With our Gin and jazz night coming up at the end of next week, I thought you might like to know a little more about the history of what for a long time was the nations favourite tipple.
A Sussex Country Pub Favourite
You might be surprised to learn that starting from humble beginnings, the old G&T has a long and really quite complicated history, filled with a level of intrigue, that belies its simple ingredients.
It’s thought that Gin was invented in the 16th century in Leiden, Holland by one Dr. Sylvius de Bouve. It was originally prescribed as medical treatment said to aid circulation. It made its way to the UK, where, due largely to being cheap, it became the beverage of choice. By 1750, over 11 million gallons were being downed by Londoners every year. Eventually, the level of drinking became such a problem that a series of laws had to be introduced to curb the general populations’ reliance on the spirit, and by the mid-19th century gin came to be considered a gentleman’s drink.
In 1857 the British Crown formally took over the government of India, and as Empire spread more Brits began to make their way to the subcontinent and other warm postings. They struggled with the ravages of malaria and boredom in tropical climates when some smart (and sweaty) colonial figured out the cure for both of these evils – The Gin and Tonic.
Purely Medicinal My Dear
At that time tonic water was infused heavily with quinine, which was an extract from the South American cinchona tree. Known to locals as the “fever tree” because its bark was able to stop chills, cinchona bark was first brought to Europe in the 1640s when it was shown to both cure and prevent malaria. So tonic water became an essential part of Britain’s colonial expansion, even though its taste was bitter and harsh. Brits soon found that the addition of gin, sugar, ice, and citrus was the perfect way to temper the bitterness and make the cure palatable. And as a bonus, the inclusion of limes prevented scurvy, which was always a problem during the long sea voyages to the postings.
The Modern Pub Version
Nowadays tonic water is much more palatable, with much smaller doses of quinine and more sweetening agents, making the G&T as popular as ever. Quibble ass we may over the details (how much ice to use, lemon versus lime or cucumber, proper ratios etc.), we can all agree: the timeless gin and tonic really does seem to cure all ills.
Except hangovers, that is.