Comprised of relatively few ingredients, a standard gin and tonic isn’t difficult to create – the recipe is in the name after all! With the exception of ice and a slice of your favorite citrus for garnish, there’s little prep work that goes into this fine cocktail, but what results is pure magic on the palate.
A gin and tonic offers a sophisticated and flavor-forward way to experience the best of this spirit. There are an average of 6-10 botanical ingredients (sometimes more) that go into crafting a gin’s elevated and unique profile. This is, of course, only enhanced by the sweet, bitter, and bubbly embrace of tonic water. It’s clear that gin and tonic make the perfect pairing – but where and when did this tasty romance begin?
Celebrated every April 9th, National Gin & Tonic Day is dedicated to showing this tasty beverage a little appreciation during the height of spring, coincidentally the best time to enjoy this refreshing drink. So pour yourself a glass and get ready to explore the absolutely crazy love story of this match made in cocktail heaven.
From Genever to Gin
Before there was gin (at least in the form we enjoy today), there was genever. It starts with early 16th-century Dutch distillers, who popularized this “medicinal” distant cousin of gin. Mixed with juniper, sugar, and other ingredients to improve its taste, genever is a malt wine-based spirit that was at the time also an influential export. Genever, or “gen,” would quickly become a favorite in Britain.
But like every love story, things can get a little messy.
In 1688, the wild popularity of early gin grew significantly following the accession of William III, also known hilariously as William of Orange. Because of persisting ideological and political conflicts between Britain and France, King William had passed a series of laws through 1697 that restricted the importation and consumption of French brandy and loosened those around gin distillation.
The changes allowed self-made home-distillers to try their own hand at gin-making, often with disastrous results. By 1720, as many as a quarter of households in London were making their own gin.
Fueled by socio-political strife, England had entered a period of history marred by an embarrassingly long stupor of alcoholism and poor distilling practices all centered around gin. This “Gin Craze” as it would later be known, wouldn’t trickle off until around 1757; but luckily by then the quality of gin had begun to show some improvement.
The invention of the column-still in the early 19th century allowed for another iteration of gin much closer to the sophisticated spirit we enjoy today.
A Match Made in Britain?
Any historian is aware that for imperial Britain, controlling India was a critical means for exploiting resources and establishing the country as a world power. But these frequent visits to the tropics also exposed colonizers to unsavory diseases like malaria.
Luckily for them, fellow imperialists has already found a solution by exploiting the knowledge and resources from elsewhere. The indigenous peoples of Peru had long been using the bark of the cinchona tree to treat a variety of fevers. By extracting the tree’s active ingredient, quinine powder, colonists applied this medicine to their efforts in preventing and treating malaria.
By the 1840s, the British at home and abroad were using 700 tons of cinchona bark annually for their protective doses of quinine; however, the substance was so bitter, it became custom to mix it with soda and sugar, creating the earliest version of tonic water.
The first commercialized tonic water would be introduced later in 1858 by Erasmus Bond, followed by Schweppes’ brand of aptly named “Indian Quinine Tonic” in 1870. Ultimately, these options created an even more convenient and palatable way for the British to get their medicinal quinine.
So where does gin come in?
Gin and tonic likely found each other on British Navy ships as rations of gin could be substituted out for beer and rum on long voyages.
As regular doses of quinine were also being consumed, it’s likely that at some point, someone had the genius idea to pair them together. Just add in a lime to prevent scurvy and vuella! The gin and tonic have been inseparable since.
Who doesn’t love a happy ending?
Welcoming a 21st-Century Ginaissance
With strong growth across the globe, the gin category will continue to see innovation from new twists on traditional ingredients, processes, flavors, and color expressions. Of course, this is sure to give rise to a next generation of gin-tastic cocktails, including fun takes on the classic gin and tonic.
To put things in perspective, the International Wine & Spirits Record (IWSR) – a data hub for the world’s alcoholic beverage market – anticipates that the gin category will experience a volume CAGR of 4.2% globally by 2023. But that’s not all.
Even in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the gin category saw the second largest spike in liquor sales as Americans continue to stock up at home, underscoring its status as one of the fastest growing spirits segments in the US.
There are a few possible reasons for gin’s quick rise to popularity, one of which is pink gin, accounting for 14% of total gin sales. Pink gin is also responsible for bringing many new consumers to the category; in fact, GCA found that 54% of pink gin drinkers did not previously drink gin. Another possible explanation could be consumers’ growing appreciation of the more complex, refreshing flavor combinations made possible by botanical-infused beverages.
Whatever the reason for gin’s resurgence, there’s no doubt that gin is in.
From medicine to mixed drink, the gin and tonic continues to change what the world is drinking – and you can too! If you’ve got an idea for a great drink, the beverage development experts at Flavorman can help you bring it to life. Just fill out this web form or give us a call at (502) 273-5214 to get started.