, she sipped on a classic G&T, mixed from London dry gin and the London Essence Company’s flagship London Tonic, garnished with lemon verbena.
As she contemplated the tasting notes of ‘aroma of juniper and forest pine, mild citrus notes of orange marmalade on toast’, Strangeway put an immediate end to the debate. “I want to make my gin look good, but quite a lot of tonic waters don’t allow the gin to be the star. This does.”
And there you have it. We can no doubt look forward to choosing from ever more mixers with greater aspirations but they must never forget their place. Gin first, tonic second.
Either way, The Buyer is inclined to agree with Strangeway that: “This is the best time in history to drink G&T.”
The London Essence Company collection includes: Classic London Tonic; Grapefruit and Rosemary Tonic; Bitter Orange and Elderflower Tonic; and Delicate Ginger Ale.
Drawing inspiration from its history (the original London Essence Company was founded in 1896 as a distillery), the new label uses modern techniques to design a range of mixers that match up to the myriad different styles of premium spirits now on the market. At under 20kcal per 100ml and under 4g sugar per 100ml, the London Essence Company mixers contain half the calories of the average premium mixer which is expected to add further cache to the range.
The range will be launched primarily through premium on-trade locations, luxury bars and hotels, with a small retail distribution in Harvey Nichols and other specialists at £1.50 per 100ml.
*Drinks International Brand Report January 2016