ginning up the joint
Feb. 14, 2010 12:29 pm
Updated: Feb. 18, 2010 10:28 am
Any noxious stench emanating from Capitol Hill over the weekend was probably only coincidental to the cinchona bark boilin’up in my kitchen. I was in mad-scientist mode, you see; preparing homemade tonic syrup for some seasonally inappropriate gin and tonics. Probably the smell will come out of the drapes.
If you’re much into G&Ts, you’ll recall that during England’s
colonial days in India, British soldiers took quinine to fend off
malaria. Tonic water, which the English patented in the mid-1800s,
became the preferred vehicle for getting malaria-fighting quinine into
British bellies. And gin, as it happened, with its robust juniper
flavor, proved the perfect tool for making a bitter quinine cocktail
quaffable. Gin was the funky yin to quinine’s foul-flavored yang. It
was a case of two somewhat disgusting things coming together to create
something surprisingly excellent! [See also, the martini.]
For such a simple drink (gin, tonic water, lime), the G&T sure has a fascinating history. For example, although the British popularized tonic in India, cinchona bark, from which we derive the quinine, actually originates in Peru and Bolivia. Centuries before Europeans pulled their galleons alongside South America, Quechua Indians were already enjoying the medicinal benefits of cinchona bark. They boiled it and mixed it with water and sweetened it to create the world’s first tonic water.
Jesuits were the first to haul cinchona to Europe, where it was also used as medicine. Besides being anti-malarial, quinine is (as described in Wikipedia) a fever reducer, a painkiller, a muscle relaxant, and an anti-inflammatory drug. Wiki also notes that it is used to treat lupus, night-time leg cramps, and arthritis. That’s quite a resume.
Gin, surprisingly, was also created originally as a medicine, specifically as a cure for kidney ailments, which I find unusual, since after a couple drinks of gin, my kidneys feel like they’ve been whacked with a ball-peen hammer.
But the bottom line here: Put gin and tonic together, add a generous squeeze of lime, and you have yourself a magic elixir: okay, it may not actually cure the above ailments, but if you’re in Seattle and you haven’t seen the sun for a while, or you’re out East (or even in Texas!) buried under a pile of snow, it’s like a little taste of summer sunshine, a surefire cure for the winter blahs.
And now, the verdict: Once the cinchona powder is boiled with water, sugar, citric acid, lime juice and lime zest, and lemon grass, and allowed to cool, and is then filtered and refiltered and filtered again (wow, that cinchona is gritty), the resulting syrup looks kind of like sarsaparilla and smells like a strong-scented, fruity cola (nice!). I measure out about a half ounce of tonic syrup for every 2 ounces of gin, and then top it off with soda water and a generous squeeze of lime. And the gin, boy the gin really renders the bitter into something wonderful. I can see how on a hot day, this concoction will be perfectly craveworthy. So far, I’ve enjoyed it with Aviation Gin and Tanquerey, and I prefer Aviation. But more experimentation to follow...
[Note: The recipe I used comes from Kevin Ludwig’s (of Beaker & Flask in Portland, OR) recipe, which appeared in Imbibe.]
UPDATE (2/15/10): so okay, here's the recipe adapted from Kevin Ludwig's recipe in Imbibe (you can also find his article saved in my Recipe box.): Here's the recipe: cook 3 cups of sugar in 4 cups of water until dissolved. Add 3 tablespoons of powdered cinchona bark, 6 tbspn citric acid (in powder form), the juice and zest of 3 limes, and several stalks of lemongrass (chopped up to fit in your saucepan). Cook it for about a half hour. Then cool, and strain it repeatedly through coffee filters or cheese cloth into bottles and store in the fridge.
If you make a batch of the syrup, try it with Dry Soda's Juniper Berry Soda (if you can find it) instead of regular soda water. Enjoy!
simmering the cinchona