In the Middle Ages, the Dutch developed gin, grain alcohol flavored with juniper berries (or even turpentine!), as a medicinal spirit to treat maladies as wide-ranging as arthritis, back pain, upset stomach, and kidney infections. During the 16th century, soldiers drank it before battle for its calming properties, leading to its being nicknamed, “Dutch Courage.”
Later on, British military doctors discovered that quinine (the powdered bark of the chinchona tree) could be used to treat malaria, but the soldiers detested the bitter taste of the powder when mixed with water, so they cut the medicine with sugar, gin, and lime (another plant that came to be associated with the British navy).
Thus was born the classic gin and tonic.
It makes sense that Namibia, having been ruled at various times in the past by the Dutch and the British, and having serious malaria issues, would develop a taste for gin & tonic – and that’s just what Elise found when she spent two years teaching English there after college.
I don’t even know if tonic water has enough quinine to make a difference, but the expats all swore that was the reason for their affinity for gin & tonic – to counteract the malaria mosquitoes. Who knows, it may not just be the quinine but the combination of quinine (antimalarial), alcohol (antiseptic), and lime (antioxidant) that seemed to have the desired effect.
In any case, Elise apparently did not drink enough gin & tonic because she still ended up with malaria – but that’s a story for another day!
When Elise returned to the U.S. she discovered that none of the local bartenders knew how to do a proper gin & tonic. She had to coach them on the right way to build a drink fit for an expat.
In case you want to try it out, or if you are getting ready to visit Namibia, you’ll want to know how the recipe works. The secret is in the first step – start with sliced lime in the bottom of the glass and muddle (or crush) it to enhance the lime flavor.
Elise’s Expat Gin & Tonic
- Muddle lots of lime in the bottom of the glass.
- Add ice
- Fill the glass to 1/3 with gin
- Fill the rest of the glass with tonic
- Garnish with another slice of lime at the top (you want to be able to smell the lime while you are drinking the gin).