Gin, Ginebra, Jenever, whatever you call this classic spirit, it is as popular a drink as there is now in many parts of the world. Most importantly for us, it is massively popular in the UK and Spain.
But what is it? How is it made? What makes up a gin? What is the history of gin?
Well, let us give you a quick guide to GIN. Cheers!
Gin. What is it?
Gin is a spirit which derives its predominant flavour from juniper berries (Juniperus communis).
From its earliest origins in the Middle Ages, gin has evolved from a herbal medicine to a corner stone of commerce in the spirits industry.
Gin is one of the broadest categories of spirits, represented by products of various origins, styles, and flavour profiles that all revolve around juniper as a common ingredient.
The name gin is a shortened form of the older English word genever, related to the French word genièvre and the Dutch word jenever.
All ultimately derive from juniperus, the Latin for juniper.
Although several different styles of gin have evolved, it is legally differentiated into four categories in the European Union, which are described as follows.
Juniper-flavoured spirit drinks
This includes the earliest class of gin, which is produced by pot distilling a fermented grain mash to moderate strength and then redistilling it with botanicals to extract the aromatic compounds. It must be bottled at a minimum of 30% ABV.
This is a juniper-flavoured spirit made not via the redistillation of botanicals, but by simply adding approved natural flavouring substances to a neutral spirit of agricultural origin. The predominant flavour must be juniper.
Distilled gin is produced exclusively by redistilling ethanol of agricultural origin, in the presence of juniper berries and of other natural botanicals, provided that the juniper taste is predominant.
London gin is obtained exclusively from ethanol of agricultural origin, whose flavour is introduced exclusively through the re-distillation in traditional stills of ethanol in the presence of all the natural plant materials used, the resultant distillate of which is at least 70% ABV. London gin may not contain added sweetening exceeding 0.1 grams of sugars per litre of the final product, nor colorants, nor any added ingredients other than water. The term London gin may be supplemented by the term “dry”.
In the EU, the minimum bottled alcoholic strength for gin, distilled gin, and London gin is 37.5% ABV.
Several different techniques for the production of gin have evolved since its early origins, this evolution being reflective of ongoing modernization in distillation and flavouring techniques. As a result of this evolution, gins can be broadly differentiated into three basic styles.
Pot Distilled Gin
the earliest style of gin, and is traditionally produced by pot distilling a fermented grain mash (malt wine) from barley and or other grains, then redistilling it with flavouring botanicals to extract the aromatic compounds. A double gin can be produced by redistilling the first gin again with more botanicals.
Due to the use of pot stills, the alcohol content is relatively low; around 68% ABV for a single distilled gin or 76% ABV for a double gin. This type of gin is often aged in tanks or wooden casks, and retains a heavier, malty flavour that gives it a marked resemblance to whisky. Oude (old) style of Geneva gin or Holland gin represent the most prominent gins of this class.
Column Distilled Gin
This form of distillation evolved following the invention of the Coffey still, by an Irishman Aeneas Coffey in 1829. The gin is produced by first distilling high proof (e.g. 96% ABV) neutral spirits from a fermented mash or wash.
The fermentable base for this spirit may be derived from grain, sugar beets, grapes, potatoes, sugar cane, plain sugar, or any other material of agricultural origin. The highly concentrated spirit is then redistilled with juniper berries and other botanicals in a pot still.
Most often, the botanicals are suspended in a “gin basket” positioned within the head of the still, which allows the hot alcoholic vapours to extract flavouring components from the botanicals without them touching the spirit in the still.
This method yields a gin lighter in flavour than the older pot still method, and results in either a distilled gin or London dry gin, depending largely upon how the spirit is finished.
is made by simply flavouring neutral spirits with essences and/or other ‘natural flavourings’ without redistillation, and is not as highly regarded as distilled gin.
Popular botanicals and/or flavouring agents for gin often include citrus elements, such as lemon and bitter orange peel, as well as a combination of other spices or plants, which may include any of anise, angelica root and seed, orris root, licorice root, cinnamon, almond, cubeb, savory, lime peel, grapefruit peel, dragon eye, saffron, baobab, pine, frankincense,coriander, grains of paradise, nutmeg, cassia bark, and/or others.
Gin History, Development & Origin
The Gin Riots
The problem of poor gin and the dire consequences of half of London being drunk daily on it, was first tackled by introducing The Gin Act at midnight on 29 September 1736, which made gin prohibitively more expensive.
A licence to retail gin cost £50 and duty was raised fivefold to £1 per gallon, with the smallest quantity you could buy retail being two gallons.
The Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, and Dr. Samuel Johnson were among those who opposed the Act since they said it just could not be enforced against the will of the common people.
They were right. Riots broke out and the law was widely and openly broken.
Around this time, 11 million gallons of gin were distilled in London, which was over 20 times the 1690 figure and it has been estimated to be the equivalent of 14 gallons for each adult male.
But within six years of the Gin Act being introduced, only two distillers took out licences, yet, over the same period of time, production rose by almost fifty per cent!
Respectability, higher quality and Gin Palaces
The Gin Act, was finally recognised as unenforceable and was repealed in 1742 and a new policy, The Gin Act 1751 was more successful. This act, which distillers helped to draft was introduced: reasonably high prices, reasonable excise duties and licensed retailers under the supervision of magistrates.
In essence this is the situation which exists today. (although many of us think taxes on spirits in the UK are ridiculously high!).
Gin in the 18th century was produced in pot stills, and was somewhat sweeter than the London gin known today.
In London in the early 18th century, much of the gin was distilled legally in residential houses (there were estimated to be 1,500 residential stills in 1726) and was often flavoured with turpentine to generate woody notes in addition to the juniper. Nice!
Meanwhile, Dutch or Belgian gin, known as Jenever or Genever, was evolving and was and still is, a distinctly different drink from British gin. Schiedam, a city in the province of Southern Holland, is famous for its Jenever-producing history.
The ´Oude´ (old) style of jenever remained very popular throughout the 19th century, where it was referred to as “Holland” or “Geneva” gin.
The 19th century gave rise to a style of gin referred to as Old Tom Gin, which is a softer, sweeter style of gin, often containing sugar. But Old Tom gin faded in popularity by the early 20th century.
The invention and development of the column still (1826–31) made the distillation of neutral spirits more practical, thus enabling the creation of the ´London Dry Gin´ style that evolved later in the 19th century.
By this time the battle for trade was hotting up between the beer shops and the gin shops. Following the 1820 ‘Beerhouse Act’, beer was sold free of licensing control and 45,000 beer shops – aimed to be the cosy homes from home – had appeared by 1838.
Spirit retailers still required licences and, to compete with the beer shops, they devised the formation of ‘Gin Palaces’ where drinkers could go and relax and drink gin, all day and night! These first appeared about 1830. And very quickly became an escape from home.
Increasingly they became a home for the poor – who continued to be gin’s main supporters. Although they could be often, a sordid slum, many Gin Palaces were large, imposing and handsome and even luxuriously furnished. By the 1850s there were about 5,000 such places in London.
And even the elite of society would spend sometimes days drinking gin. More down to earth drinking dens would see debauchery, gambling and the poor spending their last penny on gin.
In tropical British colonies gin was used to mask the bitter flavour of Quinine, which was the only effective anti-malarial compound.
Quinine was first isolated in 1820 from the bark of the Cinchona tree. And is very previlant in South America.
Extracts from the bark have been used to treat malaria since at least 1632.
In India during the time of the Raj, Quinine was dissolved in carbonated water to form tonic water; and this is where the resulting cocktail is gin and tonic was born.
Even Winston Churchill recognized the benefits of the drink, saying, “The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.”
Now however, some modern tonic water contains only a trace of quinine as a flavouring. But new producers are starting to use natural flavourings in tonics again.
The Late 19th & 20th Century
As reforms took effect, so the gin production process became more refined. So gin evolved to become a delicate balance of subtle flavours, and began its ascent into high society.
Malaria wasn’t the only disease that gin had a hand in curing. Scurvy was very prevelant in the late 1800s, particularly with British sailors. Scurvy is a lack of vitamin C. And so the Merchant Shipping Act of 1867 required ships to carry lime juice, which was preserved with the addition of gin.
Because lime juice didn’t taste fantastic on its own, the sailors added the gin.
Further advanced distilling methods and law changes led to more respectable firms embarking on the business of distilling and retailing gin and it became the drink of high quality, which it has since remained. Many companies established themselves as well-to-do manufacturers, often becoming sponsers for major enterprises.
The first of the big gin companies were being founded.
Gin had been known as ‘Mother’s Milk’ from the 1820s but later in the century it became known as ‘Mother’s Ruin’ due to the number of women who drank it to excess daily.
1882: THE MARTINI IS BORN
Arguably the most popular and well known cocktail of all time?
The cocktail has played a large role in popular culture. In 1882, arguably the most classic of all classic cocktails, made from gin, vermouth and orange bitters, appeared in print for the first time.
Gin triumphed in the 1920s – the first ‘Cocktail Age’. It was a time of celebration after 1914-18 World War. And gin was drank even more so because it was scarce during the war.
The Martini was now recognised as a cosmopolitan and refreshing drink and very popular with the upper classes. Gin became the darling of the famous Cunard cruises. During the 1920s and 1930s the newly popular idea of the ‘Cocktail-Party’ crossed the Atlantic from the USA to Britain via the American women who wanted to spend time with their friends, in the free time between lunch and dinner.
In the early 20th century, gin was a big part of the drinking scene. London Dry gin, with its subtle flavour made it easy to mix and it quickly became the most popular ingredient in a host of fashionable cocktails, like the Gin Sling.
1920 TO 1933: PROHIBITION & BATHTUB GIN
Gin once again had an ugly run-in with the law during the Great Experiment in the United States: Prohibition.
Because the spirit is easy to produce by infusing neutral spirit with botanicals like juniper and coriander, thirsty drinkers began making it in their bathtubs.
And the phrase bathtub Gin was born.
Secretly produced “bathtub gin” was available in the speakeasies and “blind pigs” of Prohibition-era America as a result of the relative simple production.
During prohibition W.C. Fields was asked why, if he didn’t have a drinking problem, did he buy 300 cases of gin before it started. He replied “I didn’t think it would last that long.”
This likely spurred the popularity of gin-based drinks in the early to mid-20th century, including the Martini, French 75, Gin Rickey and Orange Blossom.
Over the next twenty or thirty years many other cocktails with improbable names came to reflect the dizzy and sophisticated society which created them.
By 1951 the Bartenders’ Guild had registered 7000 cocktails on its files!
Gin was becoming the essential spirit in alot of them! At the same time gin had become one of the three essential drinks for home entertaining.
And the cocktail culture of the 80s spurned new gin concoxtions, leading to the 90s where the fashion for cocktails resulted in a new career for seriously good cocktail bartenders, or ‘Mixologists’ as some of the new breed were to be known.
2000 ONWARDS: GIN RE-INVENTED
There was a time from the mid 90s where gin became less popular. Other spirits like Vodka and Barcardi were marketed better and used in more cocktails. Drinks like Vodka-Redbull were popular in the nightclubs and bars and coctails like the Sex on the Beach, the Tequila Sunrise and the Black Russian used different spirits to gin.
The rise in sales of Alcopops, like Barcadi Breezer, made Gin and Tonics and other spirit and mixer combinations less popular too.
But from 2007, gin has made a big comeback.
Bartenders have remastered old cocktails made with gin, and distillers have started to reintroduce old styles like Old Tom, as well as experimented with everything from barrel-aging, to new infused flavorings (strawberry gin, being one very popular infused gin).
Gin and tonic, which always sold well, but had become boring in its presentation, has once again become one of the most popular and refreshing drinks in the modern day. And it is a drink that keeps on evolving.
Old favourites and long established brands like Beefeater and Gordons are now in competition with a new breed of artisan gin producers. Who are bringing new, exciting blends and botanicals in their gins, all with a fresh look and an authentic story to tell.
The result is that older brands have adapted and this is great for all who love gin.
SPAIN: THE GAME CHANGERS
We first saw this revolution in Spain 6 or 7 years ago. Until then, in the UK at least, gin and tonic had been served in low ball, or high ball, or tumbler glasses. But for us, it was the Spanish and their love of socialising, adventurous young bartenders and their love of drinking that introduced the of serving gin and tonic in a 250ml wine glass, and then later, specialised balloon shaped glasses.
Again, Spain was the first place, we saw variations on the garnish in gin-tonic. Usually up until 2007, it was lemon or lime that was used in many bars in the UK.
In the worst places, ice was not always offered!
But in Spain, new flavours have been introduced which are very exciting, like pink grapefruit, cucumber, strawberry, along with herbs like fennel and basil, and spices like black pepper and cardemon seeds.
Indeed, in the case of citrus fruits, the trend has come around again, to using only the peel of the fruit and not a slice of fruit itself. The peel has the flavour and doesn´t overpower the gin with sweetness.
It is not only the gins themselves that have adapted, it is the way they are served: with better tonics. A growing number of gin bars have opened and have capitalised on the growing popularity of the gin and tonic. And now offer new tonics such as Fevertree, Nordic Mist, Fentimans and Seagrams which have transformed the way gin and tonics taste.
As for ice, the trend definitely is more is best. A balloon glass can hold plenty of ice, but is also used because the aromas of the drink can gather at its opening for the drinker to more easily appreciate the aromas of the botanicals..
And it just looks damn good too!
The popularity of this variation of the gin and tonic has led to the establishment of Gin-Tonic bars, in which customers can choose their preferred gin, tonic, and garnish from a menu.
Again, Spain was the first place we saw this outside of the best cocktail bars of London. And the trend has came back over the water to inspire new bars in the UK to really make gin the centre of their bar business.
Standards of gin and tonic being served around the UK have never been so high.
To celebrate the success of gin and its popularity around the globe now, since 2009 the second Saturday in June has been designated as World Gin Day.
So all in all, gin has had a long and adventurous journey over the centuries and is one of the most enduring of all drinks.
From the cold lowlands of Holland where it was drank by British soldiers, fighting there, to the pharmacies of Belgium, Holland and England where it was sold as a medicinal aid. To the Gin Palaces of Old London, to the sophisticated upper classes, drinking it on the old Atlantic cruise liners.
To the heart of the colonial past of Britain, where gin and tonics were first drank to combat malaria, to the Speakeasy´s of Prohibition America, back to the popularity of the swinging 60s in London and the cocktail generation of the 90s in the States.
To now, the most popular of spirits sold in fashionable bars of London, Madrid, Barcelona, New York and Rome.
And it is also the number one sold and drank spirit in many countries, like the Phillipines.
And Spain, where the revolution continues, in how gin is served. Gin continues to adapt.