top of page

The Lowdown on Gin: History, Distillation, Favorites

Updated: Jul 31, 2020

Gin is one of our founder, Jennie’s, favorite spirits. Despite her career slinging cocktails, she’s very much a purist when it comes to gin, and an in-and-out martini is her drink of choice.

She’s provided us with a quick history of gin, a mini overview of its distillation process, and a snapshot of her absolute favorite gins, for drinking as a martini, on the rocks, or in a cocktail.

So, what is gin?

Gin is a liquor that is 40% ABV or greater, derived from grain distillation, and predominantly flavored with juniper berries. To be lawfully named a Distilled Gin or a London Dry Gin, a base alcohol needs to have been distilled to over 96% ABV. While the base of gin ranges, like vodka, (from potatoes, to grains or beets), by the time this ABV is reached, it is a neutral spirit.

What’s the history of gin?

Gin gets it's name from the Dutch word for juniper, which is jenever (or genever). Although often regarded as England’s national spirit, it actually originates from Holland where the first mention of juniper-based drinks appeared 1269. The earliest known recipe for Jenever dates back to a 16th-century work. By the mid-17th century, gin (genever) was being produced in the Netherlands through redistilling malted barley spirit or malt wine with spices including juniper, anise, and caraway among others.

As is the case with tea, while gin was a Dutch discovery it was widely popularized by the British. The English discovered gin when they were fighting the Thirty Years War in the 17th century in Holland and saw soldiers drinking Jenever to boost morale before battle (which led to the term “Dutch Courage”).

By the early 1700s, gin had become incredibly popular in England. By the 1730s and 1740s, a gin craze arose in England, which led to a crisis. Gin production was uncontrolled, and cheap gin could be deadly. By 1751, the Gin Act was enacted by Parliament.

The British Navy also popularized gin consumption. In the 18th century, gin was considered a cure for various illnesses, and legislation was passed requiring every vessel to take on board a certain quantity of this spirit. For nearly 200 years, all newly commissioned ships received a 'Gin Commissioning Kit', a wooden box containing two bottles of 'Navy Strength' gin. Additionally — to avoid malaria, sailors consumed quinine-rich tonic water mixed with gin, and hence the G&T was born.

How is Gin produced?