Gin makes a strong argument in favor of drinking Christmas trees. The distilled spirit uses juniper berries to create an unusual, refreshing, and delicious sip. Cocktail enthusiasts and spirit fans worldwide enjoy gin’s charms.
However, the alcohol has been around longer than any of us reading this article and has a wealth of fascinating history and facts.
This article looks at what makes gin the liquor it is, the distillation methods used to craft the distinctive spirit, and some of the best ways to enjoy the beverage.
What Is Gin?
Gin is a distilled alcohol that heavily features juniper berries and often serves as a cocktail mixer.
Gin is a strong, distilled alcohol made from juniper berries and grains. The liquor has a distinct, crisp pine tree taste.
Gin is commonly used as a cocktail mixer. The spirit runs between 80 and 100 proof, or 40 to 50 percent alcohol by volume.
Countries worldwide produce gin; however, the Dutch invented the alcohol, and the English popularized it.
A Brief History of Gin
Dr. Franciscus Sylvus stumbled into creating gin in the 16th century while attempting to patent a kidney medicine. The concoction’s purpose was to cleanse the blood; however, genievre, as Dr. Sylvus called it, only took hold as a libation.
The Dutch chemist named his creation after the French word for “juniper,” owing to the prominence of the berries in the drink.
Gin really took off when the Dutch King William III became the ruler of England as well and introduced the Brits to Dutch gin.
That period is referred to as the “gin craze,” as monarch’s actions made gin accessible to the masses, leading to an increase in gin production but also various problems pertaining to health, crime rates, and more.
Types of Gin
There are multiple gin variations, the most prominent of which are London Dry Gin, Plymouth Gin, Genever Gin, Navy Strength Gin, and Old Tom Gin.
London Dry Gin
Don’t be fooled by the name; unlike Plymouth gin, London Dry gin can be and is produced all over the world. The spirit is dry and devoid of artificial sweeteners.
The name refers to the distillation method used to craft the gin. London Dry Gin packs a powerful juniper flavor. Citrus, herb, and spice tastes round out the flavor profile.
London Dry Gin originated from a desire to regulate gin production. Before that incarnation of the spirit, gin’s massive popularity inspired plenty of dubious distillation methods, resulting in barely drinkable alcohol.
London Dry Gin changed that, creating a surefire method for making delicious spirits.
To truly be Plymouth gin, distillers must produce the spirit within the city of Plymouth, England. The style and flavor are similar to London Dry gin; however, Plymouth gin is a bit sweeter.
Plymouth gin is always navy strength-57 percent abv and features a number of earthy flavors.
Seven botanical components work together to create the spirit’s unique taste:
- Coriander seeds
- Orris root
- Dried orange peels
- Angelica root
Genever gin is the OG version of the spirit. Created in the 16th century, Genever enters the world as a malt wine. That malty flavor carries through to the finished product, something you won’t find in other gin variations.
Genever’s juniper flavor is milder than other gins. Genever’s recipe typically features ginger, cloves, caraway, and nutmeg. Genever gin is particularly good in cocktails.
Navy Strength Gin
Navy strength refers to the alcohol content in this gin variation. The spirit is powerful, weighing in at 57.15 percent alcohol by volume, making it markedly stronger than London Dry Gin, which has 40 to 45 percent abv.
The name “navy strength” refers to a practical concern. Sailors stored the spirit below ships’ decks with gunpowder.
If the casks sprung a leak and permeated the gunpowder, any alcohol level below 57.15 percent would prevent the substance from burning.
Old Tom Gin
Old Tom gin gained prominence during the 18th century. The Crown placed prohibitive taxes on gin to stem its popularity, but aficionados didn’t let them stop them from imbibing the spirit.
Bootleggers worked around the extensive taxing and licensing expenses and sold bathtub gin through back channels.
Old Tom gin adds extra aromatics to enhance the alcohol’s sweetness. While the variation fell out of style some time ago, it’s been experiencing a resurgence.
In terms of bite and tartness, Old Tom gin falls between a Genever and London Dry gins.
Sloe gin combines classic gin with the sloe fruit, which are plum relatives. The fruit flavored gin has a lower abv than standard variations on the spirit.
Additionally, many sloe gin recipes add sugar, which makes the liquor very sweet. New fans may find sloe gin a more pleasant drinking gin, but many died-in-the-wool enthusiasts find it cloying and saccharine.
How Gin Is Made
The gin-making elevator pitch is that juniper berries and neutral grain alcohol distills to make the spirit. However, there are several ways of infusing the flavors into gin, including steeping, vacuum distillation, and vapor infusion.
Steeping, also called maceration, is a method in which the botanicals soak in ethanol to lend the alcohol their flavors. The process happens in a pot still, which is simply a vessel placed over a heat source.
The potency of the flavor distillers hope to achieve determines the steeping duration. Some choose to separate the botanicals and ethanol promptly, while those aiming for stronger flavors may continue steeping for up to 48 hours.
Once the gin has steeped for the desired time, distillers apply heat, and the liquid turns to vapor, which then condenses back into liquid without any impurities.
The botanical flavor carries through the vapor and remains in the condensed final product.
Vacuum distillation allows the process to happen at lower temperatures than traditional distillation.
Higher temperatures cause many of the desired flavors to cook out, while the vacuum method triggers the necessary evaporation at a lower temperature, maintaining the gin’s herbaceous flavor.
Vacuum distillation pumps the vapors and excess air out of the vessel, which reduces air pressure and creates a vacuum. The vacuum allows distillation to happen at lower temperatures, which is why vacuum distillation is also called cold distillation.
This method is gaining popularity because it maintains the integrity of the alcohol’s flavor profile.
Distillers achieve vapor infusion by suspending a basket of botanicals over the still pot. This setup is called a Carter-head still and allows the vapors to pass through the botanicals and leach their flavors as they pass through the suspended basket.
Distillers heat the ethanol in the lower part of the still. Once the hot, evaporated vapors hit the suspended botanicals, they release essential oils, which flavor the vapors.
When the vapors condense, they are infused with the botanical oils and flavors.
What Gin Tastes Like
While there are a variety of gins, they share one commonality: every gin, at its core, tastes like a delicious Christmas tree.
London Dry Gin, Plymouth Gin, and Navy Strength Gin all have very similar bases. Navy Strength is the most potent of the three, packing a high abv and a powerful taste.
Plymouth Gin is the sweetest of the three and has extra earthy elements. Old Tom Gin is the most divergent of the primary gin varieties.
The spirit includes a healthy measure of licorice, which adds a slight anise flavor, but mostly makes the gin much sweeter than other types.
How To Drink Gin
Gin is primarily enjoyed in cocktails. The bright spruce flavor complements any number of mixers.
However, enthusiasts may choose to enjoy the spirit straight. Freezing gin and gradually bringing it to room temperature helps release flavors otherwise submerged in the spirit.
David T. Smith, an English gin expert, recommends deferring to barrel-aged gins if you plan to enjoy the spirit neat.
Copa and highball glasses are the best options for serving gin. Both vessels have wide open bowls that allow the spirit to breathe, add to the aroma, and improve the flavor profile.
Famous Gin Brands
The gin market is crowded; however, the most famous and celebrated brands include Hendrick’s Gin, Bombay Sapphire, Beefeater, and Tanqueray.
Hendrick’s gin distinguishes itself in the crowded field by utilizing a unique blend of two distinct distillations.
The spirit, founded in 2002, makes two gins; one using the traditional, one pot distillation method and the other relying on vapor infusion through a long-necked Carterhead pot. Hendrick’s blends to gins and adds a rose and cucumber infusion. The resulting spirit has an unusual cucumber-forward flavor.
Bombay Sapphire launched their iconic blue bottles into liquor cabinets in 1986. The spirit is a favorite among gin aficionados, celebrated for its clean, crisp flavor.
Bombay Sapphire relies entirely on vapor infusion to attain its refreshing taste. The brand uses two carterhead stills named Tom and Mary from the 1830s to craft its alcohol.
Beefeater gin holds the distinction of being the world’s most awarded gin. The brand has had plenty of time to earn its flowers; Beefeater began distilling gin in 1863.
Beefeater makes London Dry Gin by following the recipe originated by James Burrough when he founded the distillery.
Charles Tanqueray created his namesake gin in the 1830s. Since that moment of invention, the spirit has earned accolades and loyal fans globally.
Tanqueray is a London Dry Gin with multiple awards under its belt. A 2016 Drinker’s International poll named Tanqueray the best-selling and comprehensively favorite spirit.
The double-distilled gin earned its creators many awards and much praise in the liquor world.
While some enjoy gin neat, the spirit functions more frequently as a mixer in some of our favorite cocktails, including:
Gin and Tonic
This classic cocktail couldn’t be simpler to make, containing only two ingredients, both mentioned in the drink’s name.
Another old standard, the Tom Collins is tart and sweet, gaining a slight pucker with an assist from lemon juice.
The gimlet is retro, fun, and easy to make, provided you have gin, lime juice, and maple syrup.
The gin rickey’s maintained its popularity since the 1880s, owing to its simplicity; the cocktail needs only gin, soda water, and lime juice.
The Negroni is an Italian classic that uses equal measures of gin, Campari, and vermouth.
A gin martini is about as cool and classic as a cocktail comes, needing only gin, vermouth, and ice.
Frequently Asked Questions
We’ve provided a pretty comprehensive overview of gin, but a few frequently asked questions remain, and we have the answers.
What is gin liqueur?
Gin liqueur is a lower alcohol content gin drink flavored with fruit and sweeteners. Sweeter and lighter than the straight spirit, these flavored gins go down easier for casual gin drinkers and mix well in cocktails.
Where did gin & tonic come from?
Gin & tonics originated in India, where the army used the concoction to battle malaria. Quinine mixed with water served as a malaria preventative but tasted awful.
Army officers mixed sugar, lime, and gin into the water and quinine mixture to make it palatable.
What is a gimlet?
A gimlet is a gin and lime cocktail that traces its roots at least back to 1928. The classic concoction uses only two ingredients-gin and lime juice, and features in the Raymond Chandler classic, The Long Goodbye.
Does gin pair well with any foods?
Gin pairs well with foods with strong and distinct flavors, like seafood and ginger. A cool glass of gin complements meat and cheese platters as well.
How Do You Drink Your Gin?
Gin is one of the world’s favorite liquors. The spirit began humbly enough as a treatment for renal disorders, then skyrocketed through the stratosphere to dominate the alcohol scene.
There are many kinds of gin to please every palate. Three different distillation methods provide unique flavors.
However, every gin variation made by any process carries a taste of juniper and other botanicals, making it the perfect spirit to mix into your favorite cocktails.