A real, classic gin and tonic is a drink that stems back more than 250 years with the classic drink based on the tonic syrup invented by British soldiers, a combination of cinchona, botanicals and sugar. But craft tonic makers have taken it to a new level, making a tonic syrup that is a divine non-alcoholic cocktail on its own or spectacular when combined with dry gin.
When the British Army colonised India in the mid-1800s, malaria was rife. Soldiers were given a bottle of syrup designed to be a prophylactic against the disease, made from the bark of the cincona tree which contains the natural ingredient quinine. It was extremely bitter. They were also given a ration of gin. Cleverly, the troops added sugar, local Indian spices and botanicals and flat water initially to make a tonic, and drank it with their gin rations, creating the drink we refer to today as a G&T. Over time they used soda siphons to make soda water tonic that formed the gin and tonic we all love today.
Traditional gin and tonic lovers in search of more interesting and delicious drinks have in recent years turned to a new range of syrups designed on the practices of the British troops to complement the modern dry gins. These ‘craft syrups’ are a modern evolution of the old tonic syrups, taking the evolution forward in the same way that craft beer is evolving. And they’re making gin drinking a real experience for the home-bartender who would have soda water on hand readily but might not want to have to waste a bottle of tonic for one or two aperitifs.
The modern tonic syrup is intended for mixing with a dry gin, to make a refreshing cocktail When you use a syrup, you’ll find the flavours you are trying to achieve by adding botanicals and sugar are no longer necessary as the syrup-makers have done all the hard work. They have carefully balanced the quinine from the cinchona tree for a sharp bitter note with the citrus overtones you would expect. And the sugar required to sweeten the tonic is actually less than you’d think as it is just required to balance it out.
Cinchona bark is known by natural therapists for its treatment uses. It can be used as a muscle relaxant, to treat and help with gastric disorders, to ease cramps and to alleviate general aches and pains. But none of these are the reason for its inclusion in tonic syrup. In fact, the only reason why it is included in the tonic syrup is because it tastes ‘damn good’ with or without gin.
You can buy the Sin-ko-nah Tonic Syrup in the Starts at 60 Marketplace here.
1 tbsp (20ml) sin-kō-nah tonic syrup
200ml of sparkling mineral water (*you can use soda stream)
1 shot (30ml) of dry gin
A wedge of lime
You can replace the gin with vodka if you prefer.
A wider range of tonic and expresso syrups can be seen here.