Learn everything you need to know about the Gin and Tonic. How to make it, how it helped Britain rule over India and how the chemistry behind it makes it taste so good.
Who doesn’t love a Gin and Tonic? As it turns out most of us do. This classic drink is one of the most popular drinks there is. No wonder, its flavor is unique, it’s so easy to make that it’s more or less impossible to fail. All you need is gin, tonic, ice and a slice of lemon.
But did you know that this drink comes with one of the most interesting backstories there is to a drink? The drink actually helped Brittain rule over India, not sure if that was a good thing but it is still impressive.
That’s not all, there is some cool chemistry behind why a Gin and Tonic taste so good as well. So tag along as I take you through the history of the Gin and Tonic. But don’t worry there will be recipes as well. Let’s get started.
What is a Gin and Tonic
A Gin and Tonic is a cocktail. It’s one of the most basic cocktails there is since the name is also the ingredients. It’s gin and tonic. Usually served with ice and a slice of lemon or lime in a highball glass.
The ratio varies but there is always more tonic than gin. Usually about 1 part gin to 1–3 parts tonic. At many bars you get just the gin with ice in a glass and the tonic in its own bottle on the side. This way you can decide which ratio you want to drink it in by yourself.
Since Gin and Tonic is so popular lots of gin brands try to get drinkers to go for a brand specific Gin and Tonic. Like a Tanqueray and Tonic or a Hendricks and Tonic.
The gin and tonic have been trending the last few years so it’s not uncommon to find a wide variety of both gins and tonics at good bars nowadays. I’ll go over the basic recipe and some ideas for how you can play around with the flavors further down. But now let’s dig into the history of this great drink.
When was the Gin and Tonic Invented
Let’s start with the short story. The Gin and Tonic was invented in the early 1800’s by the British Army who was prescribed with quinine to prevent Malaria. As it turns out quinine is very bitter so to make it easier to drink the officers mixed it with water, sugar and gin. Sometimes they also added lime or lemon. So there it is, the Gin and Tonic.
What is Quinine
The story is that Spanish colonists discovered that the bark from the Quinquina tree in Peru could be used to treat Malaria. This likely happened in the early 1600’s. In Europe this ground bitter bark became known as Fever Tree bark or Jesuit’s powder. It is believed that the discovery and usage of the bark was one of the reasons why European countries managed to colonize the tropics.
The most active ingredient in the bark is quinine. In 1817 a couple of French scientists discovered a way to extract the quinine from the bark and from then on pure quinine powder became available to prevent the Malaria. It was this powder that was prescribed to the British officers which they created the first Tonic water with.
In the beginning most bark for quinine came from its original country of Peru. But seeds was smuggled out in 1860 and was sold to the Dutch government. They set up big plantations in Java, Indonesia where they could have full control of the market. During World War II the Japanese occupied Java which lead to a shortage in quinine. To prevent this from being a future problem trees was planted in Africa and synthetic quinine was developed.
Both the planting in Africa and the creation of synthetic quinine turned out successful and now there are quinine exported from Africa as well as synthetic quinine.
When Was Bottled Tonic Water Introduced
In 1858 Erasmus Bond made the first commercial tonic water. He mixed quinine with other flavorings, water and carbonated it. He called it “Improved Aerated Tonic Liquid”. The Tonic water was a success and in 1870 Schweppes followed with their Indian Quinine Tonic.
The new bottled Tonic waters eventually got popular back in Britain as well and today you can find any possible variety and flavor of Tonic you can imagine. Some claim some historic connections as well. For instance there is a big brand called Fever Tree after the Quinquina tree and another brand called Erasmus Bond after the original creator of commercial Tonic water. If you want to check out some cool Tonic bottles I have a whole collection here.
It’s also worthy to note that today’s Tonic is far less bitter than the original ones.
Now let’s move on to the other part of this great drink, the gin.
What is Gin?
Gin is a clear alcoholic spirit which is distilled from grain or malt and flavored with juniper. Since all spirit is more or less made the same way you could say that Gin is juniper flavored vodka. But there are some regulations to what you can call gin.
- Gin is juniper flavored spirit. You are allowed to simply flavor the gin after distillation.
- Distilled Gin is gin that have been distilled with juniper and other botanicals.
- In the EU gin must have a alcohol content of at least 37.5%
- In the US the minimum alcohol content is 40%.
- There are some Gins that come from certain geographical areas that use no restrictions like Plymouth Gin.
- There is also flavored Gins that is culturally recognized but not legally defined like Old Tom Gin and Sloe Gin
Just like Tonic you can find an enormous range of gins now. One of the reasons why is that gin is easy to make and doesn’t require any specific ingredients or geographical restrictions.
As long as it tastes of juniper and is strong enough you can call it gin. It’s worth to shop around when you are out searching for gin because besides juniper many other botanicals is used to flavor this popular spirit.
That means that there is a wide range of flavors of the gin, because gin is not just gin. If you get the chance try two or three brands against each other. The new brands also comes with some great designs. Just take a look my collection of great looking gin bottles here.
What Makes Gin and Tonic Taste So Good?
There are something special about Gin and Tonic when it comes to flavor. It’s more bitter than many other drinks but the weird thing is that is should even be more bitter and not taste the way it does.
Try for yourself. Take one sip of gin and then one sip of tonic. None of these are very pleasant on their own, at least not to a majority of us. But most of us won’t mind a Gin and Tonic. So what’s going on here?
Here’s what happens when you combine gin with tonic
The molecules in the gin attract similar molecules in the tonic. When the different molecules attract each other they create aggregates which changes the flavor of the drink. In short making the gin and tonic great.
This is not a phenomena that works just for this drink but for a range of foods. There are even some companies who specialize in finding similar molecules in a range of foods. This way you can get flavor combinations that work great but are not commonly combined.
Another fun experiment to try if you haven’t before is to add salt to tonic and see how the flavor changes. Pour a glass of tonic water and taste it. Then add a little bit of salt, give it a quick stir and taste it again.
What you will notice is that the tonic will taste less bitter. The theory is that the salt reduces the perception of bitterness making you think it tastes sweeter. Weird and fun to try. Now let’s make some gin and tonics shall we?
How To Make A Gin and Tonic
Here’s the great thing about gin and tonics. They are super easy to make. But if you want to mess around a little bit more than the standard one I added two extra recipes here. One is a pomegranate gin and tonic. The second one is a gin and tonic granita, both are delicious and well worth to try.
I haven’t specified which type of gin or tonic you should get for your drinks in my recipes but I have a few recommendations further down if you need them. Otherwise test your way to your own favorites, that’s what I did.
Classic Gin and Tonic
Here’s how I make my perfect gin and tonic.
1 part Gin
2 parts Tonic Water
1 slice of lemon
Add ice to the glass. Add the gin and then the tonic, finish off with a slice of lemon. Feel free to switch the lemon for lime if you prefer that.
Pomegranate Gin And Tonic
1 oz / 3 cl Gin
2 tbsp fresh pomegranate seeds
0.5 oz / 1.5 cl lime juice
0.5 oz / 1.5 cl simple syrup (1 part water + 1 part sugar)
2.5 oz / 7.5 cl Tonic water
1 tsp pomegranate seeds
shaker or jar
Add the lime juice, simple syrup and pomegranate seeds to a shaker or jar. Muddle the seeds to extract the flavor and color of the pomegranate. Add the gin.
Fill a highball glass with ice. Pour in the muddled liquid through a sieve, this is so you don’t get any of the crushed seeds into the drink.
Add a teaspoon of pomegranate seeds and top with Tonic water. Garnish with a lime wheel. Enjoy!
This recipe have been featured here in a separate post before. You can see it in full here.
Gin & Tonic Granita
1 part gin
2–3 parts tonic (depending on how strong you like your drinks)
Pour the tonic into a low freezable container and put it in the freezer, when the tonic is completely frozen remove it from the freezer and scrape the ice with a spoon. You will get a icy snow with tonic flavor, add this to a glass (as cold as possible, freeze your glasses if you have enough space) and then pour some gin on top, add some lemon zest and serve immediately.
This recipe have been featured here in a separate post before. You can see it in full here.
Other Gin and Tonic Varieties
Like most drinks the gin and tonic can be made in many different ways. The easiest way is to use some sort of spice, herb or vegetable to add a twist. A few ideas that I know work great are
- Cucumber — use Cucumber Tonic
- Ginger — use both tonic and ginger ale and a few strips of fresh ginger
- Berry — add fresh berries, a dash of Campari and a dash of Cointreau
- Elderflower — use elderflower tonic or mix tonic with elderflower lemonade
- Mint — add fresh mint leaves, lightly muddled
Which Brand of Gin and Tonic Should I Get?
This is sort of a jungle since there seems to be new brands of both tonics and gins popping all the time. But if we start with the gin I think it’s a good idea to go with a good premium brand to start with. Here’s a few that I like
- Monkey 47
- Bombay Sapphire
That being said I tried some new brands of far less known gins as well and most have been really good. So it’s really up to your budget.
Luckily tonic is cheaper and easier to try a few different of. I do think that Schweppes Indian Tonic, Fever Tree and Fentimans will give you a good start so why not get a bottle of each and see which one you like best. I think they are all ok and you can find them almost anywhere. You are bound to find some local ones as well so do give them a try too.
Drink Recipes at Ateriet
Making drinks is fun and I highly recommend trying some of my recipes out. Use them as a starting point to create new and fun stuff. Some of my drinks are classics with a twist, some a real classics and some are inventions of my own. You’ll find them all here.