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Gin and Other Flavored Spirits

Gin

  • Gin had its beginnings in the 17th century in Holland and was originally used for medicinal purposes. The original Dutch gin was called genever. The English have since taken gin on as their own and have developed many different styles all which mostly call on juniper berries as a major component. For the most part, gin is column distilled.

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  • The true origins of gin reach back to the mid-13th century when Arnold of Villanova, an alchemist, made an aqua vitae flavored with juniper berries. That said, the invention of gin is most often credited to Franciscus de la Boe, a Dutch physician, who in the 17th century made a juniper-based spirit for medicinal purposes. Holland was a logical location for gin production, since it was the center of the spice trade via the Dutch East India Company, making the ingredients to produce gin easily accessible.

    The word “gin” is derived from the Dutch word genever, which means juniper. Gin was adopted by the English from the Dutch when they joined forces with Holland against Spain in the Dutch War of Independence. The popularity of “Dutch courage,” the name given to gin in the UK was spurred by government incentives introduced to reduce the reliance on French brandy. Gin became wildly popular in the 1700s, and at one point the death rate in England attributable to gin was higher than birth rate. This period has been compared to the crack epidemics of recent years.

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  • Genever is the precursor to modern gin: pot-stilled from malt in the Netherlands and Flanders. Today genever is a geographically-protected name. Genever is pot distilled from rye and barley with juniper added in second distillation. The gin sling and the gin cocktail, both made with genever, were incredibly popular in the U.S. during colonial times.

    In the 1850s, slightly sweetened Old Tom gin from England became the gin of the moment. Legend has it that in the 19th century, English taverns would post plaques in the shape of a cat outside. Between the paws of the cat, there was a tube and drinkers would deposit a penny in the cat’s mouth, then a bartender inside would pour a shot of gin through the tube into the waiting mouth.

    In the 1880s, London Dry Gin became more popular than the Old Tom variety. This variety is drier, less aromatic and not sweet.

    Plymouth gin is exclusively from Plymouth, England. This variety has its own unique style, with less juniper than other gins. Plymouth gin is distilled in a special carterhead still. This gin is sold at 41.2% abv as well as at “navy strength” which has 57% abv.

    Sloe gin, which is red in color, is another English-made gin that is produced using sloe berries, which are a relative of the plum, as opposed to juniper.

    “Bathtub gin” is not manufactured in a distillery but is a sort of DIY project carried out by some at home. This not-so-stylish variety earned its name because of the way its made. At-home distillers purchase full strength neutral spirit and then dilute and flavor the gin with juniper syrup, using a bathtub as a sort of a primitive maceration vessel. This process is used to disguise the wretched flavor of the sharp neutral spirit.

    An emerging style of gin now referred to as New Western Dry gin is beginning to gain in popularity in the U.S. with distillers diversifying the sorts of botanicals used in gin production. Aviation and Hendricks are examples of this variety.

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  • The flavor of gin is derived from the botanicals used in its distillation. Popular botanicals include juniper berries, cassia, coriander, cardamom, orange and lemon peel, bitter almonds, caraway, anise, cocoa, angelica root, orris root and others.

    There are different ways to flavor the gins with these botanicals, including infusions, percolation, maceration, and distillation, although at the end of the process the spirit will still needs to be re-distilled.

    Wheat or corn usually serves as the base for gin because of their neutrality. Rye, which has its own light flavor, can also be used. Although barley can also serve as a base, it seldom is because it imparts so much of its own strong flavors.

    Most gin is made using column stills. The use of pot stills adds flavor although it is less efficient.

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