Brexit: Gin Lane or Beer Street?
Since I started writing The Greasy Spoon back in the Autumn of 2007, I don’t think I have ever missed a monthly post. Not that I am going to do that now, but truthfully, over the last few days, I’ve been glued to both the television and the dreaded internet, and my usual enthusiasm for blogging has waned. With all the political, economic and constitutional turmoil, a post on, say, muffins, the joys of tomato ketchup, or even- dare I say it- the chance of Boris Johnson being reincarnated as an olive seems trite. The reaction to the referendum result in London and on social media has been extraordinary, frankly bordering on hysteria, with both the capital and cyberspace erupting into a barrage of angst, negativity and hand-wringing on a scale worthy of the colossus. Thankfully, calmer and wiser heads, with an eye to the wider picture, are beginning to emerge; and I hope- and trust- that they will prevail. Life goes on. Of course it does. Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to tonic, or rather tonic water.
Tonic. It’s something, here in Britain, we’re rather good at. What’s in it? Quinine. Quinine was first isolated from the bark of the cinchona tree (a genus of flowering plants in the family Rubiacae) in 1820. According to that simple sword of truth, Wikipedia: “Linnaeus named the genus in 1742 after the Second Countess of Chinchón, the wife of a viceroy of Peru. According to some accounts, she suffered from malaria and was cured by a botanical remedy made of the powdered bark of a native tree. The veracity of the story is uncertain, but the tree still carries her name.”
What we do know is that quinine cures or helps to cure malaria. During the days of colonial India, the British began to take quinine as a precaution against the illness. To counter act the bitter taste of the quinine powder, they mixed it up with sugar and soda, in effect, creating a primitive version of the tonic water we all know and love today. The first commercial tonic water was produced in 1858.
And the best tonic water on the market? The long finger has to point, of course, to the excellent and innovative Fever Tree, but before we get too excited, I must also stick up for Schweppes, which still makes a classic tonic water in the best traditions of Abigail’s Party, the ‘fast’ Gloucestershire hunting set and retired spirtualist mediums from the stucco’d backstreets of Cheltenham. The important thing to understand is that the slimline stuff ain’t no good. I used to drink it for years. It tasted pretty foul, far too sweet and saccharine for my liking, but I had genuine concerns about my expanding middle section, which Mrs Aitch can confirm. I’m glad to report that I’ve reverted back to the proper stuff and it’s a completely different drink, which gives the designer tonics, at least, a run for their money. For those on a budget, Waitrose tonic water has also scored highly in blind tasting tests.
Of course, the recent boom in designer tonics is very much linked to the Great Gin Revival. I’m sure it’s because of the loose nature of gin itself (as opposed to the blander manufacturing methods of vodka); it’s quite possible to set up a small semi-amateur or “artisan” (a slightly pretentious word which Mr Peter York disdains, with good reason) and produce your own gin, flavoured with all sorts of unusual and original botanicals, as indeed the numerous and enterprising micro-distilleries have proved. I’ve lost count. Britain is, undoubtably, the best gin producer in the world.
Incidentally, and back on the subject of who is going to be our next Prime Minister, now that Govers is confirmed as a the perfect Brutus (Central Casting couldn’t do better) and Boris is out of the race, I’ve just placed twenty quid on Andrea Leadsom at 5/1. I have a sneaky hunch...Watch this space.
William Hogarth (1607-1764): Beer Street, 1751.