Winston Churchill once declared, “The gin and tonic drink has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire”, but how has this venerable drink achieved such lofty acclaim? Well, like many good things, the winning combination of gin and tonic was somewhat of an accident. Here’s a short history of one of our favourite long drinks…
If you’ve done The Ginstitute, or are a fan of gin history in general, you’ll know that the spirit has a checkered history with the British public. However, by the mid 19th century - gin had shirked its notoriety, and had become something of a gentleman’s drink, and in 1850 when a new bill removed duties on export gin, exports of a new dry gin style exploded.
In 1858, when the British Crown took over governance of India, there was an influx of Brits to the country. Malaria was rife and tonic made with quinine, a bitter extract from the pungent bark of the South American cinchona tree, was prescribed to the British in India in abundance due to its anti-malarial properties.
The bark would be administered in powdered form mixed in water, however this concoction was unpalatably bitter, so, with the help of carbonated water and sugar, tonic came to be.
Around the same time, London Dry Gin was the preferred tipple of officers and gentlemen, with legislation passing that required every British Navy vessel to take on board a certain quantity of the spirit - in fact, officers were even given a daily ration of gin, but more on that another time.
The ever resourceful Naval officers stationed in India began to use their gin to cut through the bitter taste of the tonic, imbibing the two together and in the process, they created one of the world’s most beloved drinks - we’ll drink to that!