Tonic – The drug that aided Colonialism

Tonic – The drug that aided Colonialism

Fable has it that the first European cured was the countess of Chinchón, Señora Ana de Osorio, in 1630. Osorio was the wife of the Spanish Luis Jerónimo de Cabrera, 4th Count of Chinchón – the Viceroy of Peru (a mouthful).
Thus the name cinchona was granted to the tree, in her honor.
Research shows this is fiction, since she died in Spain 3 years before her husband left for South America…

Cinchona Tonic Bark Porters

Cinchona Bark


In 1623 a new Pope is to be named in Rome. Malaria breaks out within the group of Cardinals assembled for selection. 8 die. The new Pope, Urban VIII, is stricken. Severely ill for months, he survives.

We often consider Malaria to be a ‘tropical disease’. Actually, Malaria used to affect people from England to France and Italy.

Pope Urban VIII has an obvious interest to send Jesuit expeditions to find a cure. Between 1620-1632 Jesuit missionary Barnabé de Cobo studies medical botany on the border of Ecuador and Peru. He discovers that Incans drink a Cinchona bark tea to heal Malaria. In 1632 he takes his discovery to Rome.
The Spanish, having seized Peru see the value of this curative bark and protect their supply by trying to block export of Cinchona seeds and trees.

English Colonialists create spin that the indigenous Peruvian farmers are using ‘unsustainable’ practices to harvest the bark of the ‘fever tree’.
This excuse is employed by the English to smuggle Cinchona trees to Southeast Asia. Cultivation of a ready supply of tonic keeps many colonialists alive, allowing them to continue their conquest of India, Africa and later restoring halted work on the Panama Canal.

The funny thing is that the ‘unsustainable‘ Peruvian style of cutting the bark and letting it grow back instead of cutting the tree down actually produces more malaria fighting alkaloids in the bark as it re-grows.

Fever Tree

The tonic wasn’t an overnight success. The only fever the bark cured was what was then known as ‘Bad Airs, or Ague (Malaria)

Scams and rotten or useless bark abounded. The ‘best’ remedy of the day was to bleed the patient by cutting them. People were very reluctant to stop the practice.

In 1632, tonic became endorsed by Pope Urban VIII. Therefore many English Protestants refused the treatment as being part of the Popish Plot.
Famed English physicist Richard Talbor had a renowned secret/non-Catholic recipe to cure malaria, revealed upon his death as the exact one the Catholics used (Cinchona!)
His formula was seven grams of rose leaves, two ounces of lemon juice mixed with wine macerated with cinchona  (Robert Talbor (1682) The English Remedy: Talbor’s Wonderful Secret for Curing of Agues and Feavers)

Why we mix alcohol with tonic

The curative alkaloid Quinine derived from Cinchona bark is more soluble in ethanol alcohol than water. Early on, wine maceration was used. As gin became available, it became the preferred choice. Today the custom of drinking Tonic is no longer a medical necessity, but continues to expand.

The English became the first to add gin to their tonic, but Spain has taken the crown as the nation that drinks the most Gin Tonics, in the most variations.

Brokers London Dry Gin is my gin of choice for a gin and tonic, but there are now thousands of options. I recommend avoiding commercial tonic water and using craft tonic syrup mixed with gin, citrus and soda water. Three great brands are True (, Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. ( and Alberta’s own Porters Tonic (

Porters Tonic Gin Brokers London Dry Malaria

The Porters Tonic Line-up – Cardamom Orange, Grapefruit and Traditional Tonic

With that quick history – it’s time to experiment with the newest offering from Porters Tonic Syrup in Calgary.
Porters Cardamom Orange tonic’s made with distilled water, agave syrup, cinchona bark, orange and cardamom. Simple and genuine.

To try this unique spin on Tonic we sampled assorted gins. St. George Terroir, Dillons Unfiltered, Brokers London Dry, Tanqueray 10, Schramms Organic Potato Base, and Deaths Door.

We used fresh lime juice (Here’s a video about why they’re so expensive now), charged (soda) water, gin and tonic to taste. Stirred with ice.

Cinchona bark tonic water gin Tangueray Deaths Door St. George Deaths Door Brokers London Dry Terroir

The gin library

The St George Terroir provided a dry bite with notable rosemary lingering on the finish.

Deaths Door was citrusy and peppery dry. 

Tanq 10 let the cardamom shine and had a balanced acidity.

The Dillons Gin was soft and floral, a good choice for gin and tonic novices.

Schramms was very floral and bold.

The surprise favorite of the night was the traditional London Dry Gin styled Brokers . Everything just hums in the classic gin pairing with the cardamom orange tonic.

Porters Tonic Cinchona Tonic Gin

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Written by

Bartender. Dirt City Bon Vivant. Writer for @CulinaireMag | Contributor to | Partner in @justcocktails |


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  • livelikeburning

    Love this story. We have alcohol to thank for the “new world”

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