The History of Tonic Water

Tonic Water - The Perfect Accompaniment 

Hidden Curiosities Gin And Tonic Water

A classic Gin and Tonic, while totally dependent on a good base of high-quality spirit, has one other hugely important ingredient - tonic water! A good G&T is after all more tonic than gin, which means that what you put in your glass as a mixer is hugely important. 

Whether it’s with a slice of lime, an exotic garnish or simply on the rocks, the most popular way to enjoy gin involves a healthy splash of tonic water, with the right pick a crucial component in the perfect mix. We all know tonic water for its unique dry flavour and uniquely refreshing finish. But how did this singular beverage come to be? Oddly enough, it all starts with one small creature…

The Mosquito

Mosquito Malaria History of Tonic Water

Image credit: Your Genome 

With an estimated 110 trillion individuals worldwide, or about 16,000 per person, the chances are that all of us have experienced the itchy, unpleasant bite of a mosquito at least once in our lives. Persistent, maddeningly numerous and seemingly with the ability to get around almost any defence, they are a familiar sight worldwide.

With over 3,500 recognised species of mosquito, you may be surprised (and pleased!) to know that only about 6% bite humans, with many either specialising on other animals, or simply drinking nectar from plants. It’s only the females that bite, with males subsisting entirely on nectar.

If you’ve ever felt like mosquitoes “prefer” you to a companion, and that you soak up more than your fair share of the bites - you’re right! Mosquitoes are very particular about what they eat, and prefer people with the particular combination of body chemistry that they are seeking out. While they may be both small and very common, mosquito bites are responsible for some serious problems worldwide, with their bites a major factor in the spread of disease.



Image Credit: Science News

Caused by the microscopic Plasmodia parasite that is carried from person to person by mosquitoes, malaria is endemic to tropical regions and can be very nasty indeed. With effects ranging from flu-like symptoms to extreme fever and neurological complications, not to mention possible mortality, malaria is a threat to be taken seriously. Still claiming thousands of lives every year, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where the parasites are most present, the fight against malaria is most assuredly an ongoing one.

During early European exploration of the tropics, the disease was a huge threat to expeditions, with no known cure or even treatment available. The best defence at the time was simply to hope that the local mosquitoes weren’t carriers. Needless to say, this was met with patchy success, and many lives were lost to the dreadful illness. This was a situation that the colonisers desperately wanted to fix.

Quinine - The Magic Component

Quinine Anti-Malaria Tonic Water
Photo credit: East Imperial

In Peru and Western South America, there grows a tree called the Cinchona. Its bark has long been highly valued for its medicinal qualities, indeed its very name comes from a claim that the tree cured the wife of the Count of Chinchón, a Spanish noble in Peru. Extracted from the bark of this tree, along with other chemicals, is the valuable quinine, an active medicinal component and powerful anti-malarial.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, accounts differ as to whether native Andean people used this plant as medicine before the arrival of Europeans, but what is certain is that during the height of European colonialism, the bark of this hardy tree was the only reliable source of quinine. As the magic ingredient was yet to be successfully isolated, the tree became highly prized, and the Dutch and the British competed to cultivate it for themselves. The fight against malaria was vital to their colonial ambitions, and so too was the Cinchona tree. 

The British in India

The British in India Tonic Water History of

While quinine may be useful in a medicinal sense, its bitter flavour can make it difficult to partake of. In early 19th century India, with the British colonial period at its full height, soldiers and officials were (wisely) encouraged to take quinine to ward off malaria. In order to make the astringent medicine more palatable, soda water and sugar were added to it, and so “Indian Tonic Water” was born. 

Quite apart from its well-known medicinal qualities, this tongue-twisting bitter-sweet concoction tasted fantastic, and was extremely refreshing in the hot weather of India. Furthermore, as British soldiers already received a gin ration, it was a natural step to blend the two together into a Gin and Tonic. The new drink with a unique flavour was almost universally popular, and made it back home to Europe, from which it conquered the world.

The Modern Drink

Gin and Tonic - the History of Tonic Water

From Amsterdam to the Andes, Sydenham to Sydney, a gin and tonic is still the most popular way to enjoy gin. Tonic water itself has a market of almost $2bn and rising worldwide, as the demand for ever inventive combinations continues to grow.

These days, you have more options than ever if you’re looking for good tonic water. From high-quality tonics with organic botanical components, to great-tasting sugar-free and low-calorie versions, to new twists with unusual flavour profiles, there is enough to keep even the most committed gin drinker happy.

Distinctive and refreshing, there is simply nothing quite like a gin and tonic, and while we would always encourage you to try gin in different contexts, you can always rely on a G&T.

The Perfect Hidden Curiosities G&T

Hidden Curiosities Gin Aranami Strength Gin Perfect Serve
  • 50 ml Hidden Curiosities Aranami Strength Gin
  • 1 x 200ml bottle Fever Tree Refreshingly Light Indian Tonic Water
  • Ice

To Garnish (optional) - Sansho peppercorns, Pink Grapefruit, or Slice of Williams Pear

We think our gins have more than enough flavour to stand up to the bracing tonic water, but if you really must garnish your glass, then one of the options above will give you an elegant pour. 

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