The Journey of the Indian Tonic Water

The Journey of the Indian Tonic Water
Tonic water has a very interesting Indian link, Photo Credit: Shutterstock

With the pandemic crisis, the journey of the Indian tonic water appears to have come full circle

OT Staff
November 03 , 2020
07 Min Read

Prescribed to help themselves to daily doses of quinine (from the cinchona bark) as a prophylactic measure for malaria, the British in India, in the mid-19th century, devised a unique concoction. To make the bitter powder palatable, they mixed it with soda and sugar. It became popular as the Indian Tonic Water. And when some spirited soul added it to gin, a classic drink was born. A perfect sundowner after a hard day of work in the Indian climate. The gin in the glass of tonic was first used to mask the bitter taste of medicinal quinine, in fact.

Tonic water was born as a medicinal drink to combat the effects of malaria. It was based around quinine extracted from the bark of the cinchona tree. The Brits who went around colonising tropical countries (and falling victim to malaria in many places) made a tonic with cinchona that was originally sourced only from the Spanish colonies in South America. Later,  they grew cinchona trees in India and Sri Lanka (or Ceylon, as they called it). Because the taste of quinine solution was bitter, they made them into tonics and eventually mixed it with gin. 

If the tonic water was born in India, you may wonder, why did the Svami range of tonic water, launched a couple of years ago, excite drinkers in India? Because, apparently, India did not make its own tonic water, but imported them. With the almost simultaneous gin revival in India, the Mumbai-based Svami brand (founded by Sahil Jatana, Rahul Mehra and Aneesh Bhasin), with its original tonic as well as its low sugar, flavoured tonic waters soon became a favourite mix with many G&T lovers.

Read: World Gin Day Recipes To Lift Your Spirits

According to the company, they ‘use the finest botanicals and handpicked quinine’ to craft their tonics. Some of their popular flavoured varieties include Cucumber and Grapefruit tonic water. Their Svami 3 Cal Tonic Water, which is high on quinine and lime, is said to pair well with juniper-forward gins, vodka, tequila, and mezcal.

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A post shared by Svami (@svamidrinks) on Jun 23, 2020 at 5:15am PDT

Interestingly, Indian tonic water manufacturers are also focusing on crafting their products for use in other alcoholic (for example vodka) and non-alcoholic (for example coffee) beverages.

Launched a little after Svami, Delhi-based Sepoy & Co, founded by Angad Soni, too made a triumphant entry. Their strength lay in signature citric flavours with a spicy quotient. According to the company, it uses ‘low–sugar botanical mix of the finest oils and flavours’. Some of their popular varieties include Mint Tonic Water, Elderflower Tonic Water, and Hibiscus Tonic Water. 

Read: Maharani Gin is Breaking the Shackles of Patriarchy

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A post shared by Sepoy & Co. Low Calorie Mixers (@sepoyandco) on Oct 24, 2020 at 3:30am PDT

Bengal Bay, founded by Rishabh Gupta, prefers to make its tonic water in small batches. Their popular variants include Organic Indian Tonic, Spiced Orange and Basil Tonic, and Bengal Bay Indian Tonic. According to the company, the quinine used in their products are sourced from Peru. In fact, quinine from the Cinchona plant was popular as a health remedy among the Central American tribes, from where the knowledge passed on to the western world through Jesuit priests. Check out Bengal Bay’s website for some interesting recipes.

Read: Celebrate Gin and Tonic Day with 5 Easy Recipes

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A post shared by Bengal Bay Drinks (@bengalbaydrinks) on Oct 10, 2020 at 12:54am PDT

There are several other brands making topnotch tonics. Goa-based Western Beverages Private Limited markets its tonic water, which consists of three flavours, under the Twist brand. Delhi-based Jade Forest, another brand which has made quite a name for itself, includes variants flavoured with elderflower and grapefruits apart from their Premium Indian Tonic Water range.

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A post shared by Jade Forest (@jadeforestin) on Nov 1, 2020 at 8:21am PST




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