About Us

The History of Tonic Water

Tonic water started life as a medicine. All tonic waters contain quinine, our only known anti-malarial right up until the 1960s. Quinine can be found naturally in the bark of the cinchona tree, also known as the fever tree for this reason. Cinchona originates from Central America, around Ecuador.

In colonial times the need to deal with the ever present problem of malaria was a pressing issue. Whilst the properties of quinine were well known to the first nations of Central America, it was the Spanish colonisers who took it to the new world.

Quinine is extremely bitter, and very hard to drink alone. To counter this English colonisers in India added a newly readily available sweeter, sugar. But not stopping there fresh aromatics of oranges, limes, lemons and lemongrass were added and tonic water was born. To make it truly medicine, it was added to gin and one of the most venerable cocktails of our age was created (In all fairness the gin was probably healthier than the water in these times).

When we speak of Indian Tonic Water, this flavoursome aromatic tonic is what we mean. It was prepared as a syrup to be diluted and spritzed at the time of drinking. This is for two reasons: the sugar in the syrup will act as a preservative; and in these times it wasn't possible to package and store carbonated beverages. Our Bitter Orange Tonic Water follows the oldest recorded recipe for tonic water and in made in the traditional way. this means full of fresh aromatics as originally intended and natural quinine from cinchona bark that we bring in from Ecuador.

So what has happened to tonic water since? Around world war two, the natural quinine became difficult to source, and was replaced with a lab based synthetic chemical quinine. With none of the subtlety of natural ingredients, the amount of sugar going in increased to the point now that tonic water has the highest sugar content of any soft drink on the shelf, including Coca Cola! At the same time the aromatics were stripped out and modern tonic water as we know it became the norm.

We've taken back tonic water. Putting the aromatics back in that are designed to compliment and lift the gin. By using cinchona bark for our quinine we're getting a smoother and lighter flavour meaning we can almost halve the sugar going in. By making it as syrup as was traditionally done, we're giving you the power to choose the strength, but also give you flexibility to create cocktails limited only by imagination. Our aromatic tonics don't even need the gin - they stand on their own. Just mix with soda water and enjoy. 

Click here to discover our tonics, and you can look at our ever growing list of cocktails for inspiration beyond the standard.