Gin and tonic is an iconic and yet slightly negative symbol of expat life. The drink contributes to the image of the idle, drunk, spoilt expat living a life of luxury in far flung tropical locations. But do you know the real reason expats first started drinking gin and tonic? You might be surprised.
Let’s wind back a few centuries……
For a long time European explorers, colonials and missionaries in malarial zones would drop like flies. There were many causes of death including an assortment of tropical maladies, but malaria claimed the most lives by far. There was a famous cautionary rhyme warning those who dared to set foot on the Slave Coast of West Africa.
Beware, beware the Bight of the Benin, for few come out though many go in.
Another version stated ‘Only one comes out for every fifty that go in’. In those days, far flung travel was extremely risky business. The chances of a long and healthy life were slim.
The discovery of quinine was however a game changer.
Quinine, found in the bark of cinchona trees of South America was realised to have antimalarial properties as far back as the 1700’s. Quinine was later dissolved into carbonated water, making it easy to ingest. The medicinal properties of the drink caused it to be named tonic water. It subsequently became a staple of the colonial diet as it helped to prevent malaria.
However, quinine has a foul bitter taste. In 1800’s India the East India Company’s army started mixing tonic water with other things to mask its awful bitterness. Their winning formula was a combination of gin, ice, sugar, lime and tonic water. This is how the gin and tonic (also known more simply as G&T ) was born. Yes, it started life as a palatable medicinal drink to fight malaria. The addition of lime had the added benefit of warding off scurvy.
In the intervening years the quantity of quinine in tonic water has been drastically reduced and instead we rely on myriad other malaria prophylaxis like Chloroquine, Doxycycline or Lariam to prevent malaria. The drink is now refreshing rather than medicinal.
Colonials have long since disappeared and yet their custom of drinking gin and tonic in tropical climes has endured, it’s a hangover (no pun intended) from times gone by and has become associated with modern day expat life.
…and that ladies and gentlemen is the actual reason that expats to this day remain so closely connected with gin and tonic, although many of them don’t know it or probably didn’t know it until they read this post. You are most welcome. Cheers!