Skip to content

The Gin and Tonic is Coming Back in its Birthplace: India

Jaya Saxena at Punch

Photo by Raghu Nayyar / Unsplash

“Quinine was so bitter, though, that British officials stationed in India and other tropical posts took to mixing the powder with soda and sugar,” writes Raustiala. This led to the creation of the first commercial quinine tonics. And where there’s a mixer, there’s a cocktail. Coinciding with a rise in the popularity of gin, overseas Brits began mixing tonic with imported British gin to further improve its taste (and get a buzz). 

Perhaps such a symbol of British rule would now be seen as an unwelcome vestige of oppression in India. But bartenders are experimenting with this remnant of the colonial past, making the Gin & Tonic more popular than ever. Across India, the drink has held on in colonial-era clubs, and now, it is seeing a resurgence in popularity in modern cocktail bars. “It has been only recently that most consumers have come to know about the origins of the Gin & Tonic, and the fact that it was born in India,” says Yangdup Lama, co-founder of the New Delhi bars Sidecar and Cocktails & Dreams Speakeasy. “So quite a lot of them take pride in that and pick this as their choice of drink.”

Beginning in the late 19th century, Gin & Tonic became a staple of British gymkhana clubs across the British Raj, exclusive clubs built so officers could play sports and drink, and which often explicitly excluded Indians. After Indian independence, the clubs became places for a “new class of monied, upper-caste Indian members, with their Raj-era nostalgia,” write Sneha Mehta and Mallika Chandra for Condé Nast Traveller, and “[t]heir centuries-long history has seen a fascinating tug-of-war between tradition and evolution play out in the food, conventions, and customs.” The menus have typically remained a mixture of classic British cuisine and Anglo-Indian fusion, with Welsh rabbit served next to prawn curry. The Gin & Tonic was a menu mainstay throughout, a strangely romantic reminder of the Raj.

Read the rest