The Imperialist Roots of The Gin and Tonic

If you ever find yourself suffering from a bout of malaria it might save your life if you fix

yourself a gin and tonic.

Tonic water contains quinine a long time cure for malaria. Many historians agree that quinine was responsible for allowing european colonists to settle in Africa and the far east.

Quinine has been used as a muscle relaxant by the indigenous Quechua peoples of South America since antiquity. Quinine was extracted from the bark of the cinchona tree by grinding the bark into a fine powder and adding it to water. This resulted in early tonic water.

Jesuit missionaries in peru during the early 1500s noticed the miraculous effect that the tonic seemed to have on the indigenous people in subduing shaking fits, a common symptom of malaria. Small quantities of  were shipped to europe and it was found to cure malaria. A common disease in the swampy areas surrounding Rome.

Quinine soon became the medicine for curing malaria and held that position until the early 1940s when other medicines with less severe side effects were discovered.


The side effects of quinine can include constipation, diarrhea, erectile dysfunction, abnormal heart rhythms, and nightmarish dreams.

However, the amount of quinine found in tonic water is far less than it was in the past.

The mixing of gin to tonic was an invention that came around in the 1700s. British Soldiers occupying India, and other tropical areas fought off malaria with quinine but found the taste to be too bitter. In order to pallette the medicine the soldiers would mix their gin ration with their quinine and with limes and sugar to make what we know as the staple cocktail, the gin and tonic.  


A study in 2004 found that the amount of quinine in the tonic used in the traditional gin and tonic did not contain enough quinine to effectively treat the symptoms of malaria.

Despite the information of the 2004 study, we still got a great cocktail out of it.   

-Sam Hill

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