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Tanqueray and Tonic. Really?

Gin drinkers, for the most part, are a particular crew. We'll find a gin, perhaps the first one we try, and stake a position, like Coke and Pepsi drinkers. I was no different when I made Bombay Sapphire my house gin. There's nothing distinctive about Sapphire, but as the label declares--a cleaner, crisper, more balanced taste--the gin lends itself to a gamut of drinks, which is why you'll find it in many bars.

Often I see "Tanqueray and Tonic" in magazines and recently on a huge billboard near the Galleria. Among the drink's many enthusiasts is my sister. I suspect they are suckers for advertising.

A blind taste test might seem in order here, but that won't satisfy my question: Is Tanqueray good enough to sway me from my usual gin and tonic habits? Instead, I set up a simple head-to-head competition, using not one, but two different tonics. And for the fun of it, I tossed in Plymouth, which I recently discovered makes a delightful Pink Gin.

First, I sampled the gins straight up. Bombay Sapphire tastes of juniper, and the other botanicals make it dry and astringent. Tanqueray is stronger with the juniper, but more full-bodied and smooth. I didn't know juniper could taste that good. Plymouth is citrusy with a cardamom heat, easy on the juniper, and smooth. Plymouth is what vodka wishes it was.

Then I mixed the gin and tonics: two ounces gin, two ounces tonic, cubes of ice, with a fat wedge of lime. For each gin I used Q-Tonic, a favorite of mine, and with three separate drinks I used Fever-Tree, which was new to me.

Plymouth and Q had a washed-out taste, like a failed soda pop. Plymouth and Fever-Tree mixed more distinctly, but was too citrusy.

With Bombay Sapphire and Q, the astringency came through, as did the quinine and a general gin flavor. This is a gin and tonic that I surmised would be hard to beat. I followed with Sapphire and Fever-Tree. The taste was less astringent, with a bitter taste, and for lack of a better term, it "jangled" my tongue.

Tanqueray and Q brought out the juniper, but the other gin botanicals and tonic ingredients interfered with each other. Sapphire had Tanq on the ropes, until I mixed the Tanqueray with Fever-Tree. It was a knockout. The juniper complemented the quinine, orange oil, and whatever else Fever-Tree puts in there. Sorry, but the ads are old now, it's "Tanqueray and Fever" for the win.


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