short of gin

This article has been inspired by an excellent thematic Birthday present – a special gin made in Buckingham Palace. This gin is crafted in small batches for royal occasions, with botanicals grown in the gardens of Buckingham Palace. Bottled during the reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, who had a fondness for this gin despite not consuming alcohol in her later years. It’s said that the Queen would often enjoy the scent of the gin as she meticulously cleaned her jewelry by hand.

Thus, Gin.

Gin is a strong alcoholic drink made from distilled spirit by re-distillation with aromatic botanicals, the most important of which is juniper.

Although gin is primarily associated with England, its origins are not English at all.

The original idea of making strong alcohol with juniper came from Benedictine monks in Salerno, southern Italy, in the 11th century. Benedictines are indeed remarkable people; without them, our world of alcohol would be significantly duller. Their monastery in Salerno was surrounded by juniper forests, so the idea to use juniper was readily obvious. The monks infused wine with juniper berries and distilled it. The result was a juniper elixir, which doctors used to treat nearly everything — coughs, colds, pains, strains, ruptures, cramps, and many other conditions. Medicinal, primarily phytoncidal, properties of juniper had been known for centuries. So, even if the elixir couldn’t cure everything, it was useful in some cases. Plus, it was a tasty, spirit-lifting drink, making the treatment rather pleasant.

In the 16th century, the direct ancestor of gin appeared, created by infusing spirit with juniper and other aromatic botanicals, and then re-distilling it. The exact origin is difficult to pinpoint, but it is most likely that gin was first made in Italy. From there, it spread to distilleries of Holland, Belgium, and northern France, becoming very popular by the mid-17th century. In this region, it is known as jenever, genever, or geneivre.

The modern English word “gin” is most likely a shortened version of the old English word “genever,” which England adopted from the Netherlands along with the drink. Another theory suggests that “gin” is derived from the Latin “juniperus”, although it seems likely that “juniperus” is the root of all these names.

In the 17th century, gin began its expansion into England, thanks to William III of Orange, the Stadtholder of Holland, who became a co-sovereign of England, Scotland, and Ireland after the Glorious Revolution in 1688. The Dutch brought many good things to England, including gin.

In England, gin didn’t just become popular; it sparked a gin boom in the first half of the 18th century. The time is known as “the Gin Craze”. At the end of the 17th century, yet another conflict commenced between England and France (a common affair for these nations), leading England to impose heavy tariffs on all imported spirits, including French brandy, effectively halting these imports. Even modern days governments have often used high duties on alcohol imports as a form of retribution. For example, several years ago, the EU increased the duty on American spirits by 25%, with allegations that the US government assisted Boeing.

However, the government was concerned that citizens might not survive without a proper dose of spirits, so they decided to encourage gin production. They reduced taxes on spirit distillation and dropped licensing requirements. This caused the cost of gin to dive, making it cheaper than beer. Everyone began making gin. By 1740, England produced six times more gin than beer. London alone made 10 million gallons of gin per year. The price was affordable even for the poorest people, but the quality was dreadful. England lost itself to drinking.
For a couple of decades, the government tried to curb this Gin Craze. Ultimately, high taxes, strict licensing, strong requirements for gin quality, “respectable” decor in gin shops, and rising grain prices took effect. Gin became more expensive, its quality improved, and consumption decreased. Brewers, I believe, were quite pleased with this.

In the 18th century, the base spirit for gin was made using pot stills, the only method available at the time. As a result, gin was softer and sweeter than modern dry gin. (For more details about history and technology of spirits read Introduction to Spirits). Since the advent of the column still in 1828, the old-fashioned gin lost significant market share to dry gin. However, this type of gin did not disappear completely, it goes by the name “Old Tom Gin”.
The history of the name is quite amusing. At the beginning of the government’s fight against the Gin Craze, prohibitive taxes and licensing were imposed, driving part of gin production underground. Some pubs displayed wooden plates shaped like a black cat (an “Old Tom”) on their walls. Beneath the cat’s paw was a slot for money and a lead tube. Patrons could deposit coins into the slot, and a bartender inside the pub would pour a shot of gin through the tube.
Old Tom gin quietly persisted through the 19th and 20th centuries. In the 21st century, riding the wave of renewed interest in classic cocktails, Old Tom gin is making a hunky comeback. Some companies claim to use old recipes for their production, but who knows if this is true…

The invention of the column still in 1828 made it possible to easily produce a pure, high-quality neutral spirit, which became the base for London Dry gin. The name London Dry (sometimes shortened to just London or Dry) does not indicate the place of production or a specific brand; rather, it refers to a style, much like Old Tom gin.
London Dry gin is made from neutral spirit distilled to 96% purity (using a column still) and then redistilled with juniper and other botanicals in a pot still. The ethanol is diluted with water, and the botanicals are macerated in the spirit. During this process, the alcohol liberates essential oils from the botanicals, which are carried over with the vapors through the swan’s neck of the still. The intensity of the gin’s aroma is regulated by the maceration time—the longer the maceration, the stronger the flavor. For instance, Beefeater Gin has one of the longest maceration times among popular gins (24 hours), resulting in a stable and intense flavor.
For more delicately flavored gin, botanicals are not macerated in the spirit but placed in a special basket in the head of the pot still. The vapors pass through the basket, extracting flavors from the botanicals. Pot stills specially adapted for this process are called Carterhead stills, used in the production of Bombay Sapphire gin.
All aromatic compounds in London Dry gin must be obtained during the redistillation process. No flavors can be added after redistillation.

After the innovation of London Dry gin, England experienced another gin boom. Unlike the Gin Craze of the 18th century, this boom was more refined—London Dry gin was of good quality and priced expensively enough to avoid the same level of societal issues. A significant factor in the gin’s popularity during the Victorian era was the British tropical colonies. The British Empire had many colonies, with numerous Englishmen living and working in these regions. However, these colonies also had malaria, and the only somewhat effective remedy at the time was quinine.
Quinine was administered as a water solution (tonic), which was very bitter (modern tonics contain only a trace of quinine for flavor). Mixing tonic with gin made it more palatable, so much so that it became a popular cocktail. More details about Gin & Tonic you can find in this article. Consequently, gin became an extremely desirable product in the colonies.
Today, gin remains highly popular in Great Britain.

The third wave of gin popularity occurred in the USA during the Prohibition era. Gin was relatively easy to produce under concealed conditions, leading to its widespread production for thirsty Americans. However, the quality and taste of this homemade gin were often quite low, so various additives were used to mask its unpleasant flavors. This necessity gave rise to a boom of mixing drinks. Many gin-based cocktails were invented during this time, and several of them were so well-crafted (especially when made with high-quality gin) that they have endured to this day.

Now, let’s discuss the present reality of gin, including the legal framework, modern types, and base ingredients.

Base Ingredients.

The origin of the base spirit can vary, including molasses, sugar beet, or grain. For dry gin, grain alcohol is predominantly used because it imparts a crisper texture to the gin, while molasses or beet-based spirits can result in a softer, sweeter impression.

The most crucial flavoring ingredient is juniper. By law, juniper must be the dominant flavor in gin. Distillers then have the freedom to choose the rest of the botanicals. Commonly used botanicals include coriander, citrus peel, angelica root, anise, and liquorice. The exact recipes used by distillers are closely guarded secrets.

Classification and Characterization of Different Gin Types

The European Union differentiates four legal categories of gin.

First Category: Juniper-Flavored Spirit Drinks
This is the oldest category of gin. The spirit for these drinks is made by malt distillation in pot stills, and is then re-distilled with juniper and other botanicals in similar pot stills. A third re-distillation with botanicals for a stronger taste is possible. The minimum alcohol content is 30% ABV.

The most notable gin in this category is Jenever Jenever aka Genever aka Genièvre aka Peket aka Hollands, aka Dutch gin. This traditional drink is native to the Holland, Belgium, two departments of northern France, and two lands of northwestern Germany. It is the ancestor of British gin. The names Jenever/Genever/Genièvre are registered as AOC, meaning these products can only be made in their respective regions.

The same category includes Slovak Borovička and Brinjevec, Serbian Klekovača, and some others.

Traditionally made Old Tom Gin also belongs to this category.

Second Category: London Dry Gin
London Dry Gin (or simply London or Dry) constitutes the second category. It is produced by redistilling 96% ABV neutral spirit in the presence of juniper and other botanicals. No additional flavors are allowed after redistillation. The minimum alcohol content is 37.5%, which is the same for the next two categories.
London Dry Gin cannot contain more than 0.1g of sugar per liter. As I mentioned earlier, this type of gin offers a diverse range of aromas, depending on the botanicals used. Therefore, when choosing a gin, consider your own taste preferences and how you plan to consume it—whether neat, in a gin and tonic, or as an ingredient in various cocktails.

The third category, Distilled Gin. It is, actually, London Dry Gin, which includes additional flavors added after distillation. These flavors can vary widely, ranging from rose petals to cucumber, lemon, and beyond, similar to flavored vodkas. In modern times, there is a vast array of flavored gins available, which have gained popularity among bartenders for convenience.

The final category, often referred to simply as Gin, is Cold-Compounded Gin.
This method is the most economical way to add flavor to gin, as it does not require redistillation with juniper and other botanicals. Instead, the base spirit is infused with essential oils or artificial flavorings. While Cold-Compounded Gin is relatively inexpensive, its taste tends to be artificial and imbalanced, with flavors that may diminish quickly, even while in your glass.

In the United States , gin is defined as an alcoholic beverage with no less than 40% alcohol by volume (abv) that exhibits a juniper berry aroma. If this aroma is achieved solely through re-distillation with juniper, the product can be classified as Distilled Gin.

One of the most famous American gins is Aviation, produced in Oregon. This gin undergoes a double distillation process in copper pot stills. Seven different botanical ingredients are macerated in grain spirit for 18 hours to infuse their flavors. Unlike traditional gins, Aviation uses a lesser amount of juniper, allowing other botanicals to shine without juniper overpowering the blend. This characteristic categorizes Aviation as an American dry gin. The gin is named after the cocktail Aviation.

Canada recognizes three gin categories: Genever, Gin, London or Dry gin. The term Genever, also known as Holland Gin, is used in Canada to describe a product that somewhat resembles traditional Genever, although it would be more accurate to refer to it simply as “Holland Gin” to avoid misappropriating the registered name.
In Canada, the terms Gin and London Dry Gin are used interchangeably to describe various types of gin, including London Dry, Distilled Gin, and Cold-Compounded Gin. The primary distinction between Gin and London Gin in the Canadian context is the presence of sugar. Canadian London Dry Gin must not contain any sweetener, while Gin may contain up to 2% sweetener. Consequently, the label on Canadian Gin bottles does not provide much information beyond the sugar content. As a result, consumers may need to rely on their familiarity with specific gin brands or experiment with different options to find one that suits their preferences. Alternatively, they may opt to explore more predictable European gin products.

It’s worth mentioning Sloe gin, which, despite its name, isn’t technically gin. Sloe gin is a British liqueur made by infusing gin with sloes, the fruits of the blackthorn bush (Prunus spinosa). With a sweetness and an alcohol content of 25% abv, Sloe gin is a popular choice for cocktails and sipping. While its label may not always include the word “liqueur,” the full and correct name is Sloe gin liqueur.

Gin can be consumed neatly or as a base of numerous cocktails, the most popular among them is gin-tonic. You can find some gin-based cocktails here.
Neat gin is better to drink cooled.
You can just splash some gin into freezed glasses or pour it on the rocks.
Slice of lemon, lime, or cucumber can be added for freshness.

June 11 is World Gin Day. A nice occasion to take out the bottle of gin and celebrate.

And the gin from Buckingham palace is simply perfect – with a strong, bright, and fresh aroma. I completely understand Her Majesty in her aspiration to keep her jewelry ideally clean.

bottle and glass of gin

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