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Gin and tonic — made in India

Did you know that gin and tonic, that time honoured favourite at gentlemen’s clubs, was actually ‘invented’ in India? Neither did I, until last week, when an enthusiastic Frenchman traced gin’s colourful history for me.

entertainment Updated: Feb 13, 2010 02:09 IST
Girija Duggal

Did you know that gin and tonic, that time honoured favourite at gentlemen’s clubs, was actually ‘invented’ in India? Neither did I, until last week, when an enthusiastic Frenchman traced gin’s colourful history for me.

It was sometime in the 1800s that an officer in the British Indian Army dreamt up this combination to disguise tonic water’s bitter taste. Tonic water, a carbonated drink with malaria-fighting quinine extract, had in turn been devised as a more palatable alternative to the extremely bitter quinine- essential in Indian conditions. Not surprisingly, British troops weren’t exactly fans of this medicine. However, gin and tonic water, sweetened with some sugar and served with a wedge of lime, had soldiers queuing up for their daily dose.

With army officers downing the concoction inside club houses, the cocktail soon acquired a suave persona. Roughly 75 years later, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill would acknowledge its role in saving "more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.”

Today, gin and tonic, or G&T for short, continues to be a drink of choice for men and women around the world, with some sources estimating that 4/5ths of all gin produced in the world goes into making this mix!

That pop culture continues to refer to it is another indication of its cult status. PG Wodehouse’s famous fictional character, Bertie Wooster, swore by it. ‘There’s an old man sitting next to me/ Making love to his tonic and gin’, croons Billy Joel in the song Piano Man, and more recently, Douglas Adams painted an alternative history of the cocktail in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — eighty-five percent of the races in the galaxy create drinks that have the same pronunciation but different spellings - gee-N-N-T’N-ix, jynnantonnyx, jinond-o-nicks, tzjin-anthony-ks…you get the drift.

With that kind of a story behind it, it’s disappointing to see that G&T hardly moves in Indian bars, except perhaps in country clubs. In part because of that, and in part because of gin companies’ failure in marketing the product in the same youth-oriented fashion vodka companies have, it is still viewed as an old timer’s drink. That’s unfair, because it’s a great cocktail- refreshing, smooth and elegant, as suitable for afternoons as late evenings. It’s time to give this part of our legacy a fresh start, don’t you think?’