Tonic water elicits images of sparkling drinks and stirred concoctions, but it has a history that reaches beyond the bar. Its roots go back centuries, starting with the Andes and the cinchona tree, and it had its start as a natural medicine instead of as a tasty mixer. Quinine, tonic water’s signature ingredient, was once used to treat Malaria and is still used by some to soothe leg cramps. From the Quechua people and Spanish colonists, to French chemists and British officers, the journey from botanical discovery to cocktail staple is a fascinating story.
Just the Tonic is an accessible yet informative history of tonic water, written by leading experts from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew—which is home to one of the largest collections in the world of historic cinchona. It takes us through the discovery and development of quinine and its eventual meeting with sparkling water. It also introduces us to the basic botany and development of the cinchona tree.
The iconic gin and tonic cocktail is not forgotten in these pages. The authors look at the changing role of the drink, tracing the rise and fall, and rise again, of cocktails straight from officers’ messes of British India, the art deco cocktail bars of the 1920s, through to the Mad Men era and the recent resurgence of gin as a drink of choice. A final chapter on cocktail recipes provides instructions on how to make delicious alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks using an array of different tonics and spirits. Mixed into the book are reproductions of stunning historical artwork, posters, and photographs.
This is the first authoritative book on the history and role of tonic water, making it the perfect addition to both bookshelves and bar carts.
About the Author
Kim Walker trained as a medical herbalist and now specializes in the history of plant medicines. She is currently working on a PhD on cinchona at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and Royal Holloway, University of London. She is the coauthor of The Handmade Apothecary and The Herbal Remedy Handbook. Mark Nesbitt is curator of the Economic Botany Collection at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. He is the coauthor of Curating Biocultural Collections and The Botanical Treasury, the former published by Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the latter published by the University of Chicago Press.
“Tonic almost always plays second fiddle to either gin or vodka, but here, it takes center stage. Kim Walker and Mark Nesbitt . . . trace the evolution of quinine, the ingredient that gives tonic water its distinct flavor, from its ancient medicinal usage through its modern incarnation as both natural remedy and popular mixer component. Included are recipes for tonic cocktails, among them nonalcoholic options.”
— Publishers Weekly
“Well-researched and lavishly produced, it looks at how a malaria cure from South America ended up becoming an ingredient in Britain’s favourite mixed drink, the gin and tonic.”
“The authors successfully bring together the history of quinine, fizzy water and gin in this entertaining, highly illustrated account.”
— Daily Mail
"Richly illustrated with botanical drawings, posters and advertisements touting the benefits of the numerous tonics made from cinchona throughout the decades, the book winds its way through the natural history and horticulture of the 'fever tree,' dips into malarial medicine, pharmacology and chemistry, traces the invention of 'aerated' soda water and the rise of the soft drink industry, and discusses the roots of mixology, with a quick detour to the use and production of ice in beverage culture."
— Chicago Tribune
“Well-presented and laid out, the writing is engaging. Photographs, posters, prints, and botanical artwork grace almost every page and make this the first authoritative history of tonic water an ideal gift.”
— The Field
“A delightfully accessible—and richly-illustrated—tome.”
— Country Life
"Just the Tonic brings together three strands to tell a single story, mixing well-informed historical narrative and quirky anecdote. . . . The book is beautifully produced. It abounds with magnificent and sometimes surprising illustrations, all carefully chosen, coming from the unparalleled collections of Kew Gardens and the Wellcome Collection."
“A complete history of tonic water, including a chapter on both alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktail recipes.”
“Discoveries from this latest fact-finding expedition launched from London’s Kew Gardens reveal nearly everything I learned about tonic water is a myth. The true story told here traverses the globe; from the age of exploration through the Industrial Revolution and beyond, before dropping readers off in the midst of a mixed drink renaissance. From fever trees to pharmacies and mixology; few tipples team with a tale as beguiling and quixotic as quinine.”
— Jim Meehan, author of The PDT Cocktail Book and Meehan’s Bartender Manual