It’s time we spoke about gin! The spirit seems to have been ‘having a moment’ for about 15 years now and that moment doesn’t show any signs of stopping in the near future.
The gin-lovers amongst you will be thrilled with the dedicated gin bars, schools, clubs and even hotels popping up all over the globe. Others might feel like they’re missing something… but we’re here to help!
Consider this your basic introduction to the ‘trendiest’ spirit around. We’ve put together a little fact sheet to take you through the basic history of gin, how it’s made and why it seems to have been re-born.
Here’s a quick glossary to start you off – otherwise, the rest of this is going to make little to no sense.
Alcohol distillation: Purifying and strengthening a base alcohol. The process reduces the base alcohol’s water content by separating the ethanol from it using heating and cooling techniques. The liquid you start with (base alcohol) must have already gone through fermentation – examples include wine, other fermented fruit and plant juices, and fermented juices from starchy materials (such as grains or potatoes in the case of whiskey and vodka).
Botanicals: Natural plant materials that are used to flavour spirits. In gin, the predominant flavour must be juniper; other common botanicals used in gin production are dried citrus peels (like lemon and orange), angelica root, coriander seeds, cinnamon, cardamom, grains of paradise and nutmeg.
Still: The vessel in which the base alcohol is heated and cooled. There are different types of stills used for different methods of distillation, namely pot stills (for rich, characterful spirits like Scotch and navy rum) and column stills (used for clear spirits in which you’re aiming for a very pure end product, like vodka). Both types of still can be used in gin production.
Swan neck: The curved, narrowed passage at the top of a pot still which the alcoholic vapour from the distillation process travels through. When the vapour travels through the swan neck, it starts to cool, which converts it back into a liquid that is purer and more alcoholic than the original base alcohol.
- So, what is gin?
Simply put, gin is a juniper flavoured spirit (usually using vodka as its base). But there are different ways of classifying gin based on how it’s been produced.
- Is London Dry Gin made in London?
This might seem like a stupid question but, as we keep telling you, there’s no such thing as a stupid question when it comes to alcohol! No, London Dry Gin doesn’t have to be made in London, the technique for making dry gin just originated in London.
- What is dry gin?
Gin is called ‘dry’ or ‘London Dry’ if the botanicals (and therefore flavour) have been added during the distillation process rather than afterwards. These gins contain no added sugar whatsoever and the flavour is completely natural, which is why they’re seen as setting the bar for quality in the gin industry.
- A brief history lesson:
In the mid 17th century, gin was actually sold in pharmacies to treat medical problems such as kidney ailments, gallstones and gout. ‘The Gimlet’, thought to be the original gin cocktail (comprising of gin, soda and a splash of lime juice) is thought to have originated in the mid 1900s when members of the Royal Navy were given ‘a tot a day’ to ward off scurvy.
Gin used to be known as ‘mother’s ruin’ and was considered the drink of the impoverished in England. This was largely due to the government’s decision to allow unlicensed gin production in England whilst enforcing a heavy duty on all imported spirits. The laws resulted in thousands of gin shops popping up between 1695 and 1735, known as the ‘Gin Craze’.
- What’s the reason for the resurgence?
At the end of 2015, gin sales in England were set to top £1bn – which was a first for the spirit. As with any trend it’s difficult to be completely sure of why something suddenly rises to popularity; but it’s thought that the surge was led by young consumers starting to reject nightclub culture and favouring house parties and eating out at restaurants instead. These environments place more of a focus on taste and experience, rather than simply drinking a vodka and coke at Fabric on a Saturday night to get pissed without actually tasting the alcohol.
The market has also boomed because there are seemingly no limits to the different combinations of botanicals and base liquids producers can use to create distinctive, exciting gins.
We were recently introduced to London to Lima, which will be coming to England later this year. It’s a Peruvian gin made from Pisco and water from glaciers in the Andes and is particularly amazing when served neat – this is just one example of how gin is able to capture the essence of the place it originates from. The parallels with wine are unmistakeable! You can read about our thoughts on wine and travel here.
We’ll be writing up a guide to our favourite gins another time, but hopefully this whets your appetite! If you’re new to gin, it’s definitely worth shopping around and trying different types to see what your taste is like. There are so many different styles, cocktails and serving suggestions to explore… If you need a drinking buddy, just give me a shout!
If you’re already a gin-lover and think there’s one we HAVE to try, recommend it in the comments below and we might feature it in our guide!