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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?

A neutral base spirit is made, and then flavored with a botanical bouquet, through re-distillation. The two primary methods of flavoring are steeping or vapor infusion.

If steeped, this method is not dissimilar to what we do with tea. The high proof base spirit is placed in a pot still along with juniper berries and other botanicals. The steeping process is anywhere from a few hours to several days. After the distilling process is completed, water is added to reduce the alcoholic content and flavor profile.

In a vapor infusion distilling process, botanicals are suspended in a basket in the still. The base spirit is heated, and the vapors rise through the basket. When the steam cools down and condenses back into a liquid, the flavor profiles from the basket are infused in the alcohol. This method yields a gin that is lighter in flavor.

Our founder Jennie's favorite gins

Dorothy Parker, $29.99

A terrific, versatile gin at an affordable price point, this is Jennie’s go-to, when she can find it. Distilled in Brooklyn NY, by NY Distilling, this gin is balanced with floral notes, and its botanical bouquet includes juniper, elderberries, cinnamon & hibiscus. This gin is named after the late great satirist, writer and critic, Dorothy Parker: “I like a martini, two at the very most, three I’m under the table, four I’m under my host."

Orbium by Hendricks, $39.99

A fascinating gin that is unusual in that it is brewed with quinine, wormwood and lotus blossom. This special release from Hendricks has its usual cucumber and rose notes, but the quinine comes through strongly, reminiscent (as intended) of tonic water. Jennie swaps this in for a G&T — rather than a classic gin with a ration of tonic water, she adds club soda to Orbium.

Aviation Gin, $26.99

Aviation gin is clean, balanced with a citrus note, and hints of spice. Aviation is vapor distilled with cardamom, coriander, French lavender, and sarsparilla. Similar to Dorothy Parker in terms of accessibility and price point, this is a great gin for mixing as well as drinking as a martini.

Monkey 47, $75.99

Crafted with a molasses base, this gin is made from 47 botanicals that include chamomile, sage, angelica, coriander, lingonberries and blackberries among others. This gin has more body than most, with an almost oily mouth feel that is incredibly interesting and distinctive.

Bols Genever Barrel Aged, $49

Gin has overtaken Genever worldwide, but this drink is very special and worth trying for a taste of the dutch style of gin. It is aged for 18 months in Limousin Oak, and its botanical bouquet includes anise, licorice, cloves, and ginger. This style drinks slightly more like a whiskey than typical gin, the juniper stand out, but there is a malty funkiness as well.


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