At some point when the world was busy talking about the global whiskey resurgence, gin managed to sneak in a renaissance of its own. The epicenter of the modern gin explosion is in the country that put the spirit on the map in the first place: the United Kingdom (one could argue that the credit belongs mostly to the Netherlands because gin is an evolution of the Dutch juniper-flavored spirit, jenever, but that British adaptation of that product is what we traditionally think of as “gin”). Small gin distilleries have sprouted up all over the U.K., in the U.K.; in 2015, a record-breaking 49 new distilleries opened in the country, The Guardian reported. Sales, on and off premise topped £900 million (US$1.3 billion) last year and there’s no better place to witness the gin frenzy in action than in the capital. Throughout most of the nineteenth and into the early twentieth century, gin production was booming throughout London.
But consumer tastes changed and by the 1950s, all but one distillery—Beefeater, today owned by Pernod Ricard—had left the city; some sought less cost-prohibitive real estate, others simply shuttered. Beefeater remained the only one until 2009 when Sipsmith Distillery official opened its doors. Now there are close to a dozen gin distilleries in London. There have been so many beneficiaries of the British gin boom—from the distilleries themselves to classic English pubs that have been able to reinvent themselves as major gin destinations. But it became clear to me in February when I attended Gin Festival London and embarked on a subsequent gin-centric pub crawl that the biggest winner was neither a gin brand nor a bar or off-premise retailer that sells it. I would argue that it’s tonic water and one brand in particular: Fever-Tree.
It’s funny because Fever-Tree, the trendy brand packaged in premium glass bottles, has been on my radar for some time. In the weeks prior to either the Fancy Food Show or the National Restaurant Association Show, I would, like clockwork, receive press releases showcasing the brand as part of a British imports pavilion. Fever-Tree boasts several tonic varieties, from an original, unflavored offering, to an elderflower tonic. And all mix remarkably well with gin.
Not only did Fever-Tree’s sponsorship of Gin Festival make its products and signage ubiquitous at events, but its presence in pubs with vast gin lists has made it something of a mark of quality. It’s listed by name on many bar menus; you’re not ordering a gin and tonic, you’re ordering a gin and Fever-Tree. The premium packaging also makes it more of an attractive component of a mixologist’s tool chest, as well as in one-s home bar—much better than the generic yellow-labeled PET bottles we’re all used to.
The craft cocktail movement has spurred plenty of innovation in the natural, artisanal mixer space (there certainly was no shortage of them at the most recent edition of the aforementioned Fancy Food Show). But sometimes, as in a brand like Fever-Tree, real innovation lies in tried-and-true simplicity.