The history of the Gin and Tonic is a fascinating one, intertwined with medicine and the expansion of the British Empire.
Let’s start with the gin. Although it is commonly known as the quintessential English spirit, it was developed by Sylvius de Bouve, a sixteenth-century Dutch physician. He created a highly-alcoholic medicinal concoction called Jenever, featuring the essential oils of juniper berries, which the physician believed could improve circulation and cure other ailments. The juniper berry had long been treasured for its medicinal properties, including its use during the plague.
Tonic water also started out as medicine.
A key component of tonic water is quinine, an anti-malarial alkaloid from the bark of the cinchona tree. Europeans first realized the value of the plant in fighting malaria during the seventeenth century, after the Spanish had conquered parts of South America. They began to call ground cinchona bark “Countess’ powder,” “Jesuit’s powder,” or simply the “fever tree.”
Adding gin to tonic water originated in India during the nineteenth century. In 1825, British officers began to mix gin with their daily ration of quinine tonic. The growing number of Brits residing in India by the late 1850s helps explain the increased demand for quinine and the rise in popularity of the gin and tonic.
No matter what its origins, the Gin and Tonic remains one of our favorite hot weather cocktails. I submit that the fresh blackberries, limes, mint and honey in this version makes it even more “medicinal.”
Yield: 4 cocktails
20 fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup honey syrup (equal parts honey and water blended over low heat until honey is completely melted)
12 ounces good quality gin
Set out four high ball glasses.
Place 3 blackberries, 5 mint leaves, juice of ½ lime, and 1 tablespoon honey syrup in each glass and muddle together.
Fill each glass with ice, followed by 3 ounces of gin. Top off each drink with tonic water, stir and serve.
- Blackberry and Basil Gin and Tonics (annashortcakes.wordpress.com)
- The brief literary history of a cocktail: The Gin and Tonic (trevorabes.com)
- A Classic With A Twist – Gin And Tonic (theloveofalcohol.wordpress.com)