A History of Gin and Tonic

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Gin, glorious gin. Once the libation of maiden aunts and retired Generals. Now, the groovy must have spirit loved by the glitterati. These days, anyone who’s anyone drinks gin. Add a splash of Indian tonic water and hey presto - you’re holding a little bit of British history, right there in your hand. The humble gin and tonic (or G&T if you prefer) has gone from zero to hero in a few years. It’s a simple, go-to staple that frequently tops our list of favourite cocktails and is perfect for every occasion. A night out with friends? G&T. Summer picnic? G&T. Hard day at work? You guessed it, G&T. Just four ingredients (gin, tonic, ice and lemon) and you’re sorted.

A Short History of G&T

But where does this cocktail come from? It might seem simple, but the humble gin and tonic has a long history that dates back centuries. Gin first made its way to British shores in the 17th century. It was brought back from Holland after British soldiers discovered its electrifying effect during the thirty years war (ever heard the term ‘Dutch courage’? Well, there you go.) But the Dutch spirit Jenever was not the gin we know and love today. And there was certainly no mixer involved. Tonic water came into play almost two centuries later. When the British empire took over the governance of India in the 19th century and more and more Brits arrived in the subcontinent early settlers struggled with malaria. This was made worse by the fact they were weakened with scurvy from the long boat journey. Warmer weather and wealth was seductive of course, but the tropical climate brought disease too. And what magical medicine was prescribed for this? Quinine.

Quinine: A Tropical Treatment

As you may or may not already know, the bitter taste that is found in tonic water traditionally comes from quinine. Quinine comes from the bark of the cinchona tree or the ‘fever tree’ as it is known in its native South America. In the late 18th century, doses of quinine were considered magical cures for chills, cramps and lung problems, which led to tonic water being heavily infused with it. As malaria became more and more common, doctors began prescribing quinine to help with malaria. But there was a problem. Tonic water back in the day was not the deliciously sweet mixer it is now. Rather it was harsh and acerbic, and a medicine that no one liked to take. So the officers of the East India Company looked for ways to make their daily dose into something a bit easier to swallow. They soon found that adding gin to the tonic made it palatable, while the addition of ice and lemon made it into a drink that was both preventative and delicious. The result was not only that many Englishmen’s lives were saved, but a new cocktail was born. And we've never looked back since.

Gin and Tonic Today

Whether you call it Supersonic, Philharmonic, like a splash of Indian with your Vera Lynn, there’s no denying that since colonialism, the humble gin and tonic has evolved. It remains a British institution (along with the Queen and cups of tea) but is no longer considered a tipple exclusive for the landed gentry. G&Ts today are as hot as the sun, beloved by trendsetters and Millenials alike. Yes, the classic gin and tonic remains a staple in British history but order it in any halfway decent bar anywhere in the world and you’ll likely as not be asked a plethora of questions. Craft, London Dry, or pink gin? Herb or fruit garnish? Tonic, lemonade or ginger beer mixer? Nowadays, the once medicinal cocktail has found a new lease of life with artisans and mixologists concocting new recipes for the modern palate.Contemporary gins are all about high quality, respect for tradition and botanical tastes. Brands such as Greenall's and Thomas Dakin do this very well, while luxury brand Berkley Square goes one step further and hand distils in small batches in traditional copper stills. Taste has become much more important during the ginvolution too, with spices and floral gins taking up a huge part of the modern drinker’s spirit cabinet. We particularly like the botanical tastes that the BLOOM range offers, which goes from their light and floral classic London Dry Gin to their fruity gin liqueurs and a very comprehensive ready-to-drink range. Finally, boutique brand Ophir excels in infusing the flavours of the world in their signature spirit. Think anything from Persian black lemon to Szechuan pepper and exotic spices, adding a very new twist on the original classic. So good you’ll want to try them all. Tonic water optional.


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