history of Gin and Tonic

The history of Gin and Tonic

The history of Gin and Tonic is pretty unique. It involves two wars, sickness and, in more recent times, the country of Spain.

The history of Gin and Tonic is a long one. Let’s start with the gin. The modern gin has its origin in the Dutch genever. During the 30-years war, the British soldiers learned to drink genever from their allied Dutchmen, giving the genever the nickname Dutch courage.

After the war, the Brits brought genever back to England, where it evolved into what we now know as gin. This resulted in a hundred year long stupor. Outside England, this time is known as the 1700s century.

history of gin and tonic
The fever tree is not only the source of quinine but also the logo of the tonic that carries its name. (Picture: Fever Tree)

Around the same time, it was discovered that quinine could be used to prevent and treat malaria. Up until then, the extract from the bark of the African Vachellia xanthophloea tree had been used to treat fever.

In the early 1800s, most of Britain was sobering up, and British soldiers were sent to concur India. Due to the looming danger of malaria, each soldier had to consume a daily dose of quinine. This has a very bitter taste. To try to make this tolerable, they started to add sugar and soda. With that, the Indian Tonic was born.


The Fever Tree tonic range. (Picture: Fever Tree)



However, the tonic was still too bitter, bear in mind that today’s modern tonic only contains a fraction of the amount of quinine that the original Indian Tonic had. To ease the bitterness, they started to look for other things to add to the tonic. Being British, they turned to what was widely available; gin.


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Without knowing it, the British army had created what surely must be the world’s most famous, and easy to make, cocktail. Gin & Tonic.

I think the most curious thing about the gin and tonic it the fact that while all other drinks originate from the need to dilute the spirit to a more drinkable form, The G&T was made to dilute the mixer – not the alcoholic component.


The history of Gin and Tonic – the Spanish revolution

The next step in the evolution of the Gin and Tonic came in Spain. Gin & Tonic can be considered to be the Spanish national drink.

What makes the Spanish version of the Gin and Tonic so different is three things. The glass it is served in, the size of the drink, and last, but not least, the garnish.

history of gin and tonic
Copa glasses chilled using CO2. (Picture: Bjørn Christian Finbråten)

In Spain, a Gin & Tonic is served in a copa de balon glass. This is done to make the drink stay cold for a longer time and to give justice to all the delicious aromas from the gin and garnish.

Typically, a gin and tonic made in Spain will be garnished using the peel from lemon, orange, or lime. In addition, spices like pepper, cardamom, and coriander are also added.

Please remember that such a drink easily can contain two to three times the amount of alcohol normally served in other cocktails. My personal experience is that two of these may last the whole evening.


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The modern Gin & Tonic

During the last few years, both gin and tonic have had a revival. Now microdistilleries and craft gin businesses are popping up everywhere. A host of new tonics is available, making the possible combinations of a gin and tonic grow exponentially.

The traditional G&T served in a highball glass with a lemon wheel, are gradually replaced with more Spanish-inspired alternatives.


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