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”

“PERHAPS A GIN TONIC – WELL ICED”

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.

GIN TONIC HISTORY INDIAN MEDICAL NOTES - 1875

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.

Tonic Tasting

Tonic Tasting

A Bitter Sweet Truth

The Gin & Tonic is one of, if not the most popular way to consume this juniper spirit. Much has been written by prolific authors (at least in the drinks world) of the relative merits of various Gins within this context, and in fact some Gins have been specifically designed to make a great Gin and tonic. But what about the other key ingredient? No, I’m not talking about ice, as crucial as it is, nor will I dare to breach the world of garnish and lemon vs. lime; today, I’m talking about tonic water.I found critique of tonic to be sparse and, with an increasing market of premium mixers, I thought it was time to discover whether I was fond of Fevertree, barmy over Britvic, smitten with Schwepps or fanatical about Fentimans.

This was a blind taste test, as all the best tests are. For each drink, I used two blocks of our “regulation” ice and a mix of, just over, two parts tonic to one part Gin. The gin we used was Plymouth.

6 O’Clock
This is made by Bramley & Gage, a fruit liqueur company from South Devon. This was developed to compliment their new 6 O’clock gin. I know that other companies make their own tonics to combine with their gin in canned premixes, but this is first time that I have seen such a tonic sold separately.

Anyway, back to something more important: the taste. 6 O’Clock was very pleasant on its own; lighter than most tonics and with more citrus flavours. The quinine character is still there, but in a more balanced way than some of the others.

It made a refreshing gin & tonic, with a hint of citrus and wasn’t too sweet. It was quite moreish and was easy to finish.

Britivic Regular
This makes a refreshing, sweet and juicy concoction. It is very easy to finish and leaves you wanting more, but still has the bitterness that you would expect from tonic water. On its own, this is quite nice to drink; it’s not too bitter, but still has the quinine character. This came out high in our final rankings and we were very surprised; if you would have told me beforehand, I wouldn’t have believed you. Oh, the perils of drink-snobbery!

Britvic Diet
This had a nice bitterness and wasn’t absolutely awful, but it did have a nasty tendency to cling to the mouth more than most of the other tonics and produced a drink that was rather flat. Not a patch on its yellow brother.

On its own, this was actually quite drinkable – it tasted a bit like a flat lemonade – and although nice, didn’t taste like tonic.

Fentimans Regular*
This gin & tonic was full of citrus flavour from the start, but it still had the bitter character of quinine. This is a gin & tonic that really improves with time, making a lovely drink with a little bit of ice-melt. The higher citrus flavour comes from the addition of lemongrass, which is a common component of home-made tonic and, I believe, from reading The Chap, that Fentimans is closer to the type of tonic drunk in the late colonial-era. The citrus quality almost makes a garnish unnecessary… almost.

Drinking this on its own is almost like supping lemonade, what with its strong citrus flavour, but the slight bitterness means that the quinine isn’t lost.

* Fentimans Diet is not yet (July 2010) available, but it is anticipated for the future.

Schweppes Regular
The old familiar, this produces a cool and refreshing compliment to the tonic with a delightful twang on the finish, although it was not as refreshing as some of its counterparts. We both enjoyed this tonic and it did very well in the rankings, finishing in at a close number four.

On its own, this tasted like a pleasant and good standard of tonic water but was not really refreshing.

Schweppes Diet
In a Gin & tonic, this had a flat flavour and was too bitter, which provided little in the way of a compliment to the drink; a mere shadow of its regular partner. When tasted on its own, it was very dry and very fizzy: it was somewhat reminiscent of Alka Seltzer or highly effervescent soda water.

Fevertree Regular
With Gin, this makes a cooling drink and is initially pleasant and refreshing. However, although flavourful, it has a sharp, bitter, and somewhat unpleasant, aftertaste. On its own, this was not too fizzy, nor did it cling to your mouth; it had a good strong flavour, with a bitter kick at the end.

Fevertree Diet
This was overly bitter and really masked the flavour of the Gin, so its definitely not one for a moderately delicate spirit. This did not refresh, and at the end I was left searching my gin & tonic for any flavour beyond the bitterness. On its own, this was very anonymous and very clingy.

Carters
This is okay, but not great. Nonetheless, it does represent reasonable value. This was fizzier than the others, a little clingy, and quite bitter, but after a couple of minutes it started to improve.

The extreme fizziness and the way it clings to the mouth does not make this a great option for drinking on its own.

Q Tonic
Produced in New York, USA, Q Tonic contains; Triple Distilled Water, Organic Agave, Handpicked Quinine, Lemon Juice Extract, Natural Bitters and it gets its fizz from champagne carbonation. The concept behind this tonic was that the creators went back to the drawing board to create a tonic from scratch that would “taste like tonic water should”.

So to the taste: Q Tonic certainly was different to everything else and so, in that respect, Q have achieved their goal. But in a Gin & tonic it doesn’t have much flavour beyond soda water; a little juniper does get through, but this drink is unrecognizable as a gin & tonic. The drink is unsubstantial and underwhelming, with a very short finish.

On its own, the tonic tastes predominantly like soda water, with a real lack of flavour.

As I said, it is different and maybe some people will love it, but it simply isn’t for me. With all the hype surrounding Q and its high price point, I was left bitterly disappointed.



And finally, this is only a matter of personal preference, but, by request, here is our top five ranking:

#1 – Britivic Regular

#2 – Fentimans Regular

#3 – 6 O’Clock Tonic

#4 – Schweppes Regular

#5 – Fevertree Regular