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
“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.
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.