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2 Centuries of the Gin & Tonic!

Hi, Friends of Cocktails. If you ask your parents or grandparents what cocktails they enjoyed when they were young, chances are the Gin & Tonic will be among the answers. So today we’re taking a look at this simple mix of gin & tonic - where it started, how it evolved and how I enjoy it today. I’ll make 3 versions, from the oldest, to the modern, and I’ll let you know what I think about them. We’ll also talk briefly about quinine, the origin of tonic, and how gin has evolved as well. There’s a lot to unpack, so let’s start.

Go back a few hundred years and you could call me a doctor for what we’ll make today. Gin was once believed to aid circulation and was prescribed as medical treatment, and to ward off malaria, British sailors would be prescribed a medicinal tincture of quinine, derived from the bark of the cinchona tree - known among the indigenous South American population as the “fever tree”. Its bark has a very bitter, astringent flavor, but in 1850s India, soldiers added the crucial components: carbonated water to dilute the potent brew, and gin, because it was available and.. why wouldn’t they?

Some beverages today that still contain cinchona bark or purified quinine, though not enough to cure malaria - like Amaro Nonino, Dubonnet, Lillet, Fernet-Branca and of course tonic water. We’ve made homemade tonic water with a DIY Tonic Syrup on the channel before, so if you’re ready to do the research and make it for yourself, check that out later. Just be careful because an excess of quinine can cause serious health complications, including cinchonism.

I actually wanted to do a follow-up episode to that one, since there’s a way to make a tonic syrup without cinchona bark, so let me know if that’s something you’d like to see. I’ll also leave a link to a great resource for staying safe with homemade ingredients - - a project of drinks writer Camper English. Still, if you’d like to enjoy a unique tonic flavor without all the work, Liber & Co has you covered.

Their Premium Tonic Syrup is made with natural quinine, zesty citrus and pure cane sugar, and they crafted the flavor profile to perfectly complement premium dry gins. Same as with my homemade syrup, just top up with soda water to enjoy a superior tonic water, or even go beyond the classic Gin and Tonics and use it in novel cocktails. I’ll use this syrup in a similar way it might have been used before the creation of carbonized tonic water, which was patented in England by Erasmus Bond, back in 1858. It’s Cocktail Time!

19th Century Gin and Tonic

● 60mL (2oz) Old Tom gin

● 15mL (0.5oz) tonic syrup

● Soda water to top

● Lime wedge

To a glass add the gin, syrup and cracked ice, then top up with soda water. Back in the days, when sailors were still given their daily rations of rum, and the officers their gin, they would be given a navy strength gin, which would be diluted down with water. But for use in cocktails a more popular version at the time was the Old Tom Gin. This was not as malty as its predecessor, Jenever, but still sweeter and not as botanical as a modern London Dry gin.

We already mentioned sailors fighting off malaria, so we can’t forget about preventing scurvy on the long sea voyages, with vitamin C. A lime wedge is more than they would usually have access to, but it looks the part. Now give the cocktail a quick stir and that’s it. A quick sip of history and we’ll be on to Gin & Tonic number 2. Cheers! Lime gives it a nice aroma and goes a long way to balance the sweeter style of gin, but it’s still a bit on the sweeter side. Cracked ice also isn’t the best for a carbonated drink, but this is a good drink even today, nevermind back in the middle of the 19th century.

What followed in the next 150 years was a major shift in both components of the Gin & Tonic: the London Dry gin took over the reigns as the dominant style of gin, and tonic took on a progressively less medicinal function but we got a lot of new flavors. The levels of quinine found in its medicinal predecessors was far too high for everyday drinking, and while Gin & Tonic never really went completely out of style, the emergence of the craft gin movement in the 21st century really brought us a “Gin & Tonic craze” to start the millenia.

New styles of gins paired with new styles of tonic, and everyone had their favorite. Nobody has taken this further than the Spanish. Their version looks flamboyant, with a big goblet or balloon wine glass, and plenty of garnishes, but it’s built with careful consideration of the ingredients and their botanicals.So once you have the right pairing of gin, tonic and the garnishes, you’re ready to make the Spanish G&T.

Spanish Gin and Tonic

● 60mL (2oz) spanish gin

● 120mL (0.5oz) tonic water

● Garnishes (thyme, basil, mint, strawberry, etc.)

As mentioned, we’ll start with a big balloon wine glass, which we’ll fill with ice, then gin, tonic and the botanicals. For gin I’m using GinRAW from Barcelona, with notes of juniper, citrus, cardamom, coriander, and pepper, so we won’t have any problems adding the finishing touches. For the tonic I’m using a Mediterranean tonic, to pair it with the Barcelona gin. Spaniards know that quality tonic is equally as important as quality gin and will often stock multiple brands to pair with gins distilled with complementary botanicals.

I’m going with a 2:1 ratio of tonic to gin, but you can find what you like, of course. As for the garnishes, we’re accentuating the botanicals, but you can also take the flavor into a direction you want. Are you looking for a summery G&T? Add strawberry and basil. Want more spice and a pinkish hue? Add a couple of dashes of Angostura, or just some spices that complement the gin. If it works for you it’s good to go. While I prefer a more minimalistic approach, I can see a time and a place for this as well. Salud!

Here the garnishes bring the fresh aroma of basil and spices. Gins botanicals take over on the palate, with Fever Tree tonic adding a balanced bitterness without overpowering anything. Strawberries in there are just a fun addition all around too. Now let’s go for a modern, cleaner approach.

Modern Gin and Tonic

● 60mL (2oz) KiNoBi gin

● 120mL (0.5oz) tonic water

● 2 drops saline solution

● Lemon leaf

Make sure to start with a chilled glass before you start making the drink and have a clear ice spear ready in it - check out how to make your own clear ice at home here. Gin might just be the only spirit that’s used exclusively for mixing, even with the high end products, so use a quality gin you like. So add your gin and saline solution to your glass over the ice, followed by the tonic. Also don’t try to be fancy with a high pour down a barspoon as it releases too much of the bubbles.

Finally for a beautiful and minimalistic garnish, a twisted lemon leaf - perfection! Breaking the leaf gave this just enough of a subtle citrus aroma. This leads into a combination of KiNoBi and Three Cents Tonic that somehow has a wonderful buttery mouthfeel. Simple, delicious and just as refreshing as you need it to be. Popularity of gin & tonics has always been helped by the fact that it doesn’t require any special cocktail technique - just build it the glass, add the appropriate garnishes, and you’re good to go.

But if you take that extra step, to find the best ingredients and quality ice, it really shows. And your guests will love it too.Next week is St. Patrick’s Day, so have some stout beer and Irish whiskey on hand, and I’ll see you then. Cheers!


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