So we know this started as medicine, but what else?
If you still seek evidence for Darwinian evolution, look no further than the gin & tonic. The gin & tonic, also known as a G&T, began as a medicinal prescription and now is one of the most beloved drinks in modern mixology, with entire bars dedicated to the drink’s infinite possibilities.
As they say, history repeats itself. Currently, the Quarantini, made of Emergen-C (flavored vitamin C in powder form) and the booze of your choice, has been trending on social media. Its popularity due to claims of bolstering your immune system, in turn, fighting off the Coronavirus. (The company has come out strongly against this advice). More than three centuries before the Quarantini emerged due to Covid-19, the G&T was the original medicinal libation created to avoid a specific and equally deadly plague.
In the 1700s, Scottish doctor George Cleghorn discovered that quinine could treat malaria. By the 1800s, British soldiers stationed in India were drinking gin (or any available booze) and tonic to get their daily dose of quinine—the active ingredient in tonic—to ward off malaria. “The Gin and Tonic drink has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire,” Winston Churchill once said.
As you can imagine, with a celebrity endorsement like that, the Gin and Tonic soared in popularity in the 1900s. Many were adding a squeeze of lime at this point for added health benefits.
In the 1950s, hello the Mad Menstyle drinking: stiff and frequent. While in Churchill’s day, the gin was added as a splash to make the quinine more palatable—the midcentury G&T was mostly gin with a splash of tonic. (As a side note, tonic’s history is fascinating in its own right. If you’re keen to take a deep dive, check out the Fortnum & Mason award-winning food and drink book of 2020, Just the Tonic: A Natural History of Tonic Water).
Fast forward past those dark decades for most cocktails (the 70s through the 90s) and transport yourself to Spain, where the Gin Tonica began is rocketing to stardom in the early 2010s. Popart sized wine glasses, known as copas, are filled with artisanal gins and tonics and swirled with an elaborate salad of botanicals. When travel opens up, check out La Gintonería in San Sebastian, Spain, for one of those fantastic fishbowl G&Ts.
Enter the age of decadence for the simple tipple. Recently, that Spanish passion for gin and G&Ts has taken hold of the United States as well. Craft gins are booming in the United States, and Canada, along with barkeeps making their own tonics infused with exotic herbal concoctions. To boot, dedicated gin bars opened across the country, such as Genever in Los Angeles, Whitechapel in San Francisco, and The Gin Room in St. Louis.
But until bars open their doors again, it’s up to us to keep the G&T flame burning brightly.
Although it’s a simple cocktail, like all well-made drinks, there’s a finesse to mastering the G&T. Martin Cate, owner of legendary tiki bar Smuggler’s Cove, lends some pointers. “A few key things that I look for in a good G&T: I think it should be bracingly cold, I think the sweet and bitter balance must be perfect, and that the mouthfeel mustn’t be syrupy. It should have very bright carbonation, and the gin should speak up proudly and not be buried under tonic.”
But no pressure. With only two ingredients, you’ve got this.
Gin & Tonic
- 2 oz. Gin
- 4 oz. Tonic Water
- Lime Wedge (for garnish)
Preparation: Fill copa glass with ice. Pour gin and tonic over ice. Stir well. Garnish with a lime wedge.