What a Gentleman Should Know About Gin

Rum can be made anywhere in the world, but it is recognized as a Caribbean spirit. Likewise, gin can be produced in any country, but its origins are regarded as Dutch drink.

Gin is one of the least-regulated spirits. It is broadly defined as a neutral spirit of agricultural origin which has been flavored, primarily, with juniper. Gin can be distilled from fermented grain-mash, sugar beets, potatoes, sugarcane, plain sugar, or any other material of agricultural origin. “Gin” without botanical flavorings would be very similar to vodka.

The word “gin” derives from the Dutch words “jenever”/ “genever,” or the Italian and French words, “ginepro” and “genièvre,” respectively, all of which mean “juniper.” And the Dutch drink “gin” derives from an older Dutch drink called “genever.”

The earliest known reference to “genever,” gin’s precursor, occurs in the 13th-century encyclopedic work, Der Naturen Bloeme; and the earliest printed recipe of genever appears in the 16th-century text, Een Constelijck Distileerboec. The existence of genever is also confirmed in The Duke of Milan, the 1623 play by Phillip Massinger. But the invention of gin as it is known today is often credited to the mid-17th-century Dutch physician Franciscus Silvius.

Today, gin is divided into three categories: “compound gin” or [plain] “gin”; “distilled gin”; and “London gin,” also called “dry gin.”  Compound gin/gin is a neutral spirit that has been flavored—without redistillation—with essences and/or other flavorings, the predominant one being juniper berries.  Distilled gin is made by redistilling ethanol of agricultural origin in the presence of juniper berries and other natural botanicals, provided that the flavor of juniper is predominant.  London gin/dry gin is made essentially the same way as distilled gin—by redistilling ethanol of agricultural origin in the presence of juniper berries and other natural ingredients, the predominant flavor being that of juniper. But what distinguishes London/dry gin from distilled gin is that the former can have no flavorings or coloring (except for a miniscule amount of sugar) added after the distillation process.

The best gins are not flavored by “cooking” the botanicals in the spirit.  Instead, the vapors from the spirit, during the redistillation process, are allowed to come into contact with the botanicals, which are kept in a sieve-like (or some such other), perforated container, such that the vapors can extract the essential flavors from the botanicals, flavoring the spirit in the process. The distinctive flavor and bouquet of gin are “fixed” by adding ingredients such as angelica or orris root; otherwise once opened, the spirit would quickly loose much of its appeal.

Compound gin/gin is rarely seen today. And when it is, it is usually relegated to the very bottom of any bona-fide liquor shelf, offered at a relatively inexpensive price. Today, when most people think of “gin,” they are thinking of London/dry gin.

Gin is commonly consumed as a mixer: as an ingredient for the Caribbean classic, “Gin and Coconut Water”; as an essential ingredient of the Martini; and as the eponymous ingredient in the go-to cocktail, “Gin and Tonic.”