The Tonic & Mixer Masters 2023 results
Great-quality tonics and mixers are an increasingly important component of the drinks business. Our annual Tonic & Mixer Masters blind tasting highlights the best of the best.
The Schweppes monopoly of the tonic water category has faced serious competition in recent years. Up-and-coming, premium-plus brands have had a ripple effect on the mixer market as independent labels have vied for a stake in this lucrative sector. Today, consumers are spoiled for choice when it comes to tonic waters and mixers, with myriad brands, flavours and styles now available worldwide.
The Tonic & Mixer Masters 2023 judges looked at a broad selection of bottlings to determine those most deserving of consumers’ attention. The competition was split into two groups, the first of which was led by Melita Kiely, editor of The Spirits Business, and chair of The Global Spirits Masters Competitions. She was joined by Anne Jones, drinks experience and events at Waitrose, and Alan Uresti, head of mixology at Annabel’s in London.
Team two comprised Matt Chambers, spirits writer and co-founder of the Whisky For Everyone blog, who chaired the panel. Chambers was accompanied by: Rosie Lees, co-founder of Nineteen94 agency; Sarah Miller, founder of the Gin A Ding Ding blog; and Evan Prousaefs, bar manager at Sexy Fish in London.
Going for gold
Two Gold medals kicked the competition into gear, both awarded in the opening Soda Water flight. Thomas Henry Soda Water was awarded Gold for having “lovely palate weight from plentiful bubbles”. Gold-winning Wildleaf Club Soda secured Gold for its “gentle saline complexity”.
Three Golds and two Silvers followed in the next flight: Indian Tonic Water. Prousaefs noted how Gold winner Thomas Henry Tonic Water would be “excellent for heavy juniper gins”. Hammars Bryggeri picked up a Gold medal for its “citrus-forward palate and pleasant bitterness”. Franklin & Sons Premium Indian Tonic Water won Gold for its “prominent” quinine flavour “without being overly bitter – hints of citrus, too”.
Miller commented: “This was a solid flight. They have nice balance and effervescence, generally.”
The judges then turned to a flight of Light/Slimline/Low-Calorie Tonic Water, where another three Gold medallists were celebrated. Double Dutch Skinny Tonic Water won a Gold medal for having “nice carbonation, light citrus notes and a light bitter finish”.
Franklin & Sons Premium Light Tonic Water also won a Gold medal. The judges noted their enjoyment of this tonic water’s “classic aroma” and “good carbonation, balanced citrus notes – not overly sweet”.
A Gold medal was also handed to Wildleaf Lumière – Juniper Tonic, which impressed with its “nice floral and botanical notes”.
“For me, the more successful entries showed more authenticity of flavour,” noted Jones.
A flight of Tonic Water – Other allowed entrants to showcase their more creative styles. Two Gold medallists stood out among the masses: Wildleaf Atlas – North African Tonic, and Betty Buzz Tonic Water. Wildleaf Atlas – North African Tonic was described as a “unique take on tonic, with a minerality on the palate”. Jones said: “Fruity, gentle and with a soft mousse.”
Betty Buzz Tonic Water had a nice “citrusy, tang” to its profile, and was “slightly sweeter than regular tonic with more subtle quinine – overall, nicely done”.
Six Silver medals concluded the flight, including awards for Thomas Henry Botanical Tonic and Thomas Henry Dry Tonic.
The Flavoured Tonic Water round is where the judges saw a serious jump in the quality of entries, as three Master medals were awarded. All three were scooped up by Hammars Bryggeri, the first of which went to Hammars Ocean Tonic Lemon and Citrus Thyme. The judges hailed the “lemon aroma with hints of herb” and “blast of thyme up front, then lemon zest” on the palate.
Hammars Tonic Lemongrass and Mint was deemed to be Master-worthy due to its “fresh” mint flavour on the palate. “An interesting flavour combination that has been well-executed,” said Kiely.
The third Master was awarded to Hammars Pink Tonic Grapefruit and Hibiscus. “Vibrant, fresh grapefruit on the nose”, the judges noted, while the palate delivered “fresh citrus and subtle hibiscus”.
Seven entrants proved themselves to be of the Gold standard expected in the competition. Gold winners included East Imperial Yuzu Tonic Water, with “tangy and tart yuzu” on the palate, and The Headless Horseman Orange Blossom Tonic, with its “expressive palate; fresh orange pulp and zest”. The flight closed with three Silvers.
Uresti said: “The most successful flavoured tonic waters delivered natural flavours that were well balanced. At the end of the day, it still needs to be recognisable as a tonic, incorporating the flavour to make a distinguished product.”
Jones was impressed by the progress coming from the flavoured segment. She added: “This was really promising, there were some really attractive drinks. It has been a few years since the majority of flavoured tonics have been so successful.”
After completing the tonic water portion of the competition, the judges were presented with a flight of Flavoured/Infused Carbonated Mixers. The round proved to be particularly strong, delivering four Master medals.
Franklin & Sons collected two Master awards, one for the brand’s Pineapple & Almond Soda, and a second for its Pink Grapefruit Soda.
The Franklin & Sons Pineapple & Almond Soda blew the judges away with its “marzipan nose and pineapple-upside-down-cake” notes, leading to “tinned pineapples, and sugared almonds” on the palate.
The brand’s Master-winning Pink Grapefruit Soda impressed, with “delicious grapefruit” on the palate: “Tangy and zesty with superb fresh grapefruit on the nose – excellent,” enthused Chambers.
Thomas Henry Mystic Mango also picked up a Master. “Boom – tonnes of fresh mango pulp on the nose, lovely fizz and very nice, natural mango notes on the palate. Sweetness holds well,” Chambers noted.
Betty Buzz Sparkling Grapefruit secured a Master medal for its “depth of flavour – very enjoyable”, noted Miller. Lees said she enjoyed the “nice balance of sourness and lovely carbonation”.
Six Gold medals gave the flight a boost, with medals awarded to “well made, beautifully balanced” Double Dutch Cucumber & Watermelon, and Thomas Henry Pink Grapefruit, with “distinctive grapefruit notes – a solid carbonated mixer”.
The flight finished with five Silver medals.
“This was a complex flight with a plethora of good examples,” noted Prousaefs. Lees agreed, adding: “These mixers had flavours that shone through, and those that did well showed this. The Masters showed good balance between sweet and sour notes.”
In the Non-Carbonated Mixer heat, a Master medal was awarded to Longbottom & Co for its Virgin Mary. Miller praised the mixer’s “pickled vegetal notes on the nose alongside classic tomato aroma. Some spice on the palate, a nice level of salt and pepper, good long finish and lots of complexity.”
In the Bitter Lemon round, Thomas Henry added another Gold medal to its growing tally. Thomas Henry Bitter Lemon secured the Gold award for its “nice lemon acidity – nicely balanced and enjoyable”.
A Silver medal was awarded to East Imperial Kima Kola.
The Lemonade flight found two Gold-winning entrants, and one Silver. Franklin & Sons Natural Rose Lemonade was one of the two Gold recipients, enjoyed for “perfumed rose petals” on the nose, and “nice levels of carbonation” on the palate.
Gold medallist East Imperial Yuzu Lemonade presented an “appealing perfumed nose with yuzu notes”.
The penultimate flight moved to Ginger Beer, where a Master medal was found: East Imperial Mombasa Ginger Beer. The ginger flavour was described as “very authentic”, with a “nice chilli heat kick in the background”. This authenticity followed through from the aroma to the flavour profile, securing the top award. Uresti said: “This was a perfect example of a ginger beer, very fresh.”
Three Golds and two Silvers were also enjoyed in this round, with one of the Golds given to “refreshing with gentle heat” Betty Buzz Ginger Beer.
“Fresh, spicy, with a touch of honey” were notes attributed to Gold-winning Double Dutch Ginger Beer. Thomas Henry Spicy Ginger Beer also won a Gold medal, with its “nice sweetness to ginger balance”.
The closing flight of Ginger Ale presented one Gold and two Silver medals. The Gold award was delivered to Thomas Henry Ginger Ale, with “sweet, spicy ginger on the nose” leading to a “classic ginger ale” flavour.
After a brief reset, the judges were presented with fresh pours of the Master medallists. Each one was retasted to determine the ‘best in class’ entry from the day, the tonic or mixer that would win the Taste Master 2023 title.
With its unique flavour combination and, ultimately, “really tasty” profile, the Tonic & Mixer Taste Master 2023 was awarded to Franklin & Sons Pineapple & Almond Soda.
Reflecting on the overall tasting, Jones noted: “There were some modern expressions today that were really interesting but I think there’s something to be said about making it clear to the customer what the drink is trying to achieve.
“We saw some really lovely twists on classics – but classic standards have to remain. If it’s done well, and communicated correctly, then great, brilliant. It can make things really fun.”
|Thomas Henry||Thomas Henry Soda Water||Gold|
|Wildleaf Drinks||Wildleaf Club Soda||Gold|
Indian Tonic Water
|Hammars Bryggeri||Hammars Tonic Original||Gold|
|Franklin & Sons||Franklin & Sons Premium Indian Tonic Water||Gold|
|Thomas Henry||Thomas Henry Tonic Water||Gold|
|Cinchona Tree Drinks||Cinchona Original||Silver|
|Global Tonic||Premium Tonic Water||Silver|
Light/Slimline/Low‐Calorie Tonic Water
|Double Dutch Drinks||Double Dutch Skinny Tonic Water||Gold|
|Franklin & Sons||Franklin & Sons Premium Light Tonic Water||Gold|
|Wildleaf Drinks||Wildleaf Lumière – Juniper Tonic||Gold|
|Hammars Bryggeri||Hammars Tonic Original Zero||Silver|
|Cinchona Tree Drinks||Cinchona Zero Calories||Silver|
Tonic Water – Other
|Wildleaf Drinks||Wildleaf Atlas – North African Tonic||Gold|
|Betty Buzz||Betty Buzz Tonic Water||Gold|
|Blends Intelligence||Juniper Elderflower||Silver|
|Blends Intelligence||Juniper Dry Tonic Water||Silver|
|Thomas Henry||Thomas Henry Dry Tonic||Silver|
|Thomas Henry||Thomas Henry Botanical Tonic||Silver|
|Tonicfactory||Balatonic Bar Edition Premium Spirit-Forward Tonic Water||Silver|
|Tonicfactory||Balatonic Premium Spirit‐Forward Tonic Water||Silver|
Flavoured Tonic Water
|Hammars Bryggeri||Hammars Ocean Tonic Lemon and Citrus Thyme||Master|
|Hammars Bryggeri||Hammars Tonic Lemongrass and Mint||Master|
|Hammars Bryggeri||Hammars Pink Tonic Grapefruit and Hibiscus||Master|
|Hammars Bryggeri||Hammars Tonic Elderflower Power||Gold|
|Berentsens Brygghus||The Headless Horseman Orange Blossom Tonic||Gold|
|Tonicfactory||Balatonic Signature Edition Kaffir Lime Premium Tonic Water||Gold|
|East Imperial||East Imperial Grapefruit Tonic Water||Gold|
|East Imperial||East Imperial Yuzu Tonic Water||Gold|
|Franklin & Sons||Franklin & Sons Sicilian Lemon Tonic Water||Gold|
|East Imperial||East Imperial Royal Botanic Tonic||Gold|
|Thomas Henry||Thomas Henry Cherry Blossom Tonic||Silver|
|Cinchona Tree Drinks||Cinchona Rose Flavoured||Silver|
|East Imperial||East Imperial Christmas Tonic Water||Silver|
Flavoured/Infused Carbonated Mixer
|Franklin & Sons||Franklin & Sons Pineapple & Almond Soda||Master & Taste Master|
|Franklin & Sons||Franklin & Sons Pink Grapefruit Soda||Master|
|Thomas Henry||Thomas Henry Mystic Mango||Master|
|Betty Buzz||Betty Buzz Sparkling Grapefruit||Master|
|Franklin & Sons||Franklin & Sons Guava & Lime Soda||Gold|
|Thomas Henry||Thomas Henry Pink Grapefruit||Gold|
|Double Dutch Drinks||Double Dutch Cucumber & Watermelon||Gold|
|Betty Buzz||Betty Buzz Sparkling Lemon Lime||Gold|
|Intune Drinks||Intune Ginger & Lime + CBD Drinks||Gold|
|East Imperial||East Imperial Grapefruit Soda||Gold|
|Double Dutch Drinks||Double Dutch Pink Grapefruit Soda||Silver|
|Franklin & Sons||Franklin & Sons Mandarin & Ginger Soda||Silver|
|Blends Intelligence||Juniper Toronja||Silver|
|Thomas Henry||Thomas Henry Wild Berry||Silver|
|Berentsens Brygghus||Utopiabrus Rabarbra||Silver|
|Longbottom & Co||Virgin Mary||Master|
|Thomas Henry||Thomas Henry Bitter Lemon||Gold|
|East Imperial||East Imperial Kima Kola||Silver|
|Franklin & Sons||Franklin & Sons Natural Rose Lemonade||Gold|
|East Imperial||East Imperial Yuzu Lemonade||Gold|
|Franklin & Sons||Franklin & Sons 1886 Original Lemonade||Silver|
|East Imperial||East Imperial Mombasa Ginger Beer||Master|
|Betty Buzz||Betty Buzz Ginger Beer||Gold|
|Double Dutch Drinks||Double Dutch Ginger Beer||Gold|
|Thomas Henry||Thomas Henry Spicy Ginger Beer||Gold|
|Franklin & Sons||Franklin & Sons Brewed Ginger Beer||Silver|
|Blends Intelligence||Juniper Ginger Beer||Silver|
|Thomas Henry||Thomas Henry Ginger Ale||Gold|
|East Imperial||East Imperial Dry Ginger Ale||Silver|
|Wildleaf Drinks||Wildleaf Ginger Tail||Silver|