Mixers for drinks have taken on board the need to revitalise tired palates and a batch of new tonics have been developed to pep up your gin and tonic. These tonic waters are going back to their roots – well bark actually – in a return to natural ingredients and in particular the bark of the Cinchona tree.
Tonic water was developed in the 1800s by British officers in the Indian Army added soda water, sugar (and gin!) to the Peruvian quinine extract that was used to combat malaria as it was unpalatably bitter.
Quinine was discovered as a cure for Malaria in 1638 when the wife of the Spanish Viceroy in Peru, the Countess of Cinchona, had fallen violently ill with the disease. Her husband begged the local Incas for an antidote. The Incas instructed her to drink a potion containing the ground bark of the native “Quinquina" tree, which grew on the slopes of the Andes. The potion worked and she quickly recovered. In her honour, the Spanish renamed the Peruvian tree the “Cinchona” tree.
The ground bark was then imported to Europe and quickly prized. But Peru prohibited exporting Cinchona seeds. So, as colonialism and hard-drinking officers created more need, the supply of Peruvian Cinchona bark could not keep up with demand. Prices sky rocketed - at one point, the cost of the bark powder was its weight in gold - and the bark was over harvested. The Cinchona tree became nearly extinct.
In 1862, Charles Ledger smuggled Cinchona seedlings out of Peru and sold them to the Dutch government. Holland set up large plantations in Java, their colony in Indonesia. In later years synthetic quinine was used but Q Tonic has returned Peruvian quinine to the essence of tonic water. Q Tonic uses the hand picked hand-picked quinine and Mexican organic agave in their tonic water. The agave is a sweetener and gives the tonic a slightly earthy flavour.
Other tonics which have returned to quinine are Stirrings and Fever-Tree. Stirrings make a range of tonics with triple purified, coal filtered water infused with "Champagne" carbonation. Their tonic is made with triple purified water, cane sugar and extracts of cinchona bark. They also produce Lavender, Rosemary, Basil and Rose Essences.
Fever-Tree takes its name from the Cinchona and is an award winning tonic water. Its co-founders Chris Rolls and Tim Warrillow decided to make a tonic after a tonic tasting event to choose the best tonic to mix with Plymouth Gin. They discovered that:
“all the UK tonics contained artificial sweeteners such as saccharin . . . that all the American mixers used high fructose corn syrup and that . . .the use of cheap lemon aromatics (like decanal) was universal, and without exception all were preserved with sodium benzoate or similar substance.”
Quite rightly they point out that “What was the point of the premium gin, vodka, whisky and rum companies making excellent spirits if they were to be served up with mixers of such poor quality that the whole drinking experience was compromised?”
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