Origins of the Gin & Tonic
For Medicinal Purposes
How that refreshing Gin & Tonic came to be.
There are three historic events that are not just relevant, but, when combined created the situation that gave rise to gin and tonics as a medicine. Yes, that’s correct. Every G & T you enjoy exists due to a major medical breakthrough about 200 years ago. Let’s lay that groundwork.
- As early as 1632 bark extracts from the Cinchona tree were used to treat malaria. The quinine, which is an alkaloid, within that bark was first isolated in 1820 and become a prevalent medicine in its time. Jesuit missionaries were the first to bring cinchona back to Europe.
- To be more specific, a trained apothecary who was also a Jesuit, Agostino Salumbrino, noticed its effectiveness in treating the “shivers” from malaria. He sent a batch back to Rome for additional testing. That got the dominos rolling.
- Leaping across the world, as early as the 1100’s Benedictine monks in Southern Italy lived in a monastery surrounded by juniper trees. They would infuse alcoholic tonics with juniper berries. Juniper tonic wines were used across Europe as a popular “cure-all”. By the 18th century Dutch and Flemish alchemists added botanicals for flavoring and named their “water” Geneva and touted it’s healing powers.
- As you can imagine, this elixir became very popular and spread to England. It became so popular in England riots broke out when the government passed the Gin Act of 1736, which imposed high taxes on this now popular “medicine”.
- In the early 19th century, the British Empire had extended deep into India as well as other tropical environs. Malaria and its rising death count with British soldiers became a deep problem. At that time, quinine was the only known treatment. However, the very bitter taste of the quinine became a problem. In fact, many soldiers refused the quinine because of its bitterness.
- To soften the bitterness and help make the quinine more palatable, the Brits learned if they mixed some “Geneva” with the quinine the combination would be more appealing. From there, the new concoction became iconic and quintessentially British.
It’s not known exactly how many lives it saved, but this classic quote from Churchill sums it up. “Gin and Tonic has saved more Englishman’s lives, and minds, than all of the doctors in the empire.”
Today, there are about 6,000 different gins produced around the world with England leading the charge with over 1,700 of those 6,000.
The modern-day lesson from our malaria-free, tropical island…slip on that comfy Ernest linen shirt, kick back on the porch and sip part of history with this simple, yet “medicinal” cocktail.