What is Gin?
Gin is a spirit made entirely from 100% neutral spirit and flavored with a juniper-dominated collection of botanicals. While juniper usually finds itself in the lead role, its supporting cast of botanicals offers the greatest differences in gin flavor profiles.
How is it made?
Gin, on a basic level, is little more than a complex vodka infusion (neutral spirit with added flavorings). In making gin, neutral spirits which are generally produced off site (by law in England) are first flavored, then diluted with pure water and bottled.
Flavoring is done in one of two styles:
Compounded Gin represents the cheap and easy route and offers little more than neutral spirit flavored with the oils and extracts of juniper and a variety of other botanicals.
Distilled Gin is made by redistilling neutral spirit with an infusion of botanicals through one of the following methods:
- Maceration — The world’s finest gins are made by steeping botanicals in neutral spirit for a proprietary time period. Once the flavors have properly bonded, the spirit is then redistilled to meld the flavors into the final product. This usually occurs in steel stills to impart little outside flavor and highlight the characteristics of the botanical infusion.
- Vapor Infusion — A method used by Bombay Dry, Bombay Sapphire, and in the final stages of the production of Hendricks gin, in which dried botanicals are carefully packed into a small perforated basket through which heated alcoholic vapors are passed.
While juniper “elixirs” can be traced as far back as the 14th century, it is Professor Franciscus de la Boe Sylvius, a professor at the University of Leyden in 17th century Holland, who is credited with stumbling upon a mixture of juniper essence and malt spirit that would forever change the world of beverage.This “eau de vie de Genievre” (French for juniper) was warmly received by the hearty Dutch folk and soon found its way across the palates of British mercenaries fighting wars in the region. The English found this new spirit to be favorable and brought it home across the Channel where, at some point, the word Geneivre evolved into gin and its popularity began to soar.
In 1689, William of Orange, a Dutchman, ascended the English throne. An Act for Encouraging the Consumption of Malted Corn and for the Better Preventing of French and Foreign Brandy was put into law which put a quick stop to the importation of French brandy. This encouraged distillation on the home front. Gin consumption was further boosted when a royal decree eliminated the exclusive right of distilleries to make it.With milk and water generally considered unsafe to drink and beer prohibitively expensive due to taxation, the people turned to gin for satiation. It wasn’t long before an epidemic of alcoholism swept the British countryside. Sickness, death, and moral degradation grew out of control, and officials adopted the Gin Act of 1736 which banned sales of gin in small amounts and the Tippling Act of 1750 that re-privatized gin production. This slowly returned order (and relative safety) to the kingdom.
Old Tom and London Dry
The gin of this age was not the crisp, clean product we know today, but a juniper infused spirit sweetened with sugar (to mask impurities) known as Old Tom Gin. It wasn’t until the introduction of the Continuous Distillation Process in the 1830s that gin evolved into a refined beverage. The new method of producing high quality neutral spirit created the perfect blank canvas for the bright flavors of juniper, coriander, cardamom and other botanicals.This newly refined “London “Dry” gin became especially popular with British Royal Navy officers, who shared it with the rest of the world. It also found favor with the English upper class, who built themselves lavish “Gin Palaces”.
Gin also crossed the pond to became a common ingredient in a truly American way of mixing drinks: the cocktail.
As Prohibition blanketed the American landscape in 1920, genuine “bathtub gin” — a simple and dangerous mixture of juniper essence and home distillate (made, yes, in bathtubs) — evolved out of necessity, only to leave a stain on the spirit’s reputation.When the “Noble Experiment” was finally repealed in 1933, high quality gin and cocktails returned, bringing the dry martini and brisk gin and tonic back into delicious vogue.
By the 1960s, gin’s popularity dipped in favor of vodka. An entirely new generation came of age wanting nothing to do with the drinks and habits of their parents.Fortunately, that phase has passed. Gin is coming back, fueled by a growing American fascination with craft distilling and a more creative culinary cocktail culture.