Across the UK people’s social lives are kicking back into gear and here at From Our Cellar we have been hard at work researching a British classic – the gin and tonic. Below is a brief history of this easy to make, refreshing cocktail and 5 simple steps to making the perfect Gin & Tonic.
History of the Gin & Tonic
Necessity is the mother of invention and the Gin & Tonic is no exception in this regard. Gin began its journey as Jenever, a spirit distilled from juniper berries that was popular for its (ahem) medicinal properties in Holland in the 17th Century.
It was exported to the British Isles but also produced domestically. Holland’s King, William of Orange, took the English throne in 1688 during the Glorious Revolution and, not wishing to disappoint his new subjects, promptly went to war with France the same year. As a result, French Brandy, a widely drunk liquor in London at the time, was heavily taxed and became unaffordable.
To fill the gap in the market as imports dried up, William invigorated England’s domestic distilleries by disbanding the London Guild of Distillers who held a monopoly on English spirit production and encouraged his new subjects to get busy distilling their own. National gin production exploded as intended, and London distilleries enjoyed meteoric expansion and success – perhaps a little too much. In 1736 and 1751 two official ‘Gin Acts’ were passed by parliament to address what was by then known as the ‘gin epidemic’ and limit production of the alcohol of which, on average, Londoners of all ages were consuming roughly 8 litres per year each. Thus, Gin’s status morphed from liquid gold, making thousands of distillers fabulously wealthy with the blessing of the King, to a ruinous spirit of mass consumption and, finally, to a more exclusive gentleman’s drink.
Whilst the gin epidemic was in full swing there was another persistent problem that a new law could not solve: malaria. As the American colonies successfully revolted and formed the United States, British attentions turned in earnest to imperial expansion in the tropics. But its’ hard to run an empire when your subjects are dropping like flies to a fever that is fatal if not treated immediately and can be spread via a single mosquito bite. Enter Scottish physician George Cleghorn, who discovered quinine as an effective anti-malarial treatment in the 19th century and saw that it was mixed into tonic water and distributed throughout the Empire.
But at the time, the concentration of quinine in tonic water was much higher due to its medical application which gave it an overwhelmingly bitter taste, so to make it more palatable people took to mixing it with sugar, ice and citrus fruits like lemons and limes which also helped supress scurvy on long voyages abroad. The apocryphal moment came when British Officers working for the East India Company combined it with their gin rations to create the first iteration of the G&T.
Despite the cocktail’s popularity, the laws brought in to limit domestic spirit production in the 18th and 19th centuries were still very much in place in the 21st. The specific legal hurdle in question was an excise duty from 1823 which specified that distillers could not obtain a licence for a still under a capacity of 1,800 litres, effectively outlawing small distilleries from existing. It is this obstacle that the 3 founders of Gin producers Sipsmith successfully petitioned against in 2008, leading to a change in the law. History repeated itself in the best possible way, small distilleries boomed, and the national appetite for a gin and tonic returned with a vengeance.
The Perfect G&T: The Classic
- Put 1 large ice cube in a glass. Using 1 large cube instead of a handful of smaller ones means it will melt slower which will prevent your G&T from being diluted for longer.
- Pour 50ml of gin over the ice cube.
- Fill the remaining space in the glass with tonic with some room left at the top.
- Cut up a lime into quarters and add a single wedge to the glass. To give it a little extra refreshing punch, squeeze the lime juice into your G&T before dropping the wedge in.
- Add a splash of gin to the top of the glass as a final touch. A simple trick from behind the bar of the Traveller’s Club in Pall Mall – it will give your first sip a burst of flavour and a bit more kick.