Winston Churchill once declared that “The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.” Served in a highball or a “Copa Balon” the Gin and Tonic, is an essential cocktail with worldwide popularity. The unique flavor profile created by gin in combination with tonic is a scientific phenomenon. New magnificent modern gins, tonics, and garnishing variants reinvigorate and reimagine the Gin & Tonic with endless possibilities. So, what’s so special about tonic?
First concocted in the 1700s by a Scottish physician named George Cleghorn who specialized in fevers and malaria, tonic water containing quinine from cinchona trees helped in the treatment and prevention of disease. He found that the indigenous people of (what is now) Peru used the cinchona bark to treat fevers.
As Jared Diamond states in his book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, “Malaria, yellow fever, and other diseases of tropical Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and New Guinea furnished the most important obstacle to European colonization of those tropical areas.” Thus, quinine (and subsequently tonic) was used by the British East India Company to provide protection and treat against mosquito-borne ailments. The quinine was bitter, and British officers were reluctant to take their daily ration until it was brilliantly combined with a little sugar, lime, and gin. From that discovery on, the “Indian tonic” was perceived delicious.
In fact, scientifically, the molecules of gin and those of tonic are similar in structure and have a natural attraction, creating a bond that generates synergy in the smell and taste receptors. “These aggregates create a taste sensation that is completely different from just gin and tonic on their own. This is why a gin and tonic doesn’t taste exactly like gin plus tonic,” according to Matthew Hartings, Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry, American University.
The options for tonic water currently on the market are extensive. When pairing tonic with gin, several factors come into play in creating the perfect balance. To judge new artisanal tonics, compare the ingredients to gauge the quality and pairing options with the intended gin and garnish. Consider the sweetening agent used; cane sugar and agave tend to be the most appealing and avoid those sweetened with high fructose corn sweetener. There are flavors and botanicals built into the tonic like lemon, elderflower, orange, yuzu, rhubarb and so on that are fun to experiment with and can punctuate the botanicals of the gin quite nicely. Trial and error will land the right tonic for the style of gin and garnish it’ll compliment. After all, it’s a matter of personal taste and preference.
The gin and tonic’s historical significance is as multi-dimensional as the flavor profile that the cocktail formulates. Inexplicably harmonious to the palate both viscerally and scientifically, gin made the bitter medicinal quinine in tonic palatable and arguably incredible.