When it comes to living an elegant lifestyle, the Hamptons and Cape Cod tend to be the hotspot for classic American coastal culture. A staple in these regions is the ever popular Gin and Tonic, pairing two ounces of gin and tonic water with fresh cut limes.Nothing is more refreshing. And with summer officially here, we’ve turned our attention from whiskies and wines to bright, floral and refreshing drinks. It is with pride that I introduce you to The Gin Guide in our ongoing SERIES ON SPIRITS & COCKTAILS.
The History of Gin
The history of gin begins with a drink known as Jenever, or in some cases Genever, which is a Dutch or Belgian form of gin with a very unique flavor profile and aroma unlike the London dry gins we know today.
Also known as Genièvre, Peket, Holland gin or Dutch gin, it is the official liquor of the Netherlands and Belgium, flavored with juniper and what modern Gin evolved from.
Jenever is traditionally made from malt wine spirits and so different from modern gin that most who don’t know the relationship between the two spirits, would never categorize them as being from the same family.
Around the mid 17th century, Dutch physician Franciscus Sylvius is credited with inventing the glorious spirit well known today as Gin. It is commonly accepted in my circle of spirits critics that this is where the term ‘Dutch Courage’ actually originated from. Despite, this account, Genever has been around since long before with the first written account appearing in the 13th century Der Naturen Bloeme encyclopedia and recipes following in the mid 16th century writings of Een Constelijck Distileerboec.
On of the most well known written references of Genever is actually from Massinger’s play The Duke of Milan from 1623. While many mistakingly believe Dr. Sylvius to be the creator of Genever as well, it stands to reason that this would be unlikely as in 1623 he was but nine years of age even if we only took Massinger’s play into account forgoing all earlier references. In addition, if we look through the history books, we’ll find there are claims that as early as the late 1500’s, English infantry soldiers would use Genever to help calm them down before and after battle. In fact, there are many accounts that say Genever was quite prominently consumed by English Forces while providing support services in Antwerp against the Spanish in 1585, during the Eighty Years War. This makes sense as the Een Constelijck Distileerboec which contained recipes for Genever was published in Antwerp. Coincidence? I think not.
Since Gin was created by a well regarded physician, many believed it to have certain medicinal powers, capable of ailing gout, stomach disease, kidney failure and gallstones, among other afflictions. By the middle of the seventeenth century, hundreds of small distillers opened up across Europe, predominately in Amsterdam as well as other Dutch and Flemish colonies. These distilleries opened up so rapidly fulfill the needs of local pharmacies that by 1663, there were four hundred in Amsterdam alone. Dr. Sylvius had successfully popularized the spirit by re-distilling it with juniper, caraway, anise and coriander.
As its popularity continued to spread, England began to see a resurgence in the once popular spirit. Since William of Orange, the ruler of the Dutch Republic occupied the British throne at the time of the Restoration, and due to his love of Gin, the spirit took a new stance as one of the most popular spirits sold in the local pubs. One of the reasons behind this of course, is his order to allow unlicensed local production of gin, while simultaneously pseudo-prohibiting the importation of spirits by imposing heavy duty on those who tried. This of course created what he was looking for which was a minimization of local breweries due to the poor quality of grain available in England. Since beer became difficult to produce and the quality suffered so terribly, local gin shops began to open up across England like a wildfire spreading under the hot sun. In fact, gin became so popular so fast, that a term was coined and that period of history shall forever be known as the “Gin Craze”. Of more than 15,000 drinking holes in London alone, more than half were gin shops providing what we now call London Dry Gin to the masses.
Unfortunately, because of the quantity, gin became fiercely popular with the poor. Since juniper was considered expensive for those without money, the gin ended up becoming quite rudimentary, with local makers trying to cut costs by using the less expensive turpentine in lieu of juniper to flavor the spirit. The result of course, was a far inferior product that smelled almost as bad as it tasted. Because of this, gin became a contributing factor in higher death rates across London. That combined with unhealthy drinking water, beer reintroduced itself as the “safer alternative” becoming prominent in pubs yet again. This reputation of the two drinks (beer and gin) is what gave William Hogarth the inspiration to create his famous engravings ‘Beer Street’ and ‘Gin Lane’.
Unfortunately, because of these historic works of art, this negative reputation still continues today in parts of Europe where those who abhor the drink refer to establishments as “gin mills” and “joints”. One of the more common terms of course is “gin-soaked” used to describe a person of disrepute who is drunk and often smelling of their own bodily fluids.
Today, in England, one of the more common nicknames for gin is a “mother’s ruin”. With the reputation of gin taking a nosedive, the government imposed The Gin Act of 1736 which placed high taxes on retailers causing those who did enjoy the spirit to riot in the street. Due to enormous public appeal from impoverished members of society who sought relief from gin, the taxes were gradually refused and finally ceased six years later in 1742.
Then, not even a decade later, the government reintroduced new legislation called The Gin Act of 1751 which required distillers to sell their product only to licensed establishments giving them more quality control of the product. Each gin shop was put under the jurisdiction of a magistrate responsible for policing it and this is what perpetually forced the industry to regulate its production in an effort to improve the spirit’s reputation and ensure consistency and quality industry-wide. By the 18th century, gin was produced almost exclusively in pot stills, often in legally registered and governed residential homes, licensed to produce. By 1726 there were approximately 1500 residential stills in London, and while their production was of far better quality, distillers continued to use turpentine as flavoring to give it a woody note in addition to the floral aroma of the juniper.
Another common method of distillation was to distal the gin in the presence of sulphuric acid. Even though the acid itself wouldn’t be distilled, it would still allow the gin to adopt it’s diethyl aroma adding to the profile of the gin. The result of distilling in the presence of the acid is a far sweeter gin with analgesic effects that physicians and pharmacists at the time deemed important to help in the treatment of the ill and suffering, since, if you recall from earlier, gin was often prescribed by medical professionals for many various ailments and injuries.
Under the heavy influence of brandies, sherries, ports and other fortified wines, the nineteenth century gave birth to a new, sweeter style of gin without the muddy, medicinal taste resemblant of docosonol or rubbing alcohol. Known as Old Tom Gin, it was infused with sugars, but faded by the early 20th century as men turned to stronger spirits such as whiskies as their beverage of choice.
Then came the invention of the Column Still which gave rise to our now well known aromatic and deliciously floral London Dry Gin that managed to somehow evolve during the latter part of the nineteenth century.
Today gin is one of the most popular base spirits used in cocktails. Unlike vodka which tends to adopt the flavor of the mixes used with it, gin evokes a wonderfully superb flavor profile into any drink it is used in, while still being able to be used with a vast array of other mixes and garnishes resulting in everything from the dry martini to the refreshing G&T to the many fruity and tropical cocktails found at oceanside resorts.
While gin definitely enjoys a global popularity, no where is more prolific than in the prep kingdoms of coastal American culture. As one of the most popular drinks amongst America’s high society summering in the Hamptons, Cape Cod and various other coastal landmarks, gin has become the drink of choice for a most refreshing and delicious escape from reality. Whether on a patio with friends, at the beach with family or seeking refuge from a summer shower on your screen in porch at home, gin is the ultimate prep spirit, going hand in hand with that of boat shoes, bow ties and anchor bracelets.
One of the many interesting things about gin is that there is such a wide variety of methods that have been employed throughout history to produce it. Today, there are less, but that’s not to say that there aren’t individuals producing it in unique and even peculiar ways for their own personal use.
In this particular guide, we’re going to focus on the three most popular ways of producing gin that result in the most consistent and high quality distillations of the spirit.
Pot Distilled Gin
This type of gin is representative of the earliest gins and is made by distilling the fermented malt wine, known as the ‘mash’ which is made from grains such as barley and then distilling it a second time with botanicals used to impart their flavor by extracting the aromatic compounds. Generally, this style of gin will be staged in wood casks or even tanks which of course impacts a malt flavor you often get in various whiskies.
Column Distilled Gin
This type of gin is probably the most common today and became the modern way of producing the spirit once the Coffey still was invented. This produces a very concentrated spirit that gets redistilled a second time by placing juniper berries or other botanicals in what’s called a “gin basket” that’s suspended in a pot still. As the heat from the vapor rises, it extracts the flavors from the botanicals. This is where gin gets it’s lighter flavor and the process that’s used for making London dry gin among others.
This is a process that is used today, but not as often as distilled gin. Basically, in a nutshell the gin is flavored with essences or natural flavors without redistilling it. Often other flavors are added such as citruses or a combination of spices which often include grapefruit, anise, saffron, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg or really anything else the producer wants to add in.
Types of Gin
There are many different types of gin and while these styles were more noticeable in past centuries, there really are only four primary categories that gin falls into.
Typically this is a very broad category that not only includes many of today’s products, but also the earliest and most historic forms of gin produced in the older pot stills using a fermented grain mash. Once it has reached a fairly moderate strength, usually just under 70% ABV, it’s redistilled with botanicals to extract various aromatic compounds, most notably juniper.
This gin is created by redistilling ethyl alcohol that has its strength of 96% ABV in the stills as discussed above. It is then introduced to the juniper and sometimes various other botanicals. The only requirement for this in order to call it gin is that juniper must be the dominant flavor over the other botanicals used.
This is one of the most popular types of gin often called London Dry Gin. It’s produced again by using ethyl alcohol that’s redistilled with a methanol content of 5g per hl that is 100% ABV. In order to be considered a London gin, it must not have any added sweetness that exceeds 0.1g per litre by the time it’s ready to be bottled and sold. It also cannot contain any colorings or other ingredients besides the addition of water. At the bare minimum, it be 37.5% ABV when finished to be called London gin. What’s fairly interesting however, is that in the United States, it must be at least 40% ABV to be called gin which can sometimes result in issues with importation.
This is really a product all its own. Only by technicality is it considered a gin, but it’s nothing like you’d expect. Don’t let the juniper in it fool you, it’s not going to work very well in your G&T. But, once you begin to try it, you’ll discover a range of classic cocktails you once thought only whiskey could work in. This classic Genever with a twist works marvelously in side cars, manhattans and a wide range of other aperitifs and digestifs. This is a must for your bar. Even if you don’t use it very often, it provides an extraordinary start to the conversation.
When it comes to small batch gin, Hendricks crossed the finish line while the others were still tying their shoes. Infused with cucumber and rose petals, this is one of the most velvety smooth, yet refreshingly light gins on the market today. It works well with a wide array of cocktails but I probably wouldn’t use it in a martini.
Tanqueray’s base gin is fantastic, but the 10 kicks it up a notch or two. Distilled in a No. 10 still, the compact still imparts some very predominant flavor profiles that make this an ideal gin for your favorite summer cocktails. Just the smell alone is intoxicating.
No list is complete without at least mentioning Plymouth. This award winning gin is often found at arms length of any good bartender. It’s less dry than the typical London gin but has a flavor profile like no other featuring earthy tones and some decreased juniper notes.
Gordon’s London Dry Gin
This is about as classic as gin can get. If you’re looking for a true London gin experience Gordon’s is your best bet for the night. It’s the world’s best selling London Dry and for good reason.
This is a gin that almost makes you feel majestic when you drink it. With ten botanicals, it is a perfect concoction of everything good about gin. It has notes of almond, lemon peel, liquorice, juniper berries, orris root, angelica, coriander, cassia, cubeb, and grains of paradise. If you only have one gin on your shelf, this one should be a mighty contender for the spot.
Cocktails and Recipe
Dry Gin Martini
Probably the most classic cocktail in the world, it is traditionally made with gin and not vodka, like 007 fans would have you believe. It’s simple to make and packs a punch when you stand up. Here’s the recipe I use at home:
2.5oz of gin (try a classic like Gordon’s or Plymouth)
1/2oz of dry vermouth (I like the Martini brand quite a bit)
olives for garnish (I usually use about three. If you want a dirty martini add a splash of olive juice)
Pour the ingredients into a chilled shaker over ice. Now here’s the important part: forget everything you think you know. James Bond may prefer his martini “shaken, not stirred” but you want to stir this drink. No exceptions. Shaking waters it down. There are only two reasons to ever shake a cocktail.
– If it has cream or egg in it.
– If it has citrus juice in it during the mix.
Shaking a gin based martini will actually dissolve many of the aromatic compounds leaving the martini lacking. If you really want to test this, make two martinis – one shaken and one stirred.
Gin and Tonic
This is one of the classic gin cocktails and if you visit my home, one that’s made almost daily in the summer.
Years ago in the tropical colonies owned by Britian, gin was used to help mask the flavor of quinine which was used to prevent malaria and other diseases that ran rampant through the tropics. They would dissolve the quinine in carbonated water which is how tonic water was created. Today, of course, quinine is used in very small doses and tonic water is produced in other ways that don’t introduce the medicinal compounds into your body.
To make the drink simply take 2oz of your favorite premium gin (I like Tanqueray Rangpur or Bombay Sapphire) and pour it in a tall glass over ice. Add tonic water and throw in a lime wedge for garnish.
One tip I use is to squeeze some fresh lime juice into the glass and give it a gentle stir. On a hot summer day there is no drink more refreshing, except perhaps a mojito.
One of the only drinks to ever be created by a novelist, the Vesper martini was invented by Ian Flemming for his first James Bond book “Casino Royale”.
‘A dry martini,’ he said. ‘One. In a deep champagne goblet.’
‘Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?’
‘Certainly monsieur.’ The barman seemed pleased with the idea.
‘Gosh, that’s certainly a drink,’ said Leiter.
Bond laughed. ‘When I’m … er … concentrating,’ he explained, ‘I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold, and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I think of a good name.’
That name of course became Vesper, after Vesper Lynd, the beautiful and charming financier from the Treasury.
This particular martini is delicious, but you need to be warned it packs a punch stronger than Bond himself.
Here’s the recipe I use at home:
3oz Gin (Gordon’s does work well)
1oz Vodka (I prefer Belvedere)
1/2oz Lillet Blanc (Kina lillet is no longer produced)
1 Lemon Twist
Place all the ingredients except the lemon in a chilled shaker over ice. Stir and strain into a martini glass. Enjoy and don’t drive after.
The Tom Collins is a very refreshing cocktail perfect for light drinkers.
2oz Gin (Try Bombay Sapphire)
1oz Fresh lemon juice
1/2oz Simple syrup
Maraschino cherry for garnish
Lemon slice for garnish
Pour the liquid ingredients in a chilled shaker over ice. This one you can give a good shake to as it has the citrus juice right in it and the simple syrup. Strain into a Collins glass and garnish with a cherry and slice of lemon.
This recipe was invented by a barkeep named Ngiam Tong Boon at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. While the original recipe was lost, this is about as close as it gets:
1oz Gin (Gordon’s is a great pick for this)
1oz Bols Cherry brandy or Cherry Heering
1oz Fresh lime juice
2oz Club soda
1 dash of Angostura bitters
Combine all the ingredients except for the club soda and bitters in a chilled shaker over ice. Top with soda water, and give it a gentle stir. Strain into a collins glass and add a dash of bitters. The original drink wasn’t garnished which is why I haven’t listed any in this recipe.
Most know that I typically enjoy my brown spirits and wine, however, in the summer you’ll find me sitting on my deck drinking a gin and tonic far more than you’ll ever see me with a dram of Scotch. At restaurants I enjoy a well made martini before dinner and after a tough day at work, my vermouth gets pulled out for one at home. Gin is a delicious and refreshing spirit. It pairs well with such a wide variety of mixes and can be used for a huge array of cocktails. If you’re building a bar, a good bottle of gin is as important as that bottle of vodka and even more important (in my opinion) than a bottle of rum or whiskey.
What is your favorite Gin?