Tonic water

What is Tonic water? – The history and the facts

It is summer, the perfect time to enjoy a GT. Thanks to the British army, Gin & Tonic are two inseparable ingredients. Tonic water is not a complex product, it is essentially quinine, carbonated water, and sugar. Just like with gin, adding botanicals makes for a lot of interesting tastes.


The history of tonic water

Tonic water was first made by British soldiers in East India in the early 19th century as a way to consume quinine which was used against malaria. Quinine has an extremely bitter flavor. The Brits mixed it with soda and water in order to reduce the bitterness. The mix was still too bitter to be enjoyed. Being British, they solved this by adding gin. Without knowing it, the British army had created what may be the world’s most famous, and easy to make, cocktail.

The first commercial production was done in 1858 by Erasmus Bond. 20 years later, Jacob Schweppe started to produce what we today know as Schweppes Indian Tonic.


Thomas Henry tonic bottle - technical drawing
Thomas Henry tonic bottle – technical drawing (Picture:

Lately, as gin has become more and more popular, we have seen a flurry of new tonics arrive on the scene. A few examples are listed below:


If you want to make your own tonic you can try this recipe from

Another alternative is to use your SodaStream machine. SodaStream offers a regular and a diet tonic.



Quinine is a medication used to prevent and treat malaria. Today this treatment is no longer recommended due to the many side effects. Quinine was first extracted from Peruvian cinchona bark around 1630. It was then used to treat fever. This is the source of the brand name Fever-Tree. Today tonic water has a quinine content of less than 83 mg per liter. The daily medical dose is between 500 and 1000 mg per liter.

Quinine prove to be an essential ingredient in the pacific during world war II. The last American plane to fly out of the Philippines before it was taken over by the Japanese carried some 4 million quinine seeds.

Fever-Tree Tonic water
Fever-Tree Tonic water. (Picture:

Fun facts

1. The quinine makes Tonic water fluorescent in ultraviolet light. In fact, the UV-sensitivity of quinine is such that it will appear visibly fluorescent in direct sunlight.
2. Sir Winston Churchill is credited with the below statement.

[bctt tweet=”Gin and tonic have saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.”]


Use of tonic water

Tonic water is generally used as a mixer with either gin or vodka. Gin & Tonic, nicknamed The Imperial Cocktail, is the best-known drink were tonic is used. In Spain, this drink is so popular it can be called a national drink. The soft drink Bitter Lemon is essentially tonic water and lemon.

Some people swear to tonic to treat muscle cramps and restless legs. However, due to the low quinine content, you would have to drink a lot of tonic to get the medical benefits.

According to the website Savvy House Keeping, tonic can also be used to remove stains and to water plants.


My secret behind a good Gin & Tonic

Making a good G&T is simple: Use lots of ice. Find a good gin. Be skimpy with the tonic.
Garnish with peel from lemon, lime or orange – depending on the gin and your own taste.

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