Origins of the Gin Tonic?

It has been a question that made many a drinker, bartender, and writer wonder for many years; when was the Gin & Tonic invented? I recall one noted writer saying something like, “If tonic water was invented in the morning, then the Gin & Tonic was invented in the afternoon – after all, they usually drank beer in the morning.” A nod to how obvious the combination now seems.

Unless it was impeccably documented, the first occurrence of the two being combined will be impossible to ascertain. Even drinks created in the last few decades have suffered a similar fate. At best, writers can find the earliest possible references.

My starting point was 1858, when there are records of Erasmus Bond’s patent for “improved aerated tonic liquid” and, given that the oldest detailed recipe I have come across from a 1938 advertisement for Gilbey’s Gin, the first reference must pre-date that.

The Earliest Reference so far:

August 4th 1875 – The Medical Press & Circular – Page 88

Article titled:
“Indian Medical Notes – XLII  (From Our Special Correspondent) – Meerut, June 1875

Meerut is a city in the Uttar Pradesh Province in India’s North, about 200km south of the Himalayas. In this article, the correspondent talks about health and well-being, in particular warnings of avoiding “savoury sausage made with offal-fed pork, carrion, stale fish, sour beer, bad milk, or the cool refreshing cucumber.“

The correspondent goes onto the suggest that:

“Careful officers have a cup of tea about five in the morning, then, perhaps, about nine or ten, oatmeal porridge, fried mullet, strawberries, or sliced tomatoes – perhaps a light lunch of cold chicken, perhaps none; perhaps sherry and bitters at the club – the comfortable Wheler Club – perhaps a gin tonic well iced – anything to sustain Nature until eight o’clock dinner when the cautious drink claret or a little sherry”


What is noteworthy is the term “Gin Tonic” – no “and” or ampersand – and that it is iced, putting play to the idea that the British don’t like ice in their gin tonics; it is possible that a Mel Gibson character in the 1982 film, “The Year of Living Dangerously” is responsible for this.


My one concern was that “gin tonic” may refer to some other sort of medicinal mix, but a reference in the 1883 book, “Sunny Lands and Seas: A Voyage in the S.S. Ceylon” adds clarity. The author seeks consolation of “tin gonics” after an encounter at Hill’s Hotel in Lucknow, another Indian city in Utter Pradesh, on 17th January 1882.

In the foot notes, “tin gonics” are explained as: “gin tonics, vis. gin & tonic water”.

So it seems that, at the time that the Indian article was written, “gin tonic” did refer to gin and tonic water. It also suggests that tonic was an entity in its own right, i.e. not a home-brewed concoction.

What would it have tasted like?

This is a difficult question to answer, but we do have some information:
· 1875 was after the advent of continuous distillation and a time when gin was sold in bottles. It was also becoming dryer. Gin brands of the time included Tanqueray, Booth’s, Gordon’s, Plymouth, Gilbey’s, and Beefeater.

· The 1870s is when Schweppes released and began to export their “Indian Tonic Water”, so the tonic water was quite possibly sparkling and pre-bottles.

· The opening of the Suez Canal and introduction of the steam ship would have made it quicker and cheaper to obtain British export in India.

The next step
I firmly believe that there are other nuggets of information that can shed more light on the Gin Tonic’s origins and maybe even push its proven date of origin back a few more years. I look forward to further revelations.

The Harvey Wallbanger

With the start of Summer next month, I thought it was time to start looking at some Classic Summer Coolers.

I have found more to the Harvey Wallbanger than originally meets the eye: trying to find the origin of the urban legend was a little tougher than I had imagined. There are a least half a dozen different stories about how the drink came about, involving bartenders, surfers, salesmen, sports editors and even a presidential candidate. However, all of the variations have one thing in common: how the drink got its name.                                                                                                               .

The story goes along these general lines: in California, a chap whose name was Harvey(sometimes referred to as a surfer who had just lost a competition) drank a copious amount of a mix of vodka, orange juice and Galliano, an Italian liqueur. When it came to the time when he left the bar/restaurant/party, he was a little worse for wear and proceeded to bump into the furniture (and walls!) before finally making it out of the door; hence Harvey the Wall-banger.


But where then does the recipe originate?
The cocktail-savvy amongst you may have noticed that the Harvey Wallbanger is essentially a Screwdriver (vodka & orange juice) with Galliano; and you’d be right. In fact, I think it is probable that the Harvey Wallbanger was originally known as the Italian Screwdriver. (Screwdriver + Italian Liqueur) The Italian Screwdriver was created to showcase the effectiveness of Galliano in cocktails for sales executives of the McKesson Import company, Galliano’s US distributor at the time. There is a good portion of evidence that the drink itself was created for the company by Donato D. “Duke” Antone in 1952*. The new name for the cocktail and an amusing back story to go behind it is thought to have been dreamt up when a salesman discussed with a bartender how to make the drink more popular.

What followed was of the most extensive drinks marketing campaigns of the day. A cartoon character, “Harvey”, was designed, a jolly fellow who always looked a bit worse for wear.Harvey’s drink became so popular that the sales of Galliano quadrupled and his influence extended to the sending of thousands of write-in votes to make Harvey Wallbanger a candidate in the 1972 U.S. Presidential Elections.

The writing of this article also neatly coincided with my discovery of a new type of Galliano, based on the original formula, and in the spirit of thorough research I decided to compare the two.

Galliano Vanilla (Purple Cap) – 30% ABV

Flavour is predominanetly vanilla and rather sweet. If you’ve had a Harvey Wallbanger in the last ten years, chances are it was made with this.

Galliano L’Authentico (White Cap) – 42.3% ABV

The new release with flavour with great depth, the vanilla is a lot less prominent, but there is an increase in a flavour of anis. Generally you can taste more herbs and spices and it’s more complex. A more traditional liqueur and a nice addition for fans of cocktails from or inspired by the Golden era.

So to the comparison: the purple cap Galliano produces the Harvey Wallbanger that I’m familiar with: heavy with vanilla, sweeter and quite nice, if you have a sweet tooth; the Authentico is still noticeable in the cocktail, but is distinctly more subtle: there is a little vanilla, which it is neatly backed up by the flavour of anis, which, for those of you with a tooth less sweet, may be welcomed as taking the edge off of the heavy vanilla of before.
In conclusion, my research into the Harvey Wallbanger had been met with many pleasant surprises, and I’ve certainly learnt many things, the main one being: never underestimate a cocktail.


Harvey Wallbanger Recipe from a 1970s Beermat

I did find some evidence of a slightly different recipe from the 1970s (after my original recipe) from a beermat. Here the main difference is the Galliano is added after the drink has been stirred. On trying this I found the flavour was less balanced and the majority of the Galliano come through in the last quarter as the Galliano sinks.

*This was recorded in Mr. Antone’s obituary.