A Gin and Tonic tale

By Sergio González | 10:15

A dying Spanish countess,  a huguenot smuggler, a German jeweler, some stylish British Army officers and two centuries were needed to develop modern Gin and Tonic. At the begining of 17th century, the Countess of Chinchon fell ill with malaria in the Peruvian Andes. Her husband’s desperation for the life of his young wife -no cure was known among Europeans- led him to ask for local treatment, finding a keen response from The Incas -they showed them to the Quinquina tree and the miracoulous potion made out of quinine that saved the the life of the Viceroy’s wife.

Quinquina tree would be known from then on as Chinchona tree and paludism would start to be treated for the first time in Europe, but not for everybody -as with many other native products from America, such as chocolate or tobacco, Spanish heavy protectionism made quinine bark as valuable as gold. In 1862, Charles Ledger -a British merchant established in Lima- managed to sail some seeds back to London, which ended up purchased by the Dutch government. Chinchona tree would start to be massively grown in Java and India, flooding the markets. 

Some years earlier, Johan J. Schweppe had managed to get carbon dioxide bubbles into blotted water. The British pharmacy was being shaken by mixtures and syrups of all kind by that time and Mr. Schweppe seized the opportunity mixing his creation with quinine to give birth to tonic water. His orange flavoured medicine against malaria became extremely popular in London allowing him to find the Schweppe’s beverage empire.

Hot wet climates are perfect for malaria spread since it’s a mosquito transmited desease. The British posted in the Jewel of the Crown were constantly at risk of infection so swallowing the bitter water was an everyday duty. It seems they grow tired of this unappealing drink and some ideas were put toghether to finally mix it up with lemon juice, sugar and gin, also easily accesible for soldiers. The era was Victorian so some fine officers started having gin and tonic in the evening, at cocktail hour, as the gentlemen they were.

Gin and tonic popularity started to increase inmediately, leaving Indian borders on board of Royal Navy to become a fashion of the Britsh Empire. But one last major change would still affect this cocktail: Japanese invasion of Indonesia during WWII put world growth of quinine at risk -Java produced 95% of world’s harvest- so a chemical subtitute was added to obtain tonic water, although some modern companies are going back to the natural bark, producing delicate tonic waters full of round wild flavours.

Modern gin is produced under numerous notes and shades varying from the sweetness and acidity of  almost any kind of berry to wooden cinnamon or fresh herbs and flowers -able to match any palate- although the recipe for a gin and tonic has barely changed. Actually there are hundreds of variations –and more are to come given that grand modern cuisine has touched the cocktail world but necesarily it’s gin, tonic water and lemon, or lime if you prefer.

In Brazil you will find a teaspoon of brown sugar added –borrowed from national drink caipirinha– and international spies such as Mr. Bond would ask for some lime juice to squeeze over it, but it seems -proving the cyclic nature of living- that the Spanish are the last trend in gin libation. Fresh creations often arrive to gin palaces scented with lavander, cucumber and other Mediterranean perfumes –created by Spanish haut cooks– and their custom to serve it in bigger glasses full of ice continues to make the G&T evolve and be as alive as ever.

 Photo Credit: InfluenZia

 Photo Credit: Srikanth Jandy








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