Unraveling Gin's Spirited History and Craftsmanship
June 3, 2024

Once a staple of mid-century cocktail bars, Gin has experienced a remarkable revival in the past decade. Today, gin and tonic cocktails are a ubiquitous sight during happy hours. This juniper-flavoured spirit has evolved significantly and sparked a wave of innovation and creativity, with new producers entering the market. The result is a diverse range of gins, from local craft varieties to international selections, offering modern gin enthusiasts many choices.

Modern gin enthusiasts are spoiled for choice, with an array of options ranging from local craft gins to international selections. But where did it all begin? Here at Angry Otter Liquor, we love to uncover the secrets behind the spirits that grace our shelves. Join us as we embark on a journey through the rich history of gin.

The History of Gin

The story of gin begins in the Middle Ages with a Dutch spirit known as ‘Genever,’ flavoured with juniper berries. This botanical spirit laid the groundwork for the gin we know today. The pivotal moment in gin's history came in 1689 when Dutch Protestant Prince William of Orange and his wife Mary ascended to the English throne. In a strategic move during the Thirty Years' War, they banned the import of French brandy and encouraged local distillation.

During the same era, the Dutch were embroiled in their War of Independence against Spain. English soldiers observed their Dutch counterparts drinking Genever for courage, a practice that intrigued them. When these soldiers returned to England, bringing Genever with them, the ban on brandy inadvertently opened the floodgates to a new era of gin.

As gin's popularity soared, people began experimenting with their variations, leading to inconsistencies and overproduction issues. The situation was rectified with the introduction of the Gin Act of 1751, a game-changer in gin production. This act, which regulated production and granted distillation rights exclusively to large-scale producers, brought much-needed quality control to the industry, ensuring that every sip of gin was of the highest standard.

The 19th century saw further advancements with the invention of the column still, which revolutionized gin production and gave rise to the 'London Dry' style—this period also introduced exotic ingredients like citrus, anise, cinnamon, and licorice root, which enhanced gin’s flavour profile.

Simultaneously, British soldiers in India concocted the world-famous Gin and Tonic cocktail. They mixed their gin rations with quinine-rich tonic water to combat malaria, creating a refreshing and medicinal drink. Gin's history is rich and fascinating, from its humble beginnings as Genever to its evolution into the diverse and sophisticated spirit enjoyed worldwide today.

Gin Production: From Simple to Premium

At its core, gin is distilled from a neutral grain spirit and flavoured predominantly with juniper berries and other botanicals. The production process varies significantly between simple and premium gins, offering a distinct experience to the gin enthusiast.

Simple gins, often called "compound gins," are produced using a straightforward and cost-effective method. These gins start with a neutral base spirit to which botanical extracts or essences are added. The process does not involve re-distillation after the botanicals are introduced, resulting in a product that can be quickly produced at a lower cost.

The main characteristics of simple gins are:

  • Infusion Method: Botanicals are steeped in a neutral spirit to infuse their flavours directly.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: The process is less labour-intensive and quicker, making it more affordable.
  • Flavour Profile: While still enjoyable, the flavours are less complex and refined than premium gins.

Premium gins, on the other hand, undergo a more intricate production process that emphasizes quality and complexity. These gins are typically produced using one of two methods: distillation with botanicals or vapour infusion. Distillation with botanicals occurs when the base spirit is re-distilled with botanicals. The botanicals are placed in the still, and as the spirit is heated, it extracts flavours, resulting in a well-integrated and nuanced flavour profile. On the other hand, vapour infusion occurs by placing the botanicals in a basket suspended above the base spirit in the still. As the spirit is heated, the vapours pass through the botanicals, capturing their flavours delicately without the potential for bitterness from direct contact with the liquid.

The defining characteristics of premium gins include:

  • Complex Flavors: Using high-quality botanicals and precise production methods produces more refined and complex flavour profiles.
  • Craftsmanship: Premium gins often involve more artisanal techniques, reflecting the skill and creativity of the distiller.
  • Quality Ingredients: There is a focus on sourcing the best botanicals, sometimes from specific regions known for their superior quality.
  • Innovation: Many premium gin producers experiment with unique botanicals and innovative methods to create distinctive and memorable gins.

Gin Types

Since gin originated in the UK, the following classifications are based on the EU spirit drink regulation (2008):

  • Gin: This is the most generic category, with no specific production method required other than the presence of a discernible juniper flavour. It must be bottled at a minimum of 37.5% ABV (40% ABV in the United States). Most gins in this category are produced using the cold compounding method, making them relatively inexpensive.
  • Distilled Gin: This type involves taking a highly rectified spirit (96% ABV), diluting it, and then redistilling it with juniper berries and other natural botanicals. After distillation, natural or natural-identical flavours may be added, and distilled gin can be coloured.
  • London Gin / London Dry Gin: All flavours in this category must come exclusively from distillation in traditional stills. Only a tiny amount of sweetener is permitted, and no colourants are allowed. Despite the name, “London Dry” is not a geographical indication, meaning it can be produced anywhere in the world.

These classifications do not encompass modern variations, which include non-traditional flavoured gins and gin liqueurs.

Exploring the world of gin reveals a rich history and a wave of modern innovation. Once a mid-century cocktail staple, gin has made a remarkable comeback. The spirit has evolved, welcoming new producers and creative variations.

Today, gin enthusiasts have many choices, from local craft to international selections. Understanding the production process—from simple, cost-effective methods to the meticulous craft of premium gins—enhances our appreciation for this versatile spirit.

At Angry Otter Liquor, we love uncovering the secrets behind our spirits. Whether you're a seasoned enthusiast or a curious newcomer, there's a gin for every palate, each with a unique story. Have a favourite type of gin? Share it with us on Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok!

Cheers to the enduring legacy and exciting future of gin!

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