Gin is a staple of any decent liquor cabinet, and there are few things better than a good old gin and tonic on a hot day.
But how much do you actually know about the alcohol that has sparked a trend of craft gins, cocktails and gin bars?
Turns out the humble gin and tonic has a pretty weird history, starting with the colonisation of India. But before we get to that, we have to go even further back.
Many claim that gin was invented in the 16th century in Leiden, Holland by Dr. Sylvius de Bouve. Apparently, it was initially a medicine used to improve circulation.
It slowly made its way to England, where, because it was cheap, it became the drink of choice for many. By 1750, over 11 million gallons of the stuff was consumed by Londoners every year.
Yep, that’s the origin of gin bars. I can assure you they were not the classy establishments they are now.
Eventually, to deal with the drunk masses, a series of laws were put in place to limit consumption and gin, came to be considered a gentleman’s drink.
Which brings us to India. In 1857, the Brits took over full governance of India, which is a nice way of saying they colonised the hell out of it.
Early immigrants struggled with the tropical climate and the ravages of malaria – not to mention scurvy after the long sea voyages. The remedy? The quinine rich tonic water, combined with gin and lemon, which proved to be the perfect cure.
Quinine remains an important anti-malarial drug, all these years after its effectiveness was first documented.
The gin and tonic was thus born, and immediately became popular. Since then it has evolved into the versatile liquor that we know and love today.
Here’s Sipsmith with a few more fascinating gin facts:
London’s most popular drink in the winter of 1823 was the Hot Gin Twist. One man wrote a 149-line poem for the newspapers extolling its virtues. Another wrote a shorter poem extolling both the drink and the previous poem.
Little-known gin facts: the best way to taste gins for comparison is at room temperature, diluted with an equal measure of water. This reveals both qualities and flaws.
The country with the world’s highest per-capita gin consumption is the Philippines, with an estimated 25 million cases consumed annually.
The “bathtub gin” that was made in the United States during Prohibition had dangerous – even lethal – physical effects due to the fact that it sometimes contained methanol. Sufferers were blinded or even poisoned.
Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond books, left an additional impression on gin drinkers: he’s credited with inventing the Vesper, a cousin of the Martini that blends gin, vodka, and vermouth – topped with a lemon twist.
Since the days of India and malaria cures, the spirit has undergone something of a revolution. That’s especially true here in Cape Town, where craft gins have exploded in popularity.
Leading the charge, and adding to the fabled history of the G&T, is Cape Town Gin. Available in Classic Dry, Rooibos Red, and the rose water flavoured Pink Lady, each pays homage to the history of gin a unique way, while keeping true to the Cape Town spirit.
The Cape Town Classic Dry Gin pays homage to the first gins made in Holland and England, when juniper berries were the predominant flavour. This Dry Gin is a well-made, carefully balanced spirit with rich botanicals dominated by juniper, punchy citrus notes and a hint of herbs and wildflowers.
Voted the best South African gin in the London Dry category at the 2017 World Drinks Awards, it is best enjoyed in a classic Martini, or as a long drink with fresh cucumber, mint and tonic water.
The Cape Town Rooibos Red Gin is infused with organic, handpicked rooibos to extract the essence of this plant, indigenous to the Cederberg region of the Western Cape. Juniper, orange peel and cinnamon flavours combine harmoniously with the earthy, slightly sweet and nutty flavour of rooibos.
The result is a unique and truly South African gin, vibrantly red in colour with the distinctive taste of rooibos. Voted the best South African gin in the Contemporary category at the 2017 World Drinks Awards, it is delicious as a sipping Gin in a tumbler glass with freshly squeezed lime and ice, or with cranberry juice and ginger ale as a long drink.
And finally, for something a little different:
The Cape Town Pink Lady Gin is named after the Mount Nelson Hotel in the heart of Cape Town, affectionately known as “The Pink Lady” or “The Nellie”.
Winston Churchill once called the Pink Lady “a most excellent and well-appointed establishment”, so you know it’s got style.
The Pink Lady Gin is a delightful gin, infused with hibiscus flowers and rose petals, and a heavenly hint of rosewater.
How’s that for a little bit of history? Lesson over – now it’s time for a drink.