Glass of gin with lemons and rosemary

Gin

Discover the fascinating history of gin, a botanical spirit where juniper reigns supreme, from its medicinal claims in the 17th century to the iconic cocktails that shaped its popularity.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

What is gin?

In simple terms, gin is a distilled alcoholic drink made from grains like barley, wheat, corn, or rye. It is flavoured with a wide range of botanicals, with juniper taking centre stage - an essential ingredient for any liquid being classified as gin.

Want to know more? Join two of gin’s most knowledgeable experts: Terry Fraser, Master Distiller for Tanqueray and Gordon's Gin, and Jenna BA, Global Brand Ambassador for Tanqueray No. Ten, as they talk all things gin in this episode of Behind the Liquid.

The History of Gin

The origins of gin can be traced back to the Middle Ages, with records describing a drink called "Jenever", a Dutch spirit made with juniper, a botanical found in the Northern Hemisphere. And by today's regulations, the taste of juniper must be the signature note in any gin.

In 1689, the Dutch Protestant Prince William of Orange and his wife Mary become co-rulers of England, Scotland and Ireland. During the Thirty Years War with France, they quickly outlawed imported French brandy and promoted local distillation. Meanwhile, English soldiers fighting for the Dutch in their war of independence from Spain, noticed the Dutch soldiers drinking 'Genever ' / gin for courage (coining the phrase "Dutch courage"). With a ban on French brandy, William and Mary unknowingly opened the floodgates to uncontrolled distillation and distribution of this juniper-flavoured liquid from their homeland.

The Rise of Gin

During the 17th century gin was believed to be a cure for various ailments and was marketed as medicinal, leading to widespread over-consumption. By 1751, the problem with over-production and over-consumption was brought under control when gin production was granted exclusivity to selected large distillers.

The invention of Column Stills further revolutionised gin production in the 19th century and created 'London Dry' style gins, while the importation of exotic ingredients like citrus, anise, cinnamon, and liquorice root helped develop more exciting flavours.

Around the same time, British soldiers in India created the world-famous Gin and Tonic cocktail, mixing their gin rations with quinine-rich tonic to fend off malaria. And the Gin Martini, an iconic gin cocktail made with gin and vermouth and garnished with an olive or lemon twist, gained popularity in speakeasies during the prohibition era in the United States.

Global Gin Revival

After a decline in the mid-20th century, gin experienced a significant revival in the 21st century. Craft distilleries worldwide began producing a wide array of high-quality and artisanal gins, leading to a renaissance of gin appreciation among enthusiasts. 

Gin's resurgence has sparked the popularity of gin festivals and distillery tours, where gin enthusiasts can explore various brands, taste different botanical blends, and learn about the production process from experts.

Fun Fact

World Gin Day is celebrated annually on the second Saturday of June. It's a day for Gin enthusiasts around the world to raise a glass and enjoy their favourite gin cocktails or try something new, like a Gimlet. You can learn more about World Gin Day and discover how to celebrate it with amazing gin cocktail recipes from around the world.

Gin Ingredients

The number of botanicals used in any brand’s recipe may range from as little as one (just juniper) to thirty or more and most times, less is more. Alongside juniper, hundreds of botanicals are available for use, all adding unique characteristics to a gin, for example:

  • Floral: Chamomile, bay leaf, and orris root.
  • Spicy: Ginger, coriander seeds, cardamom, cinnamon, lemongrass, and angelica seeds.
  • Woody: Angelica root, liquorice, and nutmeg.
  • Citrus: Bergamot, pink grapefruit and bitter orange (like Tanqueray Flor De Sevilla).

The Seven Steps of Gin Production

Although these steps outline the primary process for gin production, each distiller may have unique variations in their approach.

  1. Base Spirit: Producers must make gin from a 96% ABV rectified spirit from grains like barley, wheat, corn, or rye.
  2. Botanicals: The heart of gin lies in its botanical blend, with juniper being the essential and predominant flavour. Distillers carefully select a variety of botanicals, which can include spices, herbs, fruits, roots, and seeds, to create the unique flavour profile of their gin.
  3. Infusion: The base spirit is infused with botanical flavours using maceration (steeping) or vapour infusion.
  4. Distillation: The infused spirit is heated in a still to purify and concentrate the flavours (lower-quality gins use "cold compounding," flavouring the spirit with infusion or maceration, i.e. without distillation).
  5. Dilution: The liquid is diluted with water to achieve the desired bottling strength (a minimum ABV of 37.5%). While the juniper flavour must remain predominant, adjustments may also be made by adding flavourings.
  6. Filtration and Bottling: Any remaining impurities are removed from the liquid to ensure clarity before the gin is bottled for distribution.
  7. Ageing: Some gins are aged in wooden barrels for additional flavours and colours.

In addition to the traditional and iconic London Dry gin, the market now boasts a wide variety of flavoured gins infused with everything from fruits and herbs to spices and even floral elements, and alcohol free gins, all offering a delightful range of taste experiences.

Prepping for World Gin Day?  Discover the enchanting and diverse world of the gin cocktail in our Gin recipes section.

Types of Gin

Since gin originated from the UK, the following classifications are based on EU spirit drink regulation (2008):

  • Gin – The most generic category; no specific production method is specified except that the spirit must have a discernible juniper flavour and bottled at 37.5% ABV (40% ABV in the United States). Most spirits labelled gin likely to be produced using the cold compounding method and are relatively in-expensive.
  • Distilled Gin – A highly rectified spirit (96% ABV) is diluted and redistilled in the presence of juniper berries and other natural botanicals. After distillation, natural or nature-identical flavours may be added. Distilled gin can be coloured.
  • London Gin / London Dry Gin – All the flavours must be introduced exclusively through distillation in traditional stills. Only a minute amount of sweetener is permitted but no colorant is allowed.  The term “London Dry” is not a geographical indication and therefore it can be produced anywhere in the world.

Other Types of Gin

  • Flavoured Gin – Technically all gins are flavoured, but the contemporary meaning of ‘flavoured gin’ refers to spirits where pronounced flavours of non-traditional fruits, herbs and spices take centre stage. These new aromatics and flavours are usually added after distillation. Flavoured gin will also contain more sugar compared with traditional distilled gin, but it should not be confused with gin-based liqueurs (see below) which has a much higher sugar content and lower alcohol strength (below 37.5% ABV).  From a consumer standpoint, flavoured gin opens a whole new level of flavour palates to explore. They are more accessible and adds to the mixability of the spirits. Tanqueray Flor De Sevilla is a good example of this category. 
  • Sloe Gin and Gin-based Liqueurs – Sloe gin is the only gin-based liqueur permitted to be described as gin.  It is produced by maceration of sloe berries (a plum like fruit) in gin with possible addition of sloe juice.  The minimum bottling strength of Sloe gin is 25% ABV.  Other fruit gin liqueurs can only be described as ‘gin liqueur’ and must have a minimum of 100 grams of sugar and a minimum bottling strength of 15% ABV.  See Gordon’s Sloe Gin. 

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