The gin scene has exploded in the last decade, with craft gins and new flavours coming out left, right and centre. Walk into any bar and you’ll spot at least ten G&Ts, prettily adorned with a sprig of mint or perhaps a slice of lime. It’s the go-to drink. It looks good, it's easy to dress up and down and even its name has a certain sophistication about it. But this ever-popular drink - and the spirit within - has certainly come a long way since it’s tortured beginnings…
Spirits School: Gin
Let me explain.
During the early 19th century, officers of the British Army in India began to swig tonic water like there was (literally) no tomorrow after realising the anti-malarial properties of the base ingredient, quinine. But complaints of bitterness saw them adding a touch of gin.. then more… and more. And thus, the G&T was born!
Meanwhile back in England, Gin was also in very high demand. If you think binge drinking is bad in the 2000s, one quick glance at the past will probably make you feel a lot better about your own drinking habits. If you were a poor person in the 18th century, life was no picnic - and a humble G&T (without the T) was imbibed (read: chugged) by many to ease some of the hardship and squalor. Gin was a powerful drug that was cheap, easily available - and pretty easy to make.
'Gin Lane', WIlliam Hogarth, 1751
Things got even tougher in London following the rise of Bathtub Gins - the law surrounding at-home gin production were so loose that people were actually distilling in BATHTUBS.. with all sorts of weird “botanicals”. Much like drugs now, the gin scene quickly became chaotic, with the death rate in London outstripping the birth rate.
A much-quoted gin shop sign from Tobias Smollett’s ‘History of England’ reads, “Drunk for a penny, dead drunk for two, clean straw for nothing.”
From its earliest appearance in England, gin has had female connotations, women seemed to be falling foul of gin more often than men, and it was widely (and wrongly) considered that the spirit was more harmful for women. So the female nicknames ensued. Mother’s Ruin being the most common, followed by the likes of Ladies’ Delight and the ever-so-charming Jenny Pisspot. Taking note of this colourful propaganda, the government came to their senses and taxed the hell out of it - which was met with various outcries but ultimately resulted in a slightly healthier lifestyle choices.
Thankfully, this century’s Ginaissance has been much more of a classy affair. The world of Gin is more vibrant than ever, with small-batch editions, limited-editions and collaborative projects launching all the time. Common botanicals have developed from poisonous sulphuric acid and plain gross turpentine to the likes of coriander, cardamom and citrus. Fancy.
HOW IS GIN MADE?
Traditionally, a base spirit is used (usually vodka made from grain, wheat or more uncommonly, grape) and distilled again with the botanicals. They can either be steeped directly, vapour infused (whereby they are placed in baskets within the stills and the vapour is condensed into gin) or vacuum infused whereby the botanicals are steeped under vacuum. This lowers the boiling temperature of the alcohol - resulting in an arguably fresher flavour as the botanicals haven’t been completely, for the lack of a better word, destroyed. These are the main methods, although there are others - which you can read more about here.
Gin liqueurs are made by infusing the resulting gin with your desired fruits and herbs and then sweetened. Here’s a fun guide on how to make your own - it makes a lovely gift!
The bottom line? No bathtubs here.
Sipsmith Distillery in London
For a gin to be gin, it must have a predominant juniper flavour but there are no limits on how many botanicals. And the botanicals can get as freakkky as you like: Nettle? Eight year old Jenever? Coconut? Chocolate? There’s a whole lot to be explored - but choice overload is definitely a thing. Swipe below to discover the gins that have our taste buds tingling, tongues wagging and our hands reaching for the tonic.