Sitting at one of the Gondwana lodges, watching the sun sink into the Namibian horizon, I find myself wondering how the iconic Gin & Tonic in my hand became so wildly popular. What exactly led this beverage to be enjoyed around the world?
The refreshing drink found its humble beginnings in India in the nineteenth century. Tonic water was initially used to deliver quinine, used as a drug to prevent malaria. Quinine came in a powdered form and was horribly bitter, by mixing the powder with water and sugar Tonic Water found its way into the world. However even with the medicine mixed into the liquid, it was still hard to swallow. Of course this changed in the early 1800’s, when British officers realised that their daily dose went down much easier when they added a shot of gin.
In many ways, the Gin & Tonic played a crucial role in the growth of European Imperialism. This is because the consumption of the G&T allowed European forces to stay healthy and successfully maintain control of their colonies. However these forces needed enough quinine to ensure all their officers and their families have enough tonic water to keep them healthy. They quickly realised that South American countries – who were the main producers of quinine – could pose a threat to European power if they managed to be the sole manufacturers of the only product that kept malaria at bay. So the Europeans stole the seeds of the cinchona tree, of which quinine is made, and smuggled these to their homeland where they sowed their own plantations.
This allowed the European forces access to as much of the product as they needed. As the saying once went, ‘The sun never sets on the British Empire’ and though it did, the Gin & Tonic remains, which quickly became the drink of choice for all Europeans living in the tropics, along with watching and playing cricket.
However times have changed and the tonic water of today does not contain nearly enough quinine to prevent malaria with a mere daily dose. Unless of course you are capable of drinking 20 litres of tonic water a day. And in doing so, you may be spared malaria but a new list of problems is sure to follow. Thankfully modern medicine has advanced to the point that tonic is not crucial in preventing malaria and the trusted combination’s daily consumption began to dwindle.
As most products found on the world markets, a typical rise and fall of demand and popularity is to be expected. And even though the Gin & Tonic enjoyed a lengthy amount of time in the spotlight, it was eventually reduced to a dusty, un-opened bottle of Gordon’s at the back of the liquor cabinet. It became a drink that was associated with the past or an ‘old-fashioned’ mentality. The idea of the ‘Gin & Tonic’ went hand-in-hand with the image of your great grandparents sitting on their “plaasstoep” at the end of a long day… but not for long. The Gin & Tonic combo is making a striking comeback.
A wave of new brands of both gin and tonic water are filling the shelves in liquor stores across the world as the iconic drink is once again regaining popularity as a summer time drink. But where in the past, the gin was added to the drink to make the process of drinking the tonic water easier, the new varieties of tonic water are formulated to make the gin softer to taste.
Gin has stepped onto the forefront of nightcaps, becoming a common ingredient in most cocktails and quickly leading to the establishment of various gin bars across the globe. This is thanks to the new and interesting flavours paired with the traditional alcohol.The Gin & Tonic has been reinvented. As in the case of the growing popularity of craft beers, a flock of craft distilleries have appeared around the world, with their main focus being Gin.
These distilleries have allowed for the traditional idea of gin to be morphed into something modern and new, while maintaining the traditional style of mixing gin with tonic water. One of these new brands is the Kalahari Devil’s Claw Dry Gine, distilled right here in Namibia by NauteKristall near Naute Dam.
Despite all these new and exotic flavours that have been infused into the gin-market, the traditional G&T is not to be forgotten. Even with the ‘old-fashioned’ mentality that sometimes still accompanies the drink, it remains one of the most refreshing ways to end a summer day, especially in Namibia. It lies imbedded in history and will forge its way into the future as a consistently refreshing way to quench one’s thirst.
As the last rays of light shimmer in the distance and the taste of my G&T brings the day to an end, I ponder about what the British officers would think if they knew that their daily medicinal dose would become a modern day treat. I’m sure they would cheers to that!
If there is anything interesting that you would like to share about Gin & Tonic please feel free to share them in the comment section below.
Author – Jescey Visagie is a proud Namibian and is passionate about writing and language. Tag along for the ride as she tries to uncover new insights into Namibia and explores what the country has to offer.