A Brief History of the Gin & Tonic

By Morgan Law

A Brief History of the Gin & Tonic

The gin and tonic is a classic cocktail that has been around for centuries. Though its exact origins are unknown, this refreshing drink has been a favorite of British soldiers, aristocrats, and commoners alike. Today, the gin and tonic is enjoyed by people all over the world and is considered to be one of the most popular cocktails. So, what's the story behind this iconic drink? Let's take a look.

The Gin and Tonic is more than a well loved cocktail; it represents the centuries long refinement of two substances used for their medicinal properties. Over the centuries, the use of both substances for medicinal purposes has decreased while their flavour and palatability have increased. The Gin & Tonic we know today is nothing like the one of the 1700s (thankfully) but has come a long way, enriched by history and the people who favour it.

The Origins of Gin


Like tonic, gin did not have a glamorous beginning. The gin craze in London led to the dubbing of Gin Lane to describe the havoc the unfiltered spirit was wreaking on the London's poor population. For around 150 years gin was seen as an evil that poisoned the lands. Laws were put in place to regulate it; the gin acts in parliament led to regulations on how the spirit was to be made.

Gin was popularly used for its medical purposes while aboard navy vessels. It was used to help alleviate seasickness and became a staple for Brits traveling abroad. In the 18th century, gin was commonly known as Mother’s Ruin as its lack of regulation was allowing anyone and everyone to consume it. 

This allowed for the more legal distribution by the wealthy, and where there was money to be made, the time and energy was put into it to make it more enjoyable and more refined. These things didn't happen over night so another 150 years were spent until gin was truly palatable.

After 150 years, gin acts were put in place to regulate how gin was made. Wealthy merchants began taking their turns in its development, improving the quality to increase their profits.

The Origins of Tonic


The history of tonic water began with the usage of quinine in India for its antimalarial properties. The bark of the cinchona tree was discovered to have quinine in the early 1600s, where it was used to treat malaria for centuries afterwards.

During this time, the East India Trading Company was strengthening its foothold in India while the threat of malaria increased. The need for quinine was imperative to their survival but was bitter and hard to consume. With the spirit on hand they’d become so accustomed to drinking, adding gin was the obvious next step, this concoction became known as a "gin and tonic".

The Gin & Tonic During Prohibition

During Prohibition in the United States (1920-1933), many bars and nightclubs served "bootleg" alcohol that was often of poor quality. To mask the taste of these subpar spirits, bartenders began to experiment with different flavorings and mixers. The gin and tonic became a popular choice among drinkers during this time because it was both refreshing and easy to make. 

The Modern Gin & Tonic Cocktail

Today, the gin and tonic is enjoyed by people all over the world. It has undergone some changes over the years, but the basic recipe remains the same: gin, tonic water, ice, and lime. Some bartenders like to get creative with their gin and tonics by adding different fruit juices or herbs. No matter how you enjoy it, there's no denying that the gin and tonic is a timeless classic. 

The next time you raise a glass of gin and tonic, take a moment to think about its fascinating history. This refreshing cocktail has been enjoyed by people all over the world for centuries and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. So sit back, relax, and enjoy a delicious gin and tonic! Cheers!

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