Meanwhile in Texas…
The past few mornings have been a sultry mix of heat, humidity, and hungry mosquitos. Evidently, the handful of years living in New England has robbed me of my ability to function in these normal Texas conditions, so I sit inside bemoaning the heat and slathering on the insect repellent. I spend my afternoons attempting to channel my inner southern lady, reading vintage cookbooks from my family collection and sipping tall glasses of iced tea. But what I really want is a sip of something a bit more potent. Enter the Earl Grey Gin and Tonic.
1960s/1970s Gordon’s Gin advertisements
Blame it on the heat, but I’ve had khaki coated pith helmets on the mind. Making the trip through the mosquito infested stretch between the front door and the car requires a particular agility and appropriate attire. And though the threat of malaria is not imminent, I feel better taking the extra precautions and the extra swig of tonic.
Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, British explorers traveling through India – some of whom belonged to the infamous British East India Company – found themselves with similar unfortunate environmental issues and needed a way to deal with the symptoms of malaria. A special tonic water (later known throughout Great Britain as Indian Tonic) was made with various herbs, bitters, and copious amounts of malaria quelling quinine taken from the bark of the cinchona tree. Long voyages over land or sea required the additional lifesaving application of citrus – usually in the form of lime juice – to prevent scurvy. But nobody, including British gentleman, wants to take their medicine, so a bit of persuasion and a little liquid courage, in the form of dry English gin, was necessary. And that’s how the Gin and Tonic was born.
Gin has long since been a favorite of the English. Several local distillers improved upon the original Dutch process and brands like Gordon’s Dry Gin soon became staples on well-stocked English bar carts. In the 1950s and 60s, Gordon’s launched a multi-part ad campaign referencing the historic role of the beverage in British Imperialism and exploration. Capitalizing on the idea of “the Other” and of the masculine nature of the cocktail, the brand enlisted Commander Edward Whitehead, a retired officer in the British Royal Navy and the general manager of the company, as the face of their brand. With his refined yet rugged good looks and his placement in sophisticated yet adventurous locals and activities, Commander Whitehead’s association with gin reinforced the spirit’s reputation with class and gentility. Despite these clear cultural connections to India and the popular era of the British Raj, the Gin and Tonic is rarely considered in its original historic context today.
1950s/1960s Schweppes advertisements
To bring things back to their Imperial English origins, I’ve decided to throw in another flavor of British colonization in the form of Earl Grey tea. It’s a fitting addition, you see, since these British explorers often replaced their cups of afternoon tea with glass after glass of medicinal gin and tonic. I say, why not combine them all?
Earl Grey Gin and Tonics
Makes one drink
For the Earl Grey Orange Syrup:
2 heaping tablespoons Earl Grey tea
1 cup boiling water
1 tablespoons sugar
Peeled rind from half an orange
Combine all the ingredients in a small glass bowl and let steep for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain and transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
For the drink:
1 ½ oz gin
2 oz tonic
1 ½ teaspoons Earl Grey Orange syrup
Orange peel for garnish
Fill a short glass with ice. To the glass, add the Earl Grey Orange syrup, then the gin, then the tonic water. Garnish with a twist of orange rind. Drink immediately.
Stay cool, y’all.