Who among us doesn’t love a refreshing glass of on a warm summer evening?
Well maybe not everyone but suffice to say the gin and tonic has become one of the most popular cocktails of our modern time. Its humble beginnings would not have perhaps suggested this as they were certainly more a matter of happenstance then a deliberate desire to create a memorable beverage. The consumption of gin dates back to the 13th century, if we are to consider the earliest forms of this spirit as found in Holland, where it was known as genever. This original recipe was chiefly made from a malt spirit or wine and was added to certain herbs and spices to constitute a medicinal remedy for all manner of ailments. By the 17th century the introduction of a form of gin into England had occurred and because it was more affordable then other popular drinks of the day, such as brandy, it became the peoples’ drink of choice. At this time in London, gin shops were abundant, but the quality of the alcohol was always suspect and many blamed it for the rising death rate.
How Things Changed
In time, legislation protected the quality of the gin and the safe distribution of the finished product. Different distillation techniques also altered some of the flavors and sweeter varieties could be produced as well as ones with varying levels of alcohol. Gradually, different varieties of gin have emerged and many now reflect a growing trend to include fruit flavors infused within the original beverage.
How Gin Met Tonic!
Before all the many varieties and flavors of gin existed, the spirit itself was simply taken neat or at best added to water. Soldiers were routinely given a ration to help them calm their nerves before battle and as we’ve learned it was considered medicinal too. When the British ruled in India it was given to the soldiers there, but they were also faced with a new problem, the presence of malaria was taking its toll on the soldiers and those now serving and living there. Fortunately, in the 1700s a Scottish doctor by the name of George Cleghorn discovered that quinine could be used to treat the disease and it was added to tonic water which at the time was bitter and quite unpleasant. Many soldiers refused to drink this concoction, much to their regret, surely, as many did not survive. In an effort to make it more palatable, the quinine and tonic mix was added to gin which was then sweetened with sugar water and lime. The soldiers already had their gin ration, so it wasn’t a step too far for them to accept this new formula and thus the gin and tonic was born!
What Has Changed?
Today tonic water is no longer used to treat malaria, so the amount of quinine found in it is substantially lesser. In addition, to suit modern tastes it is far sweeter than it used to be, although some craft tonics can be found making a comeback and they have introduced a refreshing, new spin on a classic drink. With the advent of infused gins and the modern twist on the classic tonic, this well-loved cocktail continues to be a crowd pleaser.