ActiveHistory.ca repost – Gin and Tonic: A Short History of a Stiff Drink

ActiveHistory.ca is on a two-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in early September. During the hiatus, we’re featuring some of our most popular blog posts from this site over the past five years and some of the editors’ favourite posts from the past year. Thanks as always to our writers and readers – see you again in September!

The following post was originally featured on August 14, 2012.

Gin and Tonic. Image from Wikipedia.

By Jay Young

The Gin and Tonic – what better a drink during the dog days of summer?  Put some ice in a glass, pour one part gin, add another part tonic water, finish with a slice of lime, and you have a refreshing drink to counter the heat.  But it is also steeped in the history of medicine, global commodity frontiers, and the expansion of the British Empire.

Let’s start with the gin.  Although it is commonly known as the quintessential English spirit, the history of gin underlines the island’s connections to the outside world. The origin of gin – unlike the drink itself – is quite murky.  Sylvius de Bouve, a sixteenth-century Dutch physician, is the individual associated with the development of gin.  He created a highly-alcoholic medicinal concoction called Jenever.  It featured the essential oils of juniper berries, which the physician believed could improve circulation and cure other ailments.  The berry, deriving from a small coniferous plant, had long been treasured for its medicinal properties, including its use during the plague.

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