Gin is a potent distilled alcoholic spirit noted for its clarity and the fact that it is generally colorless.

The most common style of gin is “London dry gin”, which refers not to brand, or origin, but to a distillation process. London dry gin is a high proof spirit, usually produced in a column still and redistilled after the botanicals are added to the base spirit. In addition to juniper, it is usually made with a small amount citrus botanicals like lemon and bitter orange peel. Other botanicals that may be used include anise, angelica root, orris root, cinnamon, coriander, and cassia bark.

Other types of gin include Genever (Dutch gin) or Jenever, Plymouth gin, and Old Tom gin. Sloe gin, on the other hand, is a liqueur.

History

Gin and TonicGin originated in the Netherlands in the 17th century – its invention is often credited to the physician Franciscus Sylvius. From there it spread to England after the Glorious Revolution put a Dutchman on the English throne. Dutch gin, known as genever, is a distinctly different drink from English-style gin; it is distilled with barley and sometimes aged in wood, giving it a slight resemblance to whisky. Schiedam, in South Holland, is famous for its genever. Genever is produced in a pot still and is more strongly flavored than London gin.

Gin became very popular in England after the government created a market for poor quality grain that was unfit to be used in brewing beer by allowing unlicensed gin production and at the same time imposing a heavy duty on all imported spirits. Thousands of gin-shops called “gin mills” sprang up all over England often with the gin being produced in a backroom or cellar.

By 1740 the production of gin had increased to six times that of beer and because of its cheapness it became extremely popular with the poor. Of the 15,000 drinking establishments in London over half were gin-shops. Beer maintained a healthy reputation as it was often safer to drink the brewed ale than unclean plain water, but gin was blamed for various social and medical problems, and may have been a factor in the high death rate that caused London’s previously increasing population to remain stable.

Gin Lane, London by HogarthThe reputation of the two drinks was illustrated by William Hogarth in his engravings Beer Street and Gin Lane (1751). This negative reputation survives today in the English language; terms such as “gin-joints” to describe disreputable bars or calling drunks “gin-soaked”.

The Gin Act 1736 imposed high taxes on retailers but led to riots in the streets. The prohibitive duty was gradually reduced and finally abolished in 1742. The Gin Act 1751, however, was more successful. It forced distillers to sell only to licensed retailers and brought gin-shops under the jurisdiction of local magistrates. Gin in the 18th century was produced in pot stills, and was somewhat sweeter than the London gin known today.

Use

The use of gin spread more in the 19th century with the expansion of the British Empire into more tropical regions. The tropical disease Malaria affected tens of thousands of British officers, men and their families and was treated with Quinine, the key ingredient in “tonic”. A bitter flavor, Quinine needed a little something extra to make it more palatable. It was soon discovered that gin paired wonderfully with Quinine tonic and a twist of lemon or lime. The latter had been used by the Royal Navy for generations to reduce the risk of scurvy, and so it became the most popular addition to the “G&T” or “Gin and Tonic” (shown above). The use of lime for scurvy gave the British the nickname “limeys”.

Gin soon acquired the connection to medicine, and those who would imbibe, perhaps too much, would say “it was for medicinal purposes”. London authorities in the 19th century began to crack down on pubs, limiting their hours of operations in an effort to sober up the population and limit the medicinal use of gin.

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