It’s Gin and Tonic Month

There are few things more refreshing than a gin and tonic on a summer day. The formula for this cocktail is simple. It requires only gin and tonic water. Place a wedge of lime on the rim of the glass and you’re good to go. It’s a luxury we take for granted, but its history isn’t quite as simple.

The Quechua of Peru have long used quinine derived from cinchona bark for medicinal purposes, and by 1631, quinine had made it to Europe, when a small amount of cinchona bark was sent to Rome from a Jesuit brother in Lima, Peru. During the 17th century, Malaria was very common near swamps and marshes. It killed thousands, including multiple popes. Quinine became an extremely valuable commodity when it was discovered to be an effective treatment of malaria, and it quickly spread to London when King Charles II was cured of his disease.

Quinine is extremely bitter and poorly soluble in water; however, it is extremely soluble in ethanol. Officers in the British East India Company began adding cinchona bark to their cocktails to make their medicine more palatable, and thus the gin and tonic was born. Because the British officers enjoyed lots of cocktails, demand for cinchona bark skyrocketed, and nearly all of the world’s quinquina trees were cut down.

In the 19th century, Charles Ledger illegally smuggled cinchona seeds into London. Some of those seeds made their way to Holland and then were planted in a Dutch plantation in Indonesia. This plantation, known as Java, was the world’s only cinchona supplier for many years. But when the Japanese took control of Indonesia during WWII, the allied forces were forced to find another source of quinine to combat malaria. Fortunately, scientists were able to produce artificial substitutes, which saved many lives during the war. However, when the war was over, companies producing tonic water also began using the same artificial substitutes in order to save money.

Today, a few companies are using real cinchona bark in their tonics, and at Guild Tavern we make our own tonic syrup using real cinchona bark, water, sugar, lemongrass, citrus peels, and citrus juices. So, come in and enjoy a few of these delightful summer sippers as we officially ring in gin and tonic month (also sometimes referred to as July).