As a band of travel bandits who like to explore the nooks and crannies of the world for lovely liquor, we like nothing more than to share our findings. Who knew, learning can be fun!
We’ve complied a little light reading below on some of our favourite spirits of the moment. Want to know more? No problem…pop to the bar, speak to our friendly team and discover how we use these spirits in our cocktails, or just enjoy them straight up!
…and then some.
In the early part of the 1600s, a Dutch scientist originally formulated juniper berry oil as a medicine. It was added to distilled spirit along with botanicals in order to make it more palatable. It was so palatable in fact, that cases of reported illnesses soared as the masses tried to acquire this ‘genever’ (Dutch for ‘junipers’) that was only available in pharmacies.
Heard of the saying ‘Dutch courage’? Well, English soldiers fighting alongside the Dutch in the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) noticed that the Dutch soldiers were extremely courageous in battle. This bravery became attributed to the calming effects of the genever that they sipped prior to going into battle.
When William of Orange ascended the British throne in 1689, he banned French imports having ‘fallen out’ with Louis XIV of France. In addition, he brought in the freedom to distil and sell spirits, providing they were produced from home-grown English corn. The trouble is, he also added heavier taxes on beer and further increased the demand for gin, resulting in unregulated production using poor quality grain. In London, by 1720, with many water-borne diseases prevalent around the capital, gin became a safe drink for the poor. This led to a period in England that is often dubbed the ‘Gin Craze,’ a period where a pint of gin was cheaper than a pint of beer. In excess of 7,000 spirit shops sprung up around the City and gin became known as the opium of common people. The engraving ‘Gin Lane’ by William Hogarth depicts an image of the social breakdown supposedly caused by gin, which took the blame for a of multitude of sins and consequently earned the nickname “mother’s ruin”.
During the 1750s, to combat these problems, the Government introduced Gin Acts in order to allow only licensed retailers to sell alcohol and therefore outlawing the unlicensed dram gin shops. Consumption dropped and more respectable firms took up distillation, producing better quality products and entering the sights of high society. However, illegal sales continued with the production of a sweet version known as Old Tom gin, which was sold underhand on the streets by shops displaying the symbol of a black cat.
In 1830, things finally started looking up for England’s gin scene. A French-born Irishman named Aeneas Coffey introduced a new still that modified the existing continuous column still and essentially revolutionized liquor production around the world. Gin producers quickly embraced it, celebrating its capability to produce a much cleaner, purer spirit than ever before, which became known as London Dry. The smoother taste of the distilled spirit allowed for the aroma of the botanicals to become predominant and many companies started to develop gins with a wider range of complex flavourings. Exquisite Gin Palaces were established for the society’s gentlemen, which were luxuriously furnished and provided extravagant entertainment.
As the British Empire expanded during the latter part of the 19th century, the threat of mosquito carried malaria became of great concern to the colonists. Quinine was a known deterrent for mosquitoes, but it tasted exceptionally bitter on its own. With the recent invention of carbonated water, quinine was used as a flavouring to create tonic water which, as it just so happens, is a perfect complement to gin. Gin and tonic was therefore drunk as an anti-malarial and became the distinctively British colonial drink. Needless to say, when the troops arrived back in Britain the practice came with them, minus the addition of quite so much quinine. See, it’s been medicinal from the outset!
During World War II, while the Germans were bombing London in the Blitz, they were also bombing Plymouth because of the large British Royal Navy base there. Plymouth gin was so beloved by the Navy that, when the fleet was notified that Plymouth had been bombed, one sailor said, ‘Well, Hitler just lost the war!’”
Such was the esteem the English had for gin at the time. “Bombing London was bad enough but attacking the home of the navy AND their gin was completely unacceptable,”
In 2008, after several years of lobbying, Sipsmith was granted England’s first official gin distiller’s license since 1820.
What is gin?
There are lots of different types of gin, but most are created in the same way. First, a base alcohol is made with grains. This is essentially just pure ethanol. This is then distilled with the desired botanicals of which juniper berries has to be the overriding flavour.
There are two primary ways to flavour gin. Either add flavours to a distilled spirit and bottle it or infuse botanicals into the spirit by distilling them together.
Depending on the chosen method, you get a different kind of gin and flavour profile.
The most common style is London Dry Gin. Despite the name, it doesn’t need to be distilled in London. Unlike Cognac, Scotch or Tequila, there is no geographical restriction.
However, Plymouth Gin must be made in Plymouth. It’s sweeter and earthier than London Dry.
Genever or Dutch is a predecessor to London Dry Gin and is made using malt wine base.
There are no clear rules to making Old Tom gin. Its flavour profile falls between Genever and London Dry Gin.
Back in the day, gin was sold at an average of 80% ABV (160 proof). Add the occasional use of cheap toxins to cut the mixture and it created a poison capable of rendering the drinker blind, crippled or even dead. This led to the introduction of London Dry Gin, distilled to a standard and that had to include juniper berries.
The first known written use of the word ‘gin’ appears in a 1714 book called ‘The Fable of the Bees, or Private Vices, Publick Benefits’ by Bernard Mandeville. He wrote: ‘The infamous liquor, the name of which deriv’d from Juniper-Berries in Dutch, is now, by frequent use… shrunk into a Monosyllable, intoxicating Gin. What I take from this is that the British were too drunk to pronounce genever, so they abbreviated the word to ‘gen,’ which eventually gets anglicized
to the word that we use today.”
During the 1600s, there were over 400 distilleries in Amsterdam alone creating genever. For ‘medicinal’ purposes!
You’d need to drink 67 litres of gin and tonic a day in order to have a dose of quinine strong enough to prevent malaria.