Yesterday I spotted some Fentimans Tonic Water in the delicatessen near where I work, so I jumped at the chance to pick up a few bottles.
Firstly, I was a little confused by the bottling; some were in brown bottles and some were in green. After some judicious label inspection, I came to the conclusion that there was just some inconsistency in packaging.
Secondly, I nearly coughed-up my own pelvis when I found out the price; at £1 per bottle, I was about to fork out four of my hard-earned English pounds on half a litre of tonic water. Now, Chandos Delicatessen isn’t cheap; in fact I would go as far as saying it is eye-wateringly expensive and situates itself well within the ripping-off-the-middle-classes niche that so many trendy little places like it inhabit. But it is within 20 yards of where I work, it sells sandwiches (which aren’t cheap either) and I am lazy.
Anyway, back to the Fentimans Tonic Water. I got back to my desk and ate my tasty (but overpriced) steak pie and cracked open a bottle of (overpriced) tonic. I will hasten to add that you can get this stuff for 60p per bottle online and £1 doesn’t appear to be indicative of its retail price.
My first impressions were those of shock and mild horror. The stuff is incredibly lemony – too lemony – in fact it is Lemongrass that is providing the overriding taste. It sort of tastes like posh lemonade (the harsh lemony stuff, not the sweet cloying type) but the quinine gives it a chemically post-mix taste. At £1 a bottle, I was heartily disappointed.
But, its main purpose is to be mixed with gin and as I learned with the Fever-Tree Indian Tonic Water, first impressions can be deceptive and I had to reserve judgment until I had used the Fentimans for its intended purpose, to make a G&T.
It is at this point, I hit a quandary; I finished my Plymouth Gin a couple of nights ago and I strongly suspected that the other gin in the cupboard, the Blackwood’s Gin, was going to be too subtle for the rampant lemonyness of the Fentimans Tonic Water. I felt I needed something with a little more juniper hit.
I have a bottle of Oxley in the cupboard, but it is the 75th bottle they produced and I am loath to open it. Do I open the Oxley to try with the Fenimans or do I keep it? If I do open it, it wouldn’t last forever, but then, gin is created to be drunk. I could keep this bottle and buy another, but that wouldn’t solve my immediate problem and it is £45 a bottle. What to do?
I left the Oxley alone and made a G&T with the Blackwood’s and I was right.
Firstly, the bottles are only 125ml, so with a 40ml shot of gin (I said I like them large) the thing was 25% gin, but it wasn’t too unpleasant. Note the emphasis on the word “too”. At this strength, the gin was in dominance, although the overpowering lemongrass wasn’t far away and it was still fairly astringent in the mouth. Adding a second bottle of the Fentimans was a mistake; all I could tast was the tonic water and it still didn’t fill my glass.
So as predicted, with the Blackwood’s, the Fenitmans wasn’t very good at all and with that inside me, I am not driving to the co-op to buy a bottle of Plymouth – don’t drink and drive.
I have one more bottle of Fentimans Tonic Water, so I will buy another bottle of gin (maybe Plymouth, or maybe something new) to try it with, but I think it will take a very big gin indeed to make a good gin and tonic with this stuff.
Update – 17/07/2010
As I wrote up in my review of Juniper Green Organic Gin, I tried this big gin with the last bottle of Fentimans. It was a pleasing drink but it wasn’t a G&T to my mind. The Fentimans contributed too much to the drink and the boldness of the Juniper Green was still playing second fiddle to the overpowering Fentimans.