Drink With Me Blog
You love it, you always have a bottle in your cupboard and everyone has heard of the G&T (no thanks to Pat Butcher #showingmyage?) and you definitely have a couple of those balloon glasses to enjoy it with. But do you actually know what gin is? A long time ago I worked for the great Vinopolis down in London Bridge. Unfortunately that place has now gone (sad times) but it was one of the first great jobs I had in the drinks trade. Bombay Sapphire sponsored a room there and within it you could go round smelling and getting to know all the botanicals that go into making a gin. So let me take you back there, to when I was running around London in my early 20s, holding down 2 jobs (one day job and Vinopolis in the evening to learn about drinks) and learning as much as I could about all things with an abv...
Gin is basically a flavoured vodka. Simple! Both spirits are made from a neutral spirit (think grain), which needs to be at 96% abv (ooph!) which you then with botanicals, the predominant one being juniper, to turn vodka into gin. Gin must be bottled at 37.5% abv minimum, mainly I think to make sure that on Friday night when you pour yourself that gin you are definitely going to get the chance to relax and get a bit tipsy!
‘WTF is a botanical?’ I hear you cry: nothing groundbreaking to be honest, but they do create serious flavour in gin. They are seeds, berries, roots , fruits and herbs. The oils from these botanicals seep into the spirit to create the distinctive gin taste. The most common botanicals used in gin are: juniper, coriander, angelica, lemon, orange, orris root, cardamom, liquorice and cassia bark.
Here comes the history bit…concentrate (ladies 5 points for remembering which advert I’m harking back to here 😉). Gin derives from the Dutch spirit genever which just means juniper. It was, back in the day, a simple distilled malt wine flavoured with juniper.
Fun fact alert! The term ‘Dutch Courage’ came about when British troops fought in the 80 year war in the 17th Century and the Dutch, already well versed in genever, initiated the Brits into it by drinking it before going into battle. Hence the term! Now I just use it for when the Outlaws are arriving imminently.
The Brits bought this genever spirit home with them and my lord did it take off here in Britain. King William III of Orange saw the potential in genever (very soon shortened to gin because no one could really be arsed to say ‘genever’ all the time) and let people produce it in their own homes - major error! A further decree that got people out of having to have soldiers stay in their pads if they were making their own gins meant that there was literally a gin explosion and by 1730 there were over 7000 gin shops in London alone! (If I tell you there are today only 3,500 pubs in London, what does that say to you…?!) and by 1733 people were drinking on average 1.3l of the stuff PER WEEK. Now I like a drink but seriously 1.3l of pure gin per week?! That surely cannot be good for anyone’s livers. Coupled with the fact that this wasn’t the nice legal 37.5%abv; oh no this stuff was 160%abv?!!!!!
Ever heard of the phrase ‘Mother’s Ruin’? Blame it on the gin (not the screaming kids in the background). For the first time, women were (shock!) allowed to drink gin in the same pubs and it apparently led them to neglect their children and starting to turn tricks because of the gin. Not sure this type of folklore would pass today but it’s a ‘humorous’ (?) anecdote…
The government tried to intervene but really they just made things worse. (Wonder if they had gin at the Downing Street parties last year? I’m sure Cummings will publish the cocktail menu shortly 😉). Thankfully the then cabinet did pull their finger out and sorted out this debacle; they shufted a few laws and basically made it too expensive for punters to produce the gin themselves and that literally put paid to that.
Today gin is actually a very respected spirit; indeed, Her Majesty herself reportedly enjoys a gin and Dubonnet of an evening. But, like wine, One can get bogged down with all the different types of gin out there. Here is a little cheat sheet for next time you’re in the gin aisle: