Discover the history of Gin and Tonic


Magasin de Gin

Where does Gin come from?

Gin, which is now becoming more democratic in many countries, has long had an image due to its “So-British” history that sticks to its skin! And yet…

Its history begins in Flanders (the current Netherlands) in the 17th century under the name of genever. Its creation is often attributed to the chemist and physician Franciscus Sylvius. At the time, it was a cereal brandy, generally made from rye or barley. It is flavored by maceration of juniper berries to mask the defects of a still very rough distillation. It is this Flemish genever that will serve as a model for English gin a century later.

From genever to gin

Indeed, it is during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) that the English soldiers fighting in Holland discovered a new drink that they would soon bring back home. Genever is commonly used as a remedy for heartburn, gout or pain caused by gallstones. A glassful was also served to soldiers to galvanize them before battle, and the English quickly acquired a taste for this elixir, which they called “Dutch courage” once they returned home.

This “juniper water” experienced a new boom at the end of the 17th century in England. It is called “genever”, then “jenever” and finally simply “gin”. The craze for this new alcohol spreads beyond the soldiers returning from military campaigns. This success was accelerated by the abolition of the monopoly of the London Distillers’ Guild in 1690 with the Distilling Act.

At a time of religious and political conflict between France and England and in order to limit the importation of French brandy, King William III of Orange reacted by passing a series of laws. It aims to restrict the importation of brandy and encourages the distillation of brandy on English soil. The distillation methods are rudimentary and once again, the aromatization with juniper berries is an excellent way to improve the taste quality of the brandies.

The search for quality

Gin, which at its inception was used for medicinal purposes, quickly becomes recreational… and dangerously addictive. This cheap, domestic brandy quickly became a hit among the urban working classes. For decades, the excessive consumption of low quality gin decimated the population of the slums of London in particular. This is the sordid “Gin Craze” (1723-1757). In a century, gin has gone from “Dutch Courage” to “Mother’s Ruin”.

photo d'un marchand de gin

It was not until the 19th century that gin acquired its letters of nobility in England. Technological progress (with, among other things, the invention of the Coffey distillation column in 1831) made a qualitative leap in grain brandies. England, the first European nation to make its industrial revolution, is economically dominant. Thanks to its navy, it imports aromatic plants and spices from the four corners of its empire. Gin is going upmarket. The Phylloxera crisis ravaged the vineyards of France and Europe and deprived the British upper classes of their favorite aperitif, Brandy & Soda, which was quickly replaced by Gin & Tonic. The gin then became respectable. Distilleries were set up and grew, mainly in English port cities (such as London and Plymouth) where distillers had direct access to spices and a thriving urban market. The great historical British gin brands (Plymouth, Tanqueray, Beefeater…) are all from there.

In the 20th century, gin began to flourish: advances in distillation gave manufacturers access to a perfectly neutral base spirit that no longer needed to be sweetened to mask imperfections. The “London Dry” style of gin (see the “Types of Gin” page) then became prominent in the 1920s. The rest of the century was chaotic: Prohibition in the United States, the economic crisis of 1929 and the Second World War followed. Gin became popular again in the 50s and 60s, absolute synonym of style in cocktails like the iconic Dry Martini, then slowly declined. The end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s saw the beginnings of a true renaissance of the category, which first took root in Europe and is now spreading throughout the world, thanks to the rediscovery of the personality and versatility of this spirit of great character.


How is gin made?

alambic cuivre

Gin is a distilled and flavored spirit, mainly based on neutral alcohol, whose predominant flavor must be that of juniper. It must be bottled at a minimum of 37.5% vol. What will give its personality to this spirit, it is mainly its aromatization. It can also be, more rarely, its alcoholic base if, like some modern gins, it is not distilled from neutral alcohol.

The aromatic plants used must always include juniper, either juniper berries or an already distilled extract. Most gins are made by distilling a bouquet of aromatic plants in an alcohol base. The distillation and infusion techniques vary, but the fundamental principle remains the same: the essential oils loaded with the aromatic principles of the plants are extracted in contact with alcohol. Either the latter is in a liquid state and the aromatics are macerated directly in it, or in the form of vapors inside the still if the distiller has chosen the method known as “vapor infusion”. Some rarer gins are not flavored by distillation (see below), but by simple infusion or by means of aromatic extracts added to an alcohol base.

The main styles of gin.

Today there are 3 types of Gin defined by the European Union legislation:

GIN (without further mention): a mixture of a basic alcohol and extracts of aromatic plants, including juniper.

DISTILLED GIN: gin obtained by distillation of a base of neutral alcohol and aromatic plants (including juniper), to which extracts and flavors can be added after distillation. The gins elaborated by simple maceration, that is to say without re-distillation, are not very common and are called “Compound Gin”.

LONDON GIN or LONDON DRY GIN: distilled gin based on neutral alcohol and aromatic plants (including juniper), to which nothing other than water can be added after distillation to lower the alcoholic strength. A London Gin can therefore be neither flavored nor sweetened when it leaves the still. It is therefore necessarily dry. The name “London Gin” does not correspond to a protected geographical indication but to a style of gin. Therefore, a London Dry Gin can be produced anywhere in the world.

Other types of gin

OLD TOM GIN style of gin, not strictly defined or recognized by European regulations. Inspired by the mellow gins popular at the end of the 19th century, it has been superseded by the London Dry Gin distilled from better quality neutral alcohol and thus allowing a much more precise expression of the juniper and aromatic plants.

NAVY STRENGHT” GIN From the middle of the 17th century, it was common to supply large quantities of brandy on board European ships. Distilled spirits, unlike wine or beer, do not spoil after a few weeks at sea, and thanks to their antiseptic properties, they can be used to sanitize the water on board. The British fleet supplies gin for the officers. The brandies embarked on board military ships must have an alcoholic strength allowing the gunpowder to ignite even when soaked in alcohol. This minimum degree is 57% vol. and marks the threshold “proof” in English, thus determining the rums known as “overproof” (titrating above 57% vol.) and the “Navy Strength” gins.

YELLOW GIN This is not a strictly defined appellation in the European law. Traditionally, a Yellow Gin is a Gin aged a few months in oak barrels.

SLOE GIN It is not technically a gin, but a gin-based liqueur. It is made by macerating sloes in gin, sometimes with other aromatic plants, then sweetened before being bottled.

BATHTUB GIN: term used to describe the counterfeit gin made during the Prohibition era in the United States by mixing moonshine and juniper essential oil.

PINK GIN PINK GIN: Originally, it was a fashionable cocktail in England in the mid-19th century. It owes its name to the dark brown color of Angostura, which, when diluted in gin, gives a pinkish color to the cocktail… Today many gin houses have revived the interest for ever more complex flavor combinations by creating their own Pink Gin. It is currently available flavored with rose, strawberry, melon, etc.


Récipient portatif pour l'eau de Seltz

Tonic water is also called tonic. It is a soft drink that contains quinine, extracted from a shrub. It is the latter that gives it this slightly bitter taste.

Who invented the tonic?

Tonic was developed by French pharmacists Pierre-Joseph Pelletier and Joseph Bienaimé Caventou. They were the first to isolate quinine. Around 1780, Johann Jakob Schweppe, a Swiss watchmaker and chemistry enthusiast, found a method to charge water with carbon dioxide. A reaction is made by stirring chalk and sulfuric acid. Gas is thus obtained, then recovered and put in a heated tank. While heating, the mixture is stirred to create pressure to gasify the water.

Is tonic water a remedy?

Its use grows in 1870. Indeed, in British India, soldiers were prescribed to take doses of the prophylactic quinine in order to fight malaria, which was taking its toll. However, quinine is very bitter. It is then mixed with sugar and water to facilitate its consumption. Schweppes was inspired by these uses and added quinine and citrus extracts to its carbonated water, which gave birth to Indian Tonic.

Plante de cinchona

What is quinine?

Quinine is a natural alkaloid, a molecule of plant origin with antipyretic, analgesic and antimalarial properties. The molecule is extracted from the bark of a South American shrub called cinchona.


Verres de gin tonic

Where does it come from?

The gin & tonic is a cocktail composed of gin, tonic water and citrus peel. It is said to have been first created in the 18th century by Dutch and British colonial companies, but many believe this to be a myth…

This cocktail actually comes from the tonic water that was used to fight malaria as seen above. The taste of quinine was too bitter. Sugar and alcohol were added to make it easier to take. The combination of gin and tonic water was a taste revelation and was democratized among the British military and colonists in the early 19th century. The drink became very popular and we remember Winston Churchill’s famous phrase: “Gin and tonic has saved more English lives and souls than all the doctors in the Empire”. Nowadays, tonic waters have gained in quality and diversity to compose magnificent matches with the different styles of gin.

How is Gintonic consumed?

Gin & Tonic is usually drunk in a tumbler type glass (long drink or highball), even if the balloon takes more and more space

The doses to make a Gin & Tonic vary but we generally find 1/3 of gin for 2/3 of tonic.


Traditionally, a lemon slice or zest is used. Depending on the Gin & Tonic you can add orange, cucumber, berries etc. Recently, some people are coloring the gin blue with clitoria flowers because it turns pink/purple when tonic is added.


Orange peel in the shape of a rose


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