A Classic: the Gin and Tonic

by Will on October 6, 2010

1 1/2 oz. London dry gin

Add tonic water to taste

Garnish with slice of lime. Serve on ice in an old fashioned or highball glass.

Yeah, of course it’s an obvious one. The name describes the recipe. But I’m in a hotel room here, OK? Simplicity is of the essence. Also, the G&T is a great staple because it’s one of the few drinks almost impossible to screw up. That said, I’ve come across bartenders who have somehow found a way.

Like many alcoholic beverages, the gin and tonic got its start as a medicinal product. Researchers found that quinine was a silver bullet that made people insusceptible to malaria, which had been plaguing the British navy down in the tropics. But how do you get the seamen to consume quinine, a very bitter alkaloid? The best answer the British came up with was to mix it with a sweetener and some booze. It worked! The French dealt with the same issue by creating Dubonnet.

Similarly, the French liqueurs Benedictine and Chartreuse, and the Scottish liqueur Drambuie, were initially supposed to be all-purpose medicines. I believe the Chartreuse people still claim that it is health-enhancing. Whiskey was the result of Scottish monks’ years searching for a “water of life” that would make them live longer. Cognac resulted from similar efforts in France. Bitters have a calming effect on the stomach, and so were once used by navies to battle mal de mer. The Italian family of bitters, such as Campari, were supposed to be good for the liver. Vermouth was created as a vehicle with which to take wormwood, which was used to treat something or other. So many drinks we think of as simple refreshments were once marketed as medicine. It’s a rather funny irony of history.

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