Why the tonic water you use in a gin and tonic matters

  • Food
  • Tuesday, 08 Oct 2019

The Old World Tonic is meant to replicate the flavour of the original tonic waters from the turn of the century. — Photos: Wholly Spirits

13 gins, four East Imperial tonic waters, 26 bars with signature gin and tonics vying for the title of Kuala Lumpur’s Best Gin And Tonic.

This year’s East Imperial Gin Jubilee 2019 is back and bigger than ever, and gin lovers are certainly spoilt for choice.

The four-day event kicks off today an opening party at W Hotel’s Wet Deck on Oct 8. It will be followed by four days of gin and tonic workshops, guest shifts and masterclasses in various venues, before ending with the Gin Lane party at KL’s Sentul Depot on Oct 12. (For more information, visit the Facebook event page)

This year, the focus is very much on how East Imperial’s tonic waters pair with the 13 different gins.

“For this year’s Gin Jubilee, we wanted the drinks to highlight the importance of a good quality tonic water in a gin and tonic, and we’re proud to say that each and every one of the 26 drinks have accomplished that goal,” said Shawn Samuel, managing director of Wholly Spirits, the organisers of the Gin Jubilee in KL.

Indeed, the gin and tonic may seem like an easy cocktail to make, but there are certain elements of the drink that you need to be aware of.

First of all, the ratio of gin to tonic. Depending on how strong you like your drinks, you can choose between one to three parts of gin to go with three parts of tonic.

However, much depends on the gin and tonic water you are using. There is no point buying an expensive premium gin if you are only going to mix it with a mainstream tonic water bought off the shelf at the supermarket. Many of these tonic waters contain a high amount of citric acid that gives it that highly bitter, citrus-y note that most people associate with tonic water.

East Imperial’s core range of tonic waters include (from left) Yuzu Tonic, Old World Tonic, Tonic Water, and Grapefruit Tonic.

But real tonic water isn’t like that, according to East Imperial co-founder Kevin Law-Smith when I spoke to him at last year’s Gin Jubilee.

“Most of the common tonic waters in the market are not actually based on what a tonic water really is. What we had then was a soft drink – with artificial ingredients, lots of sugar and a high citric acid content – that you can’t consider as a tonic,” he said.

Law-Smith’s inspiration for his first tonic water, the East Imperial Old World Tonic, was his great-grandfather, or specifically, what was in his great-grandfather’s tumbler when he was travelling to East Africa and East Asia around 1903.

“Back then, tonic water was still being used as an antidote for malaria. That’s the real tradition of tonic waters, and I wanted to create something that resembled that,” he said, adding that he then tracked down the source of the original hand-picked ingredients that were used to make it.

The result was Old World Tonic, which Law-Smith said has half the sugar content compared to other tonics, and just a pinch of citric acid. “The Old World Tonic is a product that really lets the gin shine,” he said.

East Imperial has four tonic waters in total in their portfolio, comprising the flagship East Imperial Tonic Water, Yuzu Tonic, Grapefruit Tonic, and the aforementioned Old World Tonic. There’s also a recently launched Royal Botanic Tonic (which is not currently available in Malaysia), as well as other beverages such as the Soda Water, Grapefruit Soda, Ginger Ale and Ginger Beer


East Imperial Old World Tonic

East Imperial’s official website calls this “the champagne of tonic waters”, a “true tonic water” with only “a trace of natural citric acid” and less than half the sugar content of mainstream brands.

On its own, the tonic water is certainly a lot less bitter than most tonic waters. That distinct citric acid flavour that is so prominent in commercial brands is reduced to a mere whiff and tinge in the Old World, complemented with soft floral notes, all of which help bring out the softer and more subtle flavours in a gin better.

The Gin Jubilee bars that will be using the Old World tonic in their drinks are: 61 Monarchy (Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin), Bar Shake (Monkey 47), Bar Trigona (Rock Rose Gin), BotakLiquor (G’Vine Floraison Gin), Elements (Caorunn Gin), HYDE at 53 M (Gin Agricolo Blagheur), The Pawn Room (Scapegrace Gin).

East Imperial Tonic Water

East Imperial Tonic Water

Like it or not, most consumers and bartenders are still very much used to the flavours of modern tonic waters. Hence, East Imperial’s flagship tonic water is closer to that contemporary style than the Old World, with added citric acid, higher sugar level, and the highest quinine levels available in the market.

Recommended to go with the more classic London dry style gins, the tonic also includes top notes of Thai lemongrass and manao lime, making for a fresh, slightly citrusy sensation on the palate.

The Gin Jubilee bars that will be using the East Imperial Tonic Water in their drinks are: Beta KL (The Botanist), Flying Monkeys (Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin), Knowhere (St George Terroir Gin), Marigin (The West Winds Cutlass), Mezze (Scapegrace Gin), Pacific Standard Bar (The Botanist), The Sticky Wicket (St George Terroir Gin), Three X Co (Gin Agricolo Blagheur) and WOOBAR at W Hotel KL (Drumshanbo Gunpowder Gin).East Imperial Tonic Water

East Imperial Grapefruit Tonic

This tonic is flavoured with something we Malaysians are pretty familiar with – pomelo. This particular tonic takes the pomelo and blends it with ruby red grapefruit, for the most zesty amd citrus-forward tonic in the range. Like the yuzu, this is also great for pairing with traditional London dry gins and citrus-forward spirits.

The Gin Jubilee bars that will be using the Yuzu Tonic in their drinks are: JungleBird (Rock Rose Gin), Pinchos Tapas Bar (Napue Gin by Kyrö Distillery Company), Soma (Hendrick’s Gin) and Tickets (Napue Gin).

East Imperial Yuzu Tonic

East Imperial Tonic Water

Yuzu is an aromatic sweet citrus fruit commonly found in Japan, with distinct zesty flavour, and that bright, citrusy note really shines through in the Yuzu Tonic, which has a very fruity, floral nose and palate that goes well with London dry gins and citrus-forward spirits.

The Gin Jubilee bars that will be using the Yuzu Tonic in their drinks are: Coley (Caorunn Gin), Mrs Jones’ Parlour (G’Vine Floraison Gin), Pahit (Monkey 47 Dry Gin), PS150 (Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin), The Locker & Loft (The West Winds Cutlass) and The Vault (Hendrick’s Gin).

Michael Cheang thinks the best tonic always has a large gin in it. Contact him at the Tipsy-Turvy Facebook page (fb.com/MyTipsyTurvy) or follow him on Instagram (@MyTipsyTurvy) or Twitter (@MichaelCheang).

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