Did you know…? Gin Tonic or two remedies…

We all know gin and tonic as the delicious highball cocktail with two ingredients gin and tonic water, but did you know that the cocktail is part of medicinal history?

Before Gin there was Genever

Rijksmuseum / CC0

Before gin there was genever or jenever, a juniper schnapps of Dutch-Belgian origin. It is a forerunner of gin that is still cultivated in traditional recipes in the Netherlands, Belgium, some parts of Germany and France today.

The name gin is a shortened form of the word genever, related to the French word genièvre and the Dutch word jenever. All ultimately derive from juniperus, the Latin for juniper.

Juniper has been used for healing purposes since ancient times. It has diuretic and antispasmodic effects for gastrointestinal complaints. Applied externally, it can relieve rheumatic pains. Many sources cite the doctor Franciscus Sylvius as the inventor of juniper schnapps, who created a remedy helping against stomach and kidney diseases.

It has been historically documented that genever was already a widespread social drink under this very name in the late 16th century. Nevertheless, the Hessian-Dutch doctor and scientist Franciscus Sylvius alias Franz de le Boë (15 March 1614 – 19 November 1672) remains the first name that is historically associated with genever production. Franciscus Sylvius was an important physician of his time, clinician and iatrochemist and he helped develop science-oriented medicine and clinical chemistry as we know it today.

Genever was anglicized..

King William III of England / Godfrey Kneller / Public domain

During the Dutch-Spanish war, (1568 – 1648) Dutch and English soldiers collaborated, and thus the popular Dutch juniper spirit reached England for the first time. When Wilhelm III. of Oranien-Nassau alias William III of England (4 November 1650 – 8 March 1702) became co-regent of England in 1689, he focused on boosting England’s economy with coveted products such as brandy and grain brandy. Therefore, he prohibited the import of French brandy and raised high taxes on German, French and Spanish wines and spirits. Wilhelm III also promoted domestic production of grain brandy similar to the genever recipes from his birth country the Netherlands. Genever was soon anglicized and abbreviated to gin. His economic program was supported by another decree in 1690 stipulating that gin should only be produced from English grain, and around 1695 he raised high taxes on beer and wine, making gin the cheapest alcoholic drink that even the poorest sections of the population could afford.

All of this led to the fact that gin became so popular that by 1727 approximately six million British people drank approximately 22.5 million liters of gin. The hype surrounding the former genever including overconsumption continued to wane with the Gin Acts of 1736 and 1751; thereafter the grain was taxed which ended the phase of the so called “English gin craze” but of course not the love for the juniper flavored clear spirit.


Condesa de Chinchón / Francisco Goya / Public domain

The healing properties of quinine were first described in 1638. In this year “Condesa de Chinchón”, the wife of the Spanish viceroy in Peru, fell ill with malaria. The Incas brought her healing medicine from the bark of a native tree. In honor of the Condesa de Chincón, the saving tree was finally renamed Cinchona tree.

As soon as the healing news spread the bark of the Cinchona tree was a coveted commodity in Europe. At its time the bark could only be obtained from Peru because the seeds were not allowed to be exported from the country to secure the Spanish monopoly on this commodity. Due to the high demand in the colonies and rising prices of quinine worldwide, Charles Ledger, a British Huguenot and Alpaca farmer in Peru smuggled some seeds of the Chinese bark tree out of the country in 1862 and sold them in London to the Dutch government. The Dutch started growing Cinchona tree plantations successfully in Java (Indonesia) and India. By 1900 two-thirds of the world’s supply of quinine came from Java, and it is said that over 40 years later the Ledger types of cinchona were still the best quinine sources in the world.

Tonic Water

Tonic water is a colorless, carbonated, soft drink containing quinine and it belongs to the bitter lemonades. Because of its quinine content, it glows under UV light.

Charles Ledger / CC BY 4

The history of tonic water can be traced back to 1825. At this time European colonial powers expanded and secured their new colonial territories worldwide. British soldiers struggled with tropical diseases such as malaria especially in India. As a remedy, doctors of the British army prescribed the extremely bitter quinine to relieve the symptoms of malaria. Quinine is a water-soluble, crystalline powder obtained from the bark of the Cinchona tree. The British officers dissolved the powder in water, which was just bitter and not very tasty. An early attempt was made to improve the taste of the “tonic water” by adding sugar, lemon, and soda water, and sometimes also adding some alcohol. At that time, gin was part of the standard repertoire of the British army which basically lead to the birth of the classic gin and tonic cocktail, when two remedies were mixed together by British army soldiers.

Today, synthetically produced quinine is used as the standard ingredient for tonic waters. Thanks to the new quality awareness of consumers and the gin tonic trend in recent years natural quinine is gaining more of importance again. #CleanDrinking

JIP / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)