Gin 101

gin americanGin goes by many names – Mother’s Ruin, Dutch Courage, Madame Geneva, and the list goes on. This spirit of many names, has quite the storied history that is shaped by many political, legal, and cultural shifts. The first confirmed date for the production of gin is the early 17th century in Holland, although claims have been made that it was produced prior to this in Italy. It was produced as a medicine and sold in chemist shops to treat stomach problems, gout, and gallstones. To make it more palatable, the Dutch started to flavor it with juniper, which had medicinal properties of its own.

During the Dutch War of Independence (1568–1648; also known as the Eighty Years War), English forces in Holland discovered gin and enjoyed it before battle. The English dubbed gin “Dutch courage.” Gin became so popular among English troops that they brought it back with them after the war. By the middle of the 1700s, you might recall, the English government had become pretty tax-happy; not only were they famously imposing levies on tea exported to its North American colonies, but they also heavily taxed spirits imported into the mother country. At the same time, though, the government allowed unlicensed production of gin, which led to a period called the Gin Craze, when the City of London experienced an extended period of public drunkenness (hence came the monikers Mother’s Ruin and Madam Geneva).

Eventually, the government cracked down, imposing expensive licenses on gin production and duties on gin retailers. This led to riots and open flouting of the law. As time went on, the gin craze wore off. The invention of the column still in the 19th century introduced a new technology to gin distilling, allowing gin makers to produce a higher-proof neutral spirit, allowing the juniper and other aromatics to dominate the flavor profile. Gin shifted from a former vice to a staple in all of the delicious Gin and Tonics we consume today.

So, what exactly is gin, anyway?

Gin is a colorless, unaged spirit that is ordinarily made by distilling or redistilling fermented grains with juniper berries and other aromatics such as herbs, flowers, and spices (otherwise known as botanicals).

Juniper berries

Juniper berries

The spirit base of gin is primarily grain – wheat or rye – and is distilled in columned stills, resulting in a spirit that is high-proofed and light-bodied.

There are five types of gin:

London Dry Gin – The dominant English style that is popular in the United Kingdom, United States, Spain, and former British colonies.

Plymouth Gin – This is produced by only one distillery located in the English Channel port of Plymouth. This gin is relatively full-bodied when compared to the London Dry.

Old Tom Gin – The last remaining example of the originally lightly sweetened gin that was popular in 18th century England. Legend has it that the name came from a vending machine shaped like a black cat (Old Tom) on the wall of pubs . Passersby would deposit a penny in the cats mouth and the bartender would give them a shot of gin through a small tube between the cat’s paws.

Genever – Dutch style of gin produced in Holland, Belgium, and Germany made in pot stills.

New America/New Western – This term began to be used in the early 2000’s to describe gin that pushed the boundaries of the traditional juniper-centric gins by focusing on cucumber, grapes, and other infusions.

Top-quality gins are made by distillation in columned stills. During its last round of distillation, alcohol vapor wafts through a chamber in which the juniper berries and botanicals are suspended, extracting aromatic and flavoring oils that travel through the chamber to the condenser. This adds a nice complexity to the gin. Compound, or low-quality, gin is made by simply adding the essence of juniper and other aromatics to neutral grain spirits (see bathtub gin).

Further Reading:

5 Essential Gin Cocktails

Stop by the store from July 6 – August 6 for our Spirits Sale and get 10% – 15% off selected gins!

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