I am sure that my high school science teachers would be disgusted with me, but I went in with a fairly weak hypothesis, “I don’t have a clue which one will prove superior, but I get to mix three cocktails and drink them all!” About half way through my testing, I decided to add a little bit of merit to this by judging each tonic on three tiered variables. First and foremost was taste. Second, based on the claims of one bottle, I compared carbonation. At the bottom, and to be used purely as a tiebreaker, I decided to look at the ingredients used. I intentionally did not take cost into account, as obviously you cannot put a price on an amazing cocktail.
I will begin with taste; for the sake of journalistic integrity I will admit to enjoying all three immensely and at the end of three cocktails, could not crown one the obvious winner. Q Tonic had a more distinctive flavor, it was lighter and less sweet than the other two, but the result left me felling like my drink was watered down. The Fever Tree and the Schweppes versions were nearly indistinguishable in taste. I doubt that even the most discerning palate would be able to tell the difference between the two on the first sip and surely not after two or three rounds. For round one, I am declaring a three-way tie between the competitors, but the judge deserves an honorable mention for triple fisting on a Friday afternoon!
Carbonation, the only reason I included this is I felt I needed another paragraph and Q Tonic makes a point of saying they use “champagne carbonation” on their label. I will save you all the suspense and admit that after thirty seconds in the glass the carbonation in all three was nearly gone and none of them seemed any different.
This brings me to our last criteria the quality of ingredients. I have often been accused of using premium booze in drinks where the average drunk will not be able to tell the difference, and while I agree with this to a point, I also feel that to make a well made cocktail one cannot scrimp on the quality of the booze. I feel the same about the other ingredients in a drink. So in looking at these three tonics, the premium brands seem much more concerned with their ingredients. Q uses organic agave as its sweetener and Fever Tree uses cane sugar, while Schweppes uses “high fructose corn syrup and/or sugar.” That vaguery of “and/or” makes me a little wary. The balance of the ingredients is also indicative of the smaller companies choosing to use more organic and natural ingredients. So for this round, I have to give a nod to Q and Fever Tree.
In conclusion, I will say that neither of the challengers proved to be so superior to Schweppes that I feel a need to replace it, but both were also tasty enough to be used without reservation. I do like the fact that Schweppes is readily available, where as I had to search in nicer specialty stores for the other two. So it comes down to your tolerance for mass-produced products containing high fructose corn syrup versus products produced in smaller quantities using superior ingredients. In a perfect world, I would probably throw my support behind Fever Tree due to it tasting nearly identical to Schweppes but made using better ingredients from a smaller company. The fact that it is more difficult to get though will probably equate to me still using a healthy amount of Schweppes. As for Q, I do like the distinctive flavor and am going to do some follow up experiments with different spirits and see if I can find it a permanent place in my mixer repertoire.