The real reason your gin and tonic tastes so good (as explained by science)

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Kayleigh Dray
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You may have gotten the idea that we’re more than a little obsessed with the humble G&T – but our love for mother’s ruin is completely justified.

Not only is gin actually very good for you, but it’s arguably one of the most refined drinks out there, with a cult celebrity following including the likes of Phyllis Diller, Humphrey Bogart, Dorothy Parker, and Winston Churchill.

Yet there’s no denying that, while gin tastes wonderful, tonic on its own is… well, it’s actually pretty disgusting.

So how do the two drinks combine so perfectly to make the alcoholic bevvy of our dreams?

Well, it’s all to do with the magic of science.

According to Matthew Hartings, an assistant professor in chemistry at American University, Washington, the chemical properties of gin and tonic flavour molecules have a very unusual effect on one another when they are mixed.

Unlike oils and waters, which separate in the mixing process, the molecules found in gin and tonic are actually very similar.


This means that when they are mixed, they are bound together to form an aggregate. Or, put more simply, the essential oil of the juniper berry – the base botanical in gin – merges with the bitter-tasting quinine of the tonic.

“These aggregates create a taste sensation that is completely different from just gin and tonic on their own,” he explains on Sciencegeist. “And this is why a gin and tonic doesn’t taste exactly like gin plus tonic.” 

Instead, he says, it tastes like an entirely new flavour – one which is as complex as a mixture made up in a laboratory. Which explains why you may love G&T even if you hate gin (a concept which, we agree, seems highly unlikely) or tonic by themselves.

The science of molecular bindings can be applied to other drinks and foods, helping chefs, such as Heston Blumenthal, to create both intuitive and unusual flavour pairings.

In fact, the effect has been beautifully captured by one very famous film:

That’s right; Disney’s Ratatouille was so much more than just a kid’s film. It was actually a very subtle lesson in the science of molecules, aggregates, and flavour pairings.

Who knew, eh?

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.