Few of us are unfamiliar with the good ol’ G&T. What can be simpler – gin, tonic water, some ice and a garnish, and you’re done. What some of you didn’t know however, is that this concoction saved millions of lives.
Britain has a long-standing love/hate relationship with gin.
Brought over from the Netherlands in the 16th century, by 1750 it was the most popular and abundant spirit of the nation, eventually leading to its prohibition due to causing the quick moral decline of the general populace (check out William Hogarth’s famous depiction of this era in ‘Beer Street and Gin Lane’).
By the 19th century, it has made a semi-comeback in the form of an esteemed gentleman’s drink.
Late 19th century was also the time the British Crown established its presence as the governing body of India, and thousands of civilians, as well as soldiers and families began emigrating there. However, what was ultimately waiting for these first waves of immigrants, following a long and scurvy-ridden sea voyage, was tropical malaria, which claimed tens of thousands.
The serendipitous cure was stumbled upon in tonic water, which back then was heavily infused with quinine – the extract of the South American chinchona, or ‘fever tree’, which stopped chills and was proven to both cure and prevent malaria.
Back in the 19th century, however, tonic water was incredibly bitter and sharp. The colonists quickly discovered, though, that the addition of gin, ice and citrus juice balanced the acidity of the tonic, making the drink palatable, even enjoyable. Additionally, the use of lemons and limes helped prevent scurvy.
And so the iconic G&T was born, and has remained a cure and guard against tropical malaria for numerous future generations of British colonists.
Today, the gin and tonic is a dignified classic and, no doubt due to its colourful past, is a staple in bars all around the world. Whereas the streamline original is still very popular, some quirky variations have inevitably been born and rose to fame.
Some G&T flavour pairings that stand out include strawberry and black pepper, passion-fruit and mint, rose and rhubarb, and chili pepper and coriander. A bar in downtown Manhattan, for instance, is famous for their asparagus G&Ts, which shows the versatility of this cocktail.
To make the original gin and tonic yourself, mix one part gin with 2-3 parts tonic water, depending on how strong you like it, squeeze a lime wedge, and serve on the rocks in a simple tall, highball glass. That’s your basic G&T, to which you can now add anything and everything from berries to spices to vegetables, so get creative with it.
To try a refreshing cucumber G&T, head over to Meraki in King Street, which also has numerous other delectable cocktail variations. Their cucumber gin and tonic, however, is simple and delicious.