History of Gin Tonic
The Truth About Tonic
Tonic water isn't your average mixer. Not only is it a signature ingredient in one of civilization's most iconic drinks, it's played a big part in world history. Wars have been waged, people have been killed, and diseases have been cured, all thanks to tonic.
Back in the late 1630s the Countess of Chinchon was living in Peru with her husband, the Spanish Viceroy, when she fell ill with malaria. Her husband asked the local Incas for a remedy, and they instructed her to drink an herbal medicine containing the ground bark of the Peruvian Quinquina tree, which grew on the hills of the Andes.
The concoction cured her, and the Spanish decided to rename the Quinquina tree the "Cinchona" tree. Not impressed by malaria-curing? That very same bark was also used to treat fevers, indigestion, throat disease, and cancer. Once its power was realized, the Spanish tried importing the bark to Europe, but Peru prohibited it.
Officers in the British East India Company started adding the bark to their cocktails and they consumed a lot of cocktails. As a result of the demand, prices soared, and the bark became a precious commodity. Thousands of trees were cut down and few were replaced, leaving the tree nearly extinct.
Then in 1862, Charles Ledger, a man who had once lived and worked in Peru, went back to South America to attempt to change the fate of the tree. With every Cinchona seed, he saw dollar signs. Ledger smuggled several pounds of those seeds to his brother, George, in London - but not without consequence. His servant, a man he had saved from drowning in Lima, was arrested for his role in the smuggling scheme, and was ultimately beaten so severely he fell to his death.
When the seeds arrived in London, some were sold to the Dutch government, and officials in Holland set up a massive plantation in one of their colonies in Indonesia, called Java. Until World War II, Java was the sole supplier of the world's quinine. Then in 1942 Japan attacked and took control of Indonesia.
Cinchona seeds were sparse, and there were countless troops contracting malaria, so the Allies had to find another cure. They sent a team of scientists to find another source for quinine, and thankfully they were able to produce an artificial substitute. Once the war subsided however, the corporations producing tonic water adopted this cheaper, synthetic substance as well.
Tonic water had lost its most authentic ingredient, and the imitation stuff is still used in most grocery store brands of tonic water today, along with fake sugar, and other artificial ingredients. Thankfully, premium tonic brands like Tomr's, Q Tonic, Fentiman's, and Fever Tree have revived the use of pure, all-natural quinine.
Gin's Spirited Past
The word "gin" is derived from the French word genièvre and the Dutch word jenever, both meaning "juniper." Juniper berries provide the predominant flavors in gin, so this actually makes a whole lot of sense.
Some believe that 11th century Italian monks were experimenting with juniper berries for medicinal purposes and inadvertently concocted a drink similar to gin, while others subscribe to the belief that gin was originally created as a remedy for the Black Death. Alas, modern medicine shows that if that were the case, gin would have had minimal success.
More credible sources attribute the invention of the spirit to a Dutch physician by the name of Franciscus Sylvius. In the mid 17th century, many distillers were using juniper, anise, coriander, and caraway to make a remedy bearing gin-like properties. This medicine was sold in pharmacies across Holland to treat physical conditions like stomach pain, kidney pain, gallstones, and gout.
In England, gin became instantly popular when King William III (William of Orange ) came to the throne in 1689 and immediately declared it the official drink of the court. He even created a series of statutes actively encouraging the distillation of English spirits, and the laws were so loose that people could distil by simply posting a notice outside their house and waiting ten days for "approval." At one point, employers were actually using gin to pay some of their workers, and before long there was more gin in England than beer, or any other spirit.
Shockingly, all of this led to over-consumption (gee, wonder why?) and in the 1730's a law was passed to raise the taxes on gin production immensely. This led to riots on the streets, and eventually a new act was passed to make distiller's tax laws more similar to those already imposed on beer and ale houses.
It's almost amazing that there was an over-consumption problem at all, when you consider that up until the early 20th century gin was commonly flavored with turpentine. Yes, turpentine. It supposedly gave the gin a woody tone that complemented the juniper notes, and was a much cheaper alternative to other more natural flavorings.
During the Thirty Years' War, English troops fighting in Holland drank gin to calm their nerves before battle, which resulted in the term "Dutch courage."
While no one can be absolutely sure who originally created the spirit, it was without question the English who popularized it.
It's no wonder there are so many London dry-style gins being produced today. With a bold and crisp juniper taste, dry gins like Beefeater, Boodles, Gordon's, and Tanqueray play incredibly well with tonic water.
A Classic Cocktail is Born
It all started at the beginning of the 19th century, when the British troops were stationed in India. Malaria was a persistent problem and doctors were treating the disease with the bark of the Cinchona (Quinquina) tree, for the fever-reducing and pain-killing properties of the alkaloid quinine.
Quinine tastes incredibly bitter on its own, so the English officers in India started combining it with a mixture of sugar, lime juice, and soda water. For further pain-killing, they started adding gin to the mix as well.
Without realizing what they were doing, they'd transformed their medicine into a cocktail. Many people believe that the flavor of the quinine complements the juniper notes of the gin in the way dry vermouth complements gin in a martini.
Unfortunately, commercially bottled tonic waters were not available for the masses until the early 1920s and without real tonic water, the drink just isn't right. After prohibition ended, a number of different tonic companies began releasing their products to the public and advertising it as a cocktail mixer.
Since we're no longer battling malaria with the stuff, today's tonics contain much less quinine, are usually sweetened, and taste much less bitter.
Because of its historical connection with warm climates and ridiculously refreshing taste, gin and tonic is commonly served and enjoyed most during the warmer months - hence, Gin and Tonic July!
Gin & Tonics in Pop Culture
Gin & Tonics in Music
Remember the 90s rock band, Oasis? In their hit "Supersonic" they sing:
I need to be myselfOr how about the Billy Joel classic, "Piano Man," where Joel softly sings:
It's nine o'clock on a SaturdayThe Barenaked Ladies paid tribute in their song "Alcohol":
Forget the caffe latte, screw the raspberry iced teaRemember Big Bad Voodoo Daddy? Their song "You And Me And The Bottle Makes Three Tonight" proclaims:
Hey Jack...I know what you're thinking. That now'sSouthern California based ska/punk band OPM has a song called "El Capitan" which astutely mentions:
Some like ginThe punk band, Civet, actually titled a song "Gin and Tonic," and the lyrics go like this:
Gin n tonic hit the floorThe Pietasters, a D.C. ska/soul band also used the name of the drink for a song title. The catchy refrain lyrics are:
A jigger of gin and a glass of tonicAnd both Irish singer-songwriter Mundy, and rock artist Jeff Scott Soto wrote songs called "Gin and Tonic Sky." The chorus for Mundy's tune goes:
Cause you were leaving, I couldn't fathom whyWe personally think the moon would be a slice of lime, but hey - to each his own.
The Soto song goes:
I'm just watching the world go byOr how about Adam Sandler's classic, "The Hanukkah Song?" You all remember that one:
So drink your gin-and-tonic-ah, and smoke your mara-juanic-ah,The Reverend Horton Heat, a guitarist and singer who describes his music as "country-fed punkabilly," sings a song based wholly on gin and tonics. The entire set of lyrics are as follows:
I need a Gin'n'Tonic water, babyThe Ramones got a bit more specific with their song "Somebody Put Something in My Drink" when they referenced Tanqueray and Tonics by name:
Tanqueray and tonic's my favorite drinkThere's even a band in Norway called Gin and Tonic Youth. They're still on the rise, and we can only assume they'll be drinking G&T's all the way to the top.
TV, Film & Print
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
There's a scene in the film where Judi Dench, who is having a really bad day, walks over to someone's table, says "I need a glass of water," takes their glass and knocks it back in one huge gulp.
The drink's owner points out "that's a gin and tonic" and Dench's only reaction is to take a beat and then, very calmly, say "I know that now."
The following dialogue occurs in the 1978 film:
Diana: How many gin and tonics have you had?
Sidney: Three gins and one tonic.
In 2004 there was talk of a movie about the life of Monty Python star Graham Chapman, to be called "Gin and Tonic."
Auditions were held in March 2004 in California, but since then the project died silently. Its website is no longer online and the IMDB page has been deleted; the website for the Graham Chapman Archive has disappeared as well.
An April 2011 episode of the show ends with special agents Ziva and DiNozzo in a bar, discovering a human eyeball floating in a glass of gin and tonic sent by an unidentified patron.
How I Met Your Mother
During the episode Three Days of Snow, the bar becomes difficult to manage, and Barney goes into a panic asking "Ted, what's in a gin and tonic? What's in a gin and tonic!?"
In another episode titled Girls Vs. Suits
Barney: I'm going to be like, "drop the act baby doll daddy needs another gin and tonic."
In season 2's episode Valley Girls young CeCe states "I'll have a gin and tonic ... No tonic."
Parks & Recreation
In season 4's episode Win, Lose, or Draw, Ben approaches the bar to order a gin and tonic even though Ron advises him that "clear alcohols are for rich women on diets."
Top Gear (BBC)
In the 2008 hit Polar Special, hosts Jeremy Clarkson and James May drink gin and tonics while racing through an inhabitable area of the North Pole. This got the Top Gear producers into hot water, as the show was essentially endorsing drinking and driving.
Madam & Eve
Comic Strip & TV Sitcom by Stephen Francis and Rico Schacherl
Mother Anderson was originally introduced as a character in 1993. She visited Madam & Eve on a trip from England, and soon disappeared again. Her first appearance was so popular, they brought her back in 1994 and she was soon a permanent character. A twin sister, Edith, was introduced in 1995, but a year after that character's appearance "Mother Anderson" became known as "Edith Anderson," the name which has stuck since. She is well known for her addiction to gin and tonic.
Cat & Girl Comic Strip
G&T Fragrances & Manscaping
If you enjoy the scent of a gin & tonic, check this out:
Demeter's Gin and Tonic fragrance for men and women
Maurer & Wirtz Gin Tonic perfume for women
You can even buy Gin and Tonic Moustache Wax from Man's Face Stuff, a manufacturer in Portland, Oregon
Gin & Tonic Bathing Gel
Gin & Tonic Soap