Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Gin

... but were afraid to ask
Jen Killius, Home Speakeasy
Jen Killius, Home Speakeasy

Ah, gin. You either love it or you hate it. This spirit often gets a bad rap because of its intense juniper flavor. However, thanks to the classic cocktail boom of the past decade, gin has made an huge resurgence, opening up the market to a wide variety of craft distilled products with an incredible range of flavor. There really is a gin for everyone these days, and no excuse not to at least try a few different types to find one you like.

 

History

The exact origin of gin is debated, but most agree it can be traced back to early 17th-century Holland, where Dr. Franciscus Sylvius is generally credited with its invention as a medicinal tonic to be used in the treatment of kidney disorders. He added juniper berries — prized as natural diuretics — to malt wine and grain alcohol. This concoction became known as genever, coming either from the French word genièvre or the Dutch jenever (both of which mean juniper), and that spirit is still popular in the Netherlands today.

Genever eventually evolved into modern-day dry gin after British soldiers drank it before entering the battlefields while fighting in mainland Europe, and took such a liking to it that they brought it back to England with them. It became even more popular when a Dutchman, William the Orange, occupied the British throne after the Glorious Revolution in the late 17th century.

Gin quickly became all the rage in Britain, being inexpensive to produce and easy to drink. As English distillers began to use continuous column stills in the 18th century, they could more easily control the distillation process and a better quality spirit could be produced. In this way, back-alley gin evolved into what is known today as London Dry gin, the world’s most popular style.

As time passed, gin made its way all over the world, including America, where yet another variety was created in the mid 19th century, known as Old Tom gin. This style is a sweeter version of London Dry — though still drier than genever — and it all but disappeared after Prohibition, along with other strong flavored spirits, as they fell out of favor for nearly half a century until the current classic cocktail revival brought them back.

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