The History of Gin and Tonic

18 November 2015 by Jay Douglas

The gin and tonic is a British classic, perfect for any occasion. Whether you like it strong or weak, with lemon or lime we bet you don’t know the full story behind the unexpected origins (see what we did there?!) of this refreshing drink and how it became our nation’s favorite.

Although thought to be a quintessentially English drink, the word “gin” actually originates from the Flemish word genever. Yes, gin came from Holland. It was first created in the 15th century by a physician called Dr. Sylvious de Boive using the oil from juniper berries and was sold in pharmacies as a treatment for a variety of ailments. Gin only reached British soil in 1688 when Dutch-born William of Orange took the thrown in England and brought the spirit with him, and it took off.

By 1750, due to the fact that the government was allowing unlicensed production of gin, Londoners were consuming over 11 million gallons of gin annually in a period known as the Gin Craze. Gin shops were popping up on every street and consumption soared, bringing with it increased crime and higher death rates. Historic UK cites that Londoners drank around 14 gallons of the spirit a year (bet that makes you feel a little better about your last Saturday night binge!).

So in 1751 the government imposed the Gin Act, enforcing licensing of retailers, reducing consumption but simultaneously encouraging the illegal sale of a sweeter style of gin called Old Tom Gin. This style of gin is sweeter due to the use of simple or sugar syrup, giving it citrus undertones. However, by the 1830s gin distilleries became more sophisticated, leading to a higher quality, cleaner spirit which was named “London Dry Gin”. As the gin became more refined, so did its drinker and gin became known as a Gentlemen’s drink. In comparison with the Old Tom Gin the London Dry is far more aromatic and floral due to the botanicals added during distillation, and so these two styles of gin we see today were born.

The history of tonic began in another area of the world entirely, beginning its story in 1857 when the British Crown took over the Indian subcontinent. Around this time, many Brits also relocated to India; however, they greatly struggled with malaria or ‘fever’ as it used to be called. The antimalarial drug of choice around that time (and up until the 1940’s!) was quinine, an extract from the bark of the cinchona, originally found in South America. So in order to prevent and treat malaria quinine was mixed with sugar and water, creating the drink we know today as tonic water.

In order to hide and improve its bitter taste, gin was added to tonic water, and the rest is history. The addition of limes or other citrus fruits is thought to have been initially introduced to prevent scurvy on the long journey across the ocean from England to India, all combining to create the glorious gin and tonic drink we know and love today.

Here at Craved we want to stay true to the history of this glorious cocktail and take you back to the Victorian roots of the drink with our Gintoxicating Collection. The rooty Old Tom style gin will take you back to the origins of the sweet gin when it was first created in illegal distilleries. The Bermondsey-made Tonic Water takes you back to the original source of quinine, as it is made with real cinchona bark. Also in the collection is our Artemisia Tonic Water, for those who like a more botanical, herbal flavour. Our gin collection lets you create gin and tonics unlike anything you’ll have tasted before. So check out our Gintoxicating Collection, you won’t be disappointed.

Tags: cocktails, drink, gin, local, London, spirits, tonic, and UK.