Dutch Courage - a Guide to Gin. Explore the history, classifications and mysterious components of one of the world's favourite spirits.
Gin HistoryGin is a juniper berry infused grain spirit, the name itself an English derivation of the word genever, which is Dutch for juniper.
Gin is a relative newcomer to the spirit world, and as with all liquor, there is some contention as to the whereabouts and whenceforths of its origins.
Late in the 1500’s British troops fighting in Holland stumbled across a spirit resembling gin and imbibed the liquor before battle to give them what commonly became known as ‘Dutch Courage’.
Gin came to England when a Dutch Protestant and his English wife briefly ruled England in the in the following centuries. William of Orange moved to discourage the importation of brandy from the Catholic wine-producing countries by raising tariffs. In its place he removed barriers to the production of grain spirits and as a result production and consumption of gin skyrocketed.
In the decades to come, England was to learn the hard way the consequences of unfettered production of alcohol. By the 1720s it was estimated that a quarter of the households in London were used for the production or sale of gin.
Mass drunkenness became a serious problem. The government attempted to curb excess gin consumption through a series of laws, including the Gin Act of 1736, but this merely resulted in a massive illicit distillation movement and the cynical marketing of ‘tonics’ with such fanciful names as Cuckold’s Comfort and My Lady’s Eye Water.
Persistence on behalf of the government combined with the rise of both quality gin producers and the popularity of imported rum saw the problem assuaged somewhat and the reputation of gin – and the gin drinker – began its path to rehabilitation and eventually would enjoy the same reputation it experiences today.
The harsh, sweetened ‘Old Tom’ styles of gin of the early 1700’s slowly gave way to a new cleaner style called Dry Gin. This style of gin became identified with the city of London to the extent that the term ‘London Dry Gin’ became a generic term for the style, regardless of where it was actually produced.
During this period, middle-class ladies sipped their sloe gin (today’s example: Gordon’s Sloe Gin) and the British military, became a hotbed of gin consumption. Hundreds of gin-based mixed drinks were invented and the mastery of their making was considered part of a young officer’s training.
The best known of these gin cocktails, the gin and tonic, was created as a way for Englishmen in tropical colonies to take their daily dose of quinine, a very bitter medicine used to ward off malaria. Modern tonic water still contains quinine, though as flavouring rather than a medicine.
Classifications of GinLondon Dry Gin remains the dominant English style of gin.
As a style it lends itself particularly well to mixing, creating cocktails such as the Tom Collins or Martini. London Dry Gin is the dominant gin style in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Spain. Classic examples include Gordon’s Gin, Kensington Gin and Bombay Sapphire.
While gin must be made from a grain base and possess the dominant flavour of juniper berries to earn its classification, there are a world of other botanicals that can be incorporated into the process that gift each gin brand with its unique and distinctive flavour.
These additional herbs, spices, plants and fruits can range from the regular to the exotic, to the plain obscure, including: lemon and bitter orange peel, anise, angelica root and seed, orris root, liquorice root, cinnamon, cubeb, savory, lime peel, grapefruit peel, dragon eye, saffron, baobab, frankincense, coriander, nutmeg and cassia bark.
This allows gins to be differentiated and greatly contribute to their character. For example, some types of gin are more complex than others. Tanqueray gin considered a complex gin because its flavours are layered, spicy, fresh and herbal, whereas the premium label Tanqueray 10 offers a higher proportion of citrus ingredients and this is reflected in the palate.
Beefeater is more straightforward, with a dominating flavour of juniper berries and Hendrick’s Gin incorporates rose petals and cucumber into the mix; these obscure additions attributing a smoothness and distinctive flavour experience.