Did you know that gin and tonic, that time honoured favourite at gentlemen’s clubs, was actually ‘invented’ in India? I realised that when an enthusiastic Frenchman traced gin’s colourful history for me.
In the 1800s, an officer in the British Indian Army dreamt up this combination to disguise the bitter taste of tonic water. Tonic water, a carbonated drink with malaria-fighting quinine extract, had been devised as a more palatable alternative to the extremely bitter quinine- essential in Indian conditions.
Not surprising, British troops weren’t fans of this medicine. However, gin and tonic water, sweetened with sugar and served with a wedge of lime, had soldiers queuing up for their daily dose.
With army officers downing the concoction, the cocktail soon acquired a suave persona. 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 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’ 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 — 85 per cent of the races in the galaxy create drinks that have the same pronunciation but different spellings.
It’s disappointing to see that gin and tonic hardly moves in Indian bars, except perhaps in country clubs. That’s partly because of the failure of the gin companies in marketing the product in the same youth-oriented fashion as; 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?