The gin revolution is a world-wide phenomenon. One of the biggest drivers in the incredible resurgence of gin over the past few years is the sheer number of craft gin distillers that have popped up. South Africa is following suit with a growing number of craft distilleries opening their doors every other month. No wonder as South Africa provides the natural raw ingredients which allows distillers to produce world-class gins. South Africans are celebrating the revival of gin in everything from festivals, to craft gin clubs to craft gin loyalty cards at liquor stores. Not to mention cocktail bars whose main focus is gin and tonic. I think it is safe to say that gin is here to stay!
There is so much more to gin than just a juniper-flavoured spirit that is mixed with tonic water to make a G&T. Gin is a neutral, grain-based spirit flavoured by a variety of botanicals – including juniper. Juniper is important because it creates an ‘aromatic canvas’ for the flavours of the other botanicals to come through. Gin can be flavoured with any natural ingredient, from roots, fruits, seeds, spices, bark, berries and herbs to nuts. Making gin is therefore all about extracting essential oils from the botanicals to create the spirit. No two types of gin are the same as they differ in the botanicals used as well as the way they are made. This is one of the main reasons why craft gin is so popular – gin lends itself to a variety of influences, also flavour experimentation. No two gins taste the same and key is to complement a craft gin with a matching tonic water and garnishes.
Gin & Tonic
This classic cocktail needs no introduction. It is probably the most well-known gin-based cocktail in the world. There isn’t a more quintessential pairing across any spirit category than the Gin & Tonic. With the ever-growing array of gin, tonic water and garnish combinations available today, gin is not only making a comeback, it is taking the world by storm! Understanding how to pair a gin with a specific tonic and a particular garnish, is a skill. To create a perfect G&T, it is firstly important to combine your gin of choice with tonic water which accentuates the flavours of the gin. Secondly, it is important to use a quality tonic water in your G&T, preferably craft tonic or home-made. It is important to remember though that the tonic should play the understudy in a G&T. The gin should always take centre stage!
A G&T is open to a variety of creative interpretations when it comes to garnishing it. It is important that the garnish compliments the gin. A slice of lime is not necessarily the perfect garnish for all types of gin. Experiment with fresh fruit such as strawberry, apple or orange, and fresh herbs such as coriander, rosemary or sage. If you need help with pairing your chosen gin with a tonic and garnish, the Ginventory App can assist!
Both gin and tonic water have many more uses than just to make an excellent G&T. Recipes using at least one or in some cases both ingredients, for everything from cakes to ice-creams, appear quite regularly. Click here for a variety of recipes with gin and/or tonic.
On their own, they form part of many other popular cocktails, e.g. Martini, Negroni, etc. Click here for a variety of classic and modern cocktail recipes. I’ve also included a recipe for home-made simple syrup.
In order to really understand gin, it’s important to get to know juniper. Juniper is such an important aspect of gin that quite literally, it is not only the primary botanical used in gin but by law, it needs to be the predominant flavour in anything before it can be classified as gin. While many might believe it has its origins in Britain – perhaps due to the classic London Dry Gin – the spirit originally came from Holland. The name ‘gin’ in fact is the English translation of the Dutch word ‘jenever’ for juniper. Gin was created by Dutch physician Dr. Sylvius in the 1650’s. He redistilled pure alcohol with juniper berries in the hope that the berries’ therapeutic oil would manifest in a low-cost medicine to treat stomach ache, gout, etc. Juniper berries have many more uses than just flavouring gin and treating stomach ache though. See my post Juniper Berries for info on its uses in cooking.
Up to recently Tonic Water was often bought as an afterthought when shopping for ingredients to make G&T’s. Seeing that it comprises the majority of the cocktail, the tonic used to make this popular cocktail is just as important.
Quinine is the key ingredient in tonic water which gives it its distinctive bitter flavour. I think it is save to say that it is interesting to know that quinine played an important role in the history of malaria treatment. It is believed that the healing properties of chinchona bark, from which quinine is derived, were first discovered in the 1638 when the wife of the Spanish Viceroy, the Countess of Chinchon, had fallen violently ill with malaria whilst living in Peru. Her husband begged the local Incas for an antidote. The Incas instructed her to drink a potion containing the ground bark of the native “Quinquina” tree, which grew on the slopes of the Andes. The potion worked and she quickly recovered. In her honor, the Spanish renamed the Peruvian tree the “Cinchona” tree, also known as ‘fever tree’. Eventually it became clear that cinchona bark and its active ingredient, quinine powder, could be used not only to treat malaria, but also to prevent it.
British citizens and soldiers stationed in India and other tropical posts faced a serious and often mortal threat from malaria. Soldiers and civilian officials alike succumbed to it. By the 1840’s 700 tons of cinchona bark were used annually in an attempt to ward off malaria. Quinine powder literally kept the troops alive. Due to the bitter taste of quinine the British officers mixed the powder with soda and sugar – the first “Indian Tonic water”. The medicine was made even more palatable by adding gin. The original gin and tonic was thus born, and it soon became the drink of choice of the British Empire. It is said that “gin and tonic” was as essential a weapon for the British Empire as the Gatling gun. Winston Churchill once declared, “The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.” It think is safe to say that the use of quinine powder was critical to the health of the British empire!
The first commercial tonic water was introduced in 1858 by Erasmus Bond. In 1870 Schweppes’ introduced “Indian Quinine Tonic,” aka Indian Tonic, a product specifically aimed at the growing market of British citizens who had to take a preventative dose of quinine while stationed in India. These days it is not uncommon to find home-made tonic water on the menu’s of restaurants, and in many fine bars G&T’s come in dozens of varieties, with flavoured tonics and fruit garnishes matched to artisanal gins. Be sure to try this recipe for Home-made Tonic Water.
Read more about the health benefits of drinking G&T’s here.