History of Gin
Gin at its basic is a spirit that is flavoured with juniper. However, behind this simple façade is a history that spans centuries. The first known production of gin dates back to the early 17th century in Holland. In Holland it was first used as medicine to treat stomach complaints, gout and gallstones. To make it more palatable, the Dutch started to flavour it with juniper, which had medicinal properties of its own.
Owing to its warming properties, it began to be known as the “Dutch Courage” and were given to British troops fighting in the Low Countries during the Thirty Years’ War during the long campaigns in the damp weather. Soon they started taking it back home. Distillation that was taking place in a small scale soon expanded to greater scale, often compromising the quality. Irrespective, it became a popular drink amongst the lesser privileged.
In 1689, when King William III – better known as William of Orange – came to the English throne, he actively encouraged the distillation of English spirits. Anyone could now distil by simply posting a notice in public and just waiting ten days. Due to a low taxation, locally produced gin was cheap to make and thus cheap to buy – gin’s popularity exploded. This almost suppressed good gin, but the quantity consumed of bad spirits continued to rise. This became a huge challenge. Smollett, the 18th century Scottish novelist wrote: “In these dismal caverns (‘strong water shops’) they (the poor) lay until they recovered some of their faculties and then they had recourse to this same mischievous potion”.
The problem was tackled by introducing The Gin Act at midnight on 29 September 1736, which made gin prohibitively expensive. However, riots broke against it. Interestingly, production rose by almost fifty per cent. In 1742, The Gin Act was finally repealed with a new policy being introduced which distillers helped to draft. This made gin reasonably highly priced, reasonable excise duties levied with licensed retailers under the supervision of magistrates. This led to more respectable firms coming on board of distilling and retailing gin making the drink of high quality.
Compounding and distilling comprises the production of gin. Compounded gin is made by adding flavourings, either using actual botanicals or natural extracts, to neutral spirit. Many cheaper gins are made using this method, but there are also a range of excellent gins that are produced by immersing whole botanicals into gin to produce high-quality spirit.
Distilled gin is made by redistilling spirit that has had botanicals added to it. London Dry Gin is a stricter version, which also forbids the addition of anything but water after distillation. Did you know that London Dry Gin can be made anywhere in the world?
Some coomon botanicals include orris and angelica root, orange and lemon peel (both fresh and dried), liquorice, anise and cardamom. Owing to the increasing popularity of gin producers have started looking at grains of paradise, green tea, cubeb, honey, hops, exotic fruit and locally harvested plants as flavours, each contributing to a gin’s unique flavour profile and distinguishing each bottle from the rest of the field.
Part of gin’s popularity is its versatility. While one of the most common ways to drink it is in a gin and tonic. Cocktails made of gin has become favourites for many, including the most iconic of them all: the Martini. If you are making a Martini using vodka then you are actually making a classic cocktail called A Kangaroo. There may be many types of gin available but every gin is unique in its own way.