Originally By Tony Ackland
Federal Standards of Identity: Gin is a product obtained by original distillation from mash, or by redistillation of distilled spirits, or by mixing neutral spirits, with or over juniper berries and other aromatics, or with or over extracts derived from infusions, percolation's, or maceration of such materials, and includes mixtures of gin and neutral spirits. It shall derive its main characteristic flavor from juniper berries and be bottled at not less than 80o proof. Gin produced exclusively by original distillation or by redistillation may be further designated as "distilled." "Dry gin" (London dry gin), "Geneva gin" (Hollands gin), and "Old Tom gin" (Tom gin) are types of gin known under such designations.
A Brief History Of Gin
Credit for the discovery of gin usually goes to Franciscus de la Boe (also known as Dr Sylvius), a Dutch physician and professor at the University of Leyden, Holland. This was during the 1650's. He had long recognized that the oils of juniper berries had diuretic values which helped flush out the urinary system, keeping the bladder and kidneys healthy. His objective was to develop a medicinal tonic by mixing grain spirits with juniper-berry extract. He called it geniévre (French for juniper). The Dutch renamed it genever, later it became known as geneva and was eventually anglicized by the English to gin.
It is unlikely, however, that Dr. Sylvius was the first to add the flavor of juniper to spirits. Hugh Williams, master distiller for United Distillers in London, theorizes that the alchemedic monks of twelfth-century Italy probably were the first to use juniper as a flavor in distilled spirits. Although distillation was practiced by Egyptian alchemists, the Italian monks may have been the first to produce beverage alcohol in the form of distilled spirits.
Italian alchemists had long recognized the diuretic qualities of the juniper berry and may have used it as far back as the time of the Bubonic Plague (1347-1350). Since one of the symptoms of the plague (or, Black Death as it was called) was the enlargement of lymph nodes, a diuretic would have been used to reduce the swelling and juniper has this property. The first printed mention of the use of botanicals in distillation is in a book published in London in the 1520's. Thus, the theory of an early form of gin existing since the mid-1300's, or earlier, is entirely possible, but it cannot be proved.
The problem with the Dr. Sylvius theory is that various books on the subject of spirits refer to Sylvius creating gin in, or around the year 1650. Some of these same books, however, indicate that gin was known in England as early as the 1570's. Sylvius is, however, credited with the first printed recipe for gin and his recipe was probably also the first to be based on grain spirits – previous spirits most likely having been distilled from fruits, probably grapes.
In 1568, the predominately Protestant Dutch revolted against their Catholic rulers from Spain, and in 1585 Queen Elizabeth I of England sent Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, to help the Dutch in their quest. Dudley's soldiers did more than fight, however; they discovered jenever—the Dutch name of a juniper - flavored spirit—and they praised it because it had given them "Dutch Courage" before battles. Returning home they encouraged the production of the crude spirit and it soon became England's national drink.
Production of gin had begun by the early 1600's in some of England's port cities; Bristol, Plymouth, Portsmouth, and London. Increasing popularity of the new drink resulted in continued expansion of production. By 1688, England was producing a half-million gallons of gin per year. In 1689 a Dutchman (William III) ascended to the throne of England and the stage was set for ever higher production.
The new King was a Protestant and figured that one way to weaken the economy of England's enemy, Catholic France, was to prevent any French goods from entering England. The result of this was to create a dependence on grain spirits, which could be produced at home, to replace the banned French brandy. William was succeeded by Queen Anne in 1702 and she further encouraged the production of grain spirits by canceling the "Distillers Charter," which made it legal for anyone to distill their own gin.
This soon got out of hand however and, by 1727, the consumption of gin was nearly 1 gallon per person – man, woman and child (5 million gallons for 6 million people). Drunkenness became common and was enough of a problem that Parliament, in 1736, introduced the Gin Act. This made it illegal to sell gin in quantities of less than two gallons, and required a £50 license fee for anyone wanting to distill gin for sale. The objective was to reduce drinking by the "lower classes" who, it was felt by the "upper crust," were doing too much drinking and not enough working. This had the effect of moving a great deal of gin distillation into the home. A simple way in which to circumvent the law was to give the product a different name – any name – as long as it was not gin. The attempt to reduce production failed to such a degree that by 1743 it quadrupled to 20 million gallons. Some writers have estimated that the average Londoner of that time consumed about 50 gallons per year! The nearly total failure of the Act (forerunner of our Prohibition?) resulted in repeal that same year. By 1751 it had been replaced by a more reasonable and acceptable tax structure.
Regan and Regan state in their book, The Martini Companion, that the Londoners of the mid-1700's were so drunk that "plays had to be canceled because the audiences were too befuddled to sit still, and the actors were too drunk to remember their lines. "
It was common during this time to sweeten gin in order to cover-up off-flavors of badly made spirits. The term "Old Tom" dates to this practice. This name has an interesting origin. A government agent, Captain Dudley Bradstreet, informed on illegal distillers even though he himself was a supplier of gin in London. He wrote a book titled The Life and Uncommon Adventures of Captain Dudley Bradstreet in 1755 and gave detailed information on how he got around the Gin Act. This Act required a minimum of two gallons per sale but Bradstreet's method enabled him to sell small quantities – actually, individual portions. "I . . . purchased in Moorfields the sign of a cat and had it nailed to a street window. I then caused a leaden pipe, the small end out about an inch, to be placed under the paw of the cat, the end that was within had a funnel to it .... When the liquor was properly disposed, I got a person to inform a few of the mob that gin would be sold by the cat at my window next day, provided they put money in his mouth . . . at last I heard the chink of money and a comfortable voice say, 'Puss, give me two pennyworth of gin!' I instantly put my mouth to the tube and bid them receive it from the pipe under her paw." The cat was evidently called "Old Tom" and the term dates from this time. This enterprise (the first vending machine?) was apparently quite lucrative; the Captain claimed to make £3 to £4 a day, a considerable sum in those times.
So-called Gin Palaces, elaborate and classy pubs, began to appear in the late 1700's, about the same time as the Industrial Revolution. This, of course, greatly distressed the temperance people – especially since these were places where the lower classes were drinking themselves into a stupor on a regular basis.
Eventually the roles were reversed; by the mid-Victorian era gin had gained respectability and was favored by the upper-crust, especially the ladies. They could not, however, possibly refer to it as "gin" – they were drinking "white wine."
A major change in the gin market took place sometime during the 1870's when "dry" (as opposed to the sweetened, or Old Tom style) gin first appeared. The development of the continuous still in the 1870's made it possible to easily produce large quantities of clean, flavorless and odorless spirits. Such spirits did not have faults that required masking with sugar. These stills were particularly needed for vodka and gin. Vodka needs to be flavorless, and gin distillers need, basically, very pure vodka to redistill along with their carefully chosen botanicals.
Gin had long been popular in the United States and the Old Tom style sweetened gins remained, to a certain extent, quite popular in this country until the turn of the century, when wealthy Americans traveling to Europe returned to the States with a newfound fondness for London dry gin. Old Tom gin, however, retained some popularity right up until Prohibition. Upon Repeal, American bartenders found that their customers had become more accustomed to dry gin; Old Tom was becoming a distant memory.
During Prohibition, gin came to be the drink of choice rather than whisky which had been the most popular spirit in this country. The reason was that whisky was quite difficult to obtain whereas homemade (bathtub) gin was widely available because of the ease of production – one simply mixed grain alcohol, distilled water, and juniper flavoring. The quality, of course, was of no importance; it was usually poor, often very poor, and sometimes even lethal. When gins are made in this manner nowadays, it is termed "compound" gin rather than the preferred "distilled" gin. Thus, the Martini fad of the 1940's and 1950's can be attributed, in large part, to Prohibition.
It is a paradox that gin, maligned throughout history as being responsible for all sorts of sin and degradation during the 18th and 19th centuries, has today emerged as a highly desirable, and respectable, spirit.
Gin, as the Standards of Identity make clear, is a complex product and is more of a manufactured product than are other alcoholic beverages. There are two basic types produced: Dutch (or Hollands, Genever, Schiedam) gin, and Dry (English or American) gin.
Dutch or Hollands Gin
Dry Gin - English and American
Gin, when it comes from the gin still and has had its proof reduced to bottling strength, is ready to drink and does not require aging. Storage until bottling is accomplished in stainless steel or glass-lined tanks. While producers in the United States are permitted to age in wood if they desire, they are prohibited from placing any age statements on the label. Gin which has been stored in wood for a short period will acquire a pale, golden color and can be labeled as Golden Gin but, as stated, no age statement is permitted.
The use of the term dry simply means that the gin is not sweet and there is no difference in this regard among products labeled London dry, very dry, extra dry or so forth. The term London dry has lost its original geographical significance and is now used by manufacturers in many countries, including the United States.
Flavored gins may be made by adding specific flavors such as lemon, pineapple, orange, mint and so forth, but the flavor has to be identified on the label. Such products will be sweet as will gins labeled as "Old Tom." Another product with the name gin on it is sloe gin and it is not a gin at all; it is a cordial and will be discussed in the chapter on liqueurs and cordials.
Description of Production Methods of Specific Brands
(Adapted from The Martini Companion, by Gary and Mardee Haidin Regan, Running Press, Philadelphia, London, 1997)
Beefeater London Distilled Dry Gin: Made in England; 47% alcohol. The brand was introduced to England by James Burrough, a British pharmacist who opened a distillery in London in the early 1800's. The botanicals are infused into the neutral spirit for 24 hours; then the gin is pot-distilled for about 8 hours. The botanicals include, along with juniper: coriander, angelica root, licorice, cassia bark*, sun-dried peels of Seville oranges and lemons from southern Spain. The master distiller has the reputation of taking the greatest care in selecting his botanicals and all ingredients are constantly analyzed for quality and essential oil content.
Spicy (juniper and coriander) and fruity aromas. A round, full bouquet. Very dry with complex flavors, first of minerals and then juniper berry. Medium long finish. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it a **** (highly recommended) rating. Good on the rocks or in martinis.
1. Any of various chiefly tropical or subtropical trees, shrubs, or herbs of the genus Cassia in the pea family, having pinnately compound leaves, usually yellow flowers, and long, flat or cylindrical pods.
2. a. A tropical Asian evergreen tree (Cinnamomum cassia) having aromatic bark used as a substitute for cinnamon. b. The bark of this tree.
Bombay; Distilled London Dry Gin; Bombay Sapphire Distilled London Dry Gin: Both are produced in England. Bombay is 43% and Sapphire, 47% alcohol. The brand dates to the 1950's when Alan Subin decided there was adequate demand in the United States for another premium imported gin. Following extensive testing he settled on a brand that has reportedly been made in England since 1761. He called the product "Bombay" and its success enabled him to sell the brand to Carillon Importers in the 1960's. In 1988, they released the super-premium brand, Bombay Sapphire which has also been highly successful. Regular Bombay uses coriander seeds from Morocco, licorice from China, lemon peel and almonds from Spain, angelica from Saxony, orris and juniper from Italy, and cassia bark from Indochina. Sapphire uses, in addition to these, cubeb* berries from Java and grains of paradise** from West Africa to differentiate the recipe. They claim not to use as much juniper as most producers and feel this results in a smoother product. Both brands are produced from neutral spirits redistilled with the botanicals. The vapors from the pot still are funneled into a copper basket that holds the botanicals. A spokesperson for the company describes this as being similar to "steaming vegetables instead of boiling them."
Bombay Dry English Gin: Dry style gin imported from England. Blended with eight botanicals using a recipe that dates back to 1761. Bombay uses a unique distillation process which infuses the aromas and essences of the botanicals with the vapor of the spirit (rather than cooking them together as most gins do). Clean bouquet of coriander, juniper and citrus. Spicy flavors of vanilla and juniper. Creamy texture. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it *** (recommended) rating. 'Wine Enthusiast' gives it a 92 point rating.
Bombay Sapphire Gin: Imported English gin made in the 'London Dry' style (not sweet). Made with ten natural botanicals (the most of any gin) that include grains of paradise, almonds, lemon peel, licorice, juniper berries, cubeb berries, orris, coriander, angelica, cassia bark, and 100% grain neutral spirits. Packaged in a sapphire blue bottle (the gin itself is not blue). Medium to full-bodied with lots of pungent flavors. Fresh and clean with an elegant finish. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it a **** (highly recommended) rating. 'Wine Enthusiast' gives it 94 points.
1. A tropical southeast Asian shrubby vine (Piper cubeba) having spicy, berrylike fruits, heart-shaped leaves, and small flowers in cylindrical spikes.
2. The dried, unripe, berrylike fruit of this plant, used in perfumery, pharmaceuticals, and commercial flavorings.
**Grains of Paradise
1. The pungent, aromatic seeds of a tropical African plant (Aframomum melegueta) used medicinally and for flavoring beverages.
2. The seeds of cardamom.
Boodles British Gin: Made in England; owned by Seagram's; 45.2% alcohol. The label does not describe boodles as a distilled gin, but the term London Dry Gin indicates it is distilled (rather than compounded). Since the distillation is done under pressure, the vaporization of the alcohol takes place at lowered temperatures. This is felt to better preserve the delicate flavors and odors of the botanicals.
Boodles British Gin: London Dry style (not sweet) gin imported from England. Like many imported gins, it has a higher alcohol content (90.4) than most domestic gins. Aromas of juniper and coriander. Clean, crisp, slightly acidic flavor. Smooth, satiny finish. Good mixed with tonic. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it a *** (recommended) rating.
Calvert Distilled London Dry Gin: Made in the US; it has 40% alcohol. The brand is owned by the Jim Beam company and all they will say it that it is "distilled from the finest grain neutral spirits and carries the flavor of the finest botanicals."
Gilbey's Distilled London Dry Gin: Made in the United States; 40% alcohol. Originally produced in London by the Gilbey brothers (Walter and Alfred) around 1860. The license to make it in America was granted in 1938; today the brand is owned by Jim Beam Brands. Beam closely guards the production processes but does reveal that it uses juniper from Bavaria, orange peels from Spain, and "other rare herbs from around the world."
Gordon's Distilled London Dry Gin: Made in the U.S.; 40% alcohol. The brand originated in England. A distiller named Alexander Gordon was distilling as early as 1769 (or 1774, there is some disagreement) which means that he was one of, if not the first, producers of the dry style of gin. Since he distilled long before the invention of the continuous still, he must have been quite a skillful distiller to produce a spirit clean enough not to require sweetening. In 1892, the brand was taken over by the Tanqueray gin distilling company. Currently, the brand is owned by United Distillers who claim that the recipe is the same one that has been used since the 1700's, and that the pot stills are exact replicas of one used in 1780 that was nicknamed "Old Tom." This still was used by Alexander Gordon and is still in use today. The company reveals that juniper, coriander, and angelica are used in the recipe; the remainder of the botanicals are a secret. The botanicals are not allowed to steep in the spirit prior to distillation but are added immediately before it begins.
Seagram's Distilled Extra Dry Gin: Made in the U.S.; 40% alcohol. The brand dates to 1939. Although the recipe is a secret, Seagram's does state that they use juniper from Italy, cardamom from Sri Lanka, cassia bark from Vietnam, orange peel from Spain, coriander seeds from the Czech Republic, and angelica root from Germany. Distillation is done under pressure and the distillate is aged in oak for about three months prior to bottling; something that is very rare. This gives it a pale yellow color; the practice is also noted by the word "mellowed" which appears on the label.
Tanqueray Special Dry Distilled English Gin: Made in England; 47.3% alcohol. Founded in 1830 by Charles Tanqueray and amalgamated with the Gordon's gin distillery in 1898. The recipe is said to be the same as used by Charles Tanqueray in 1830 and the pot still used today is an exact replica of the he used. The recipe is a secret but the company does say that they use juniper, coriander, and angelica. No steeping is done and the botanicals are added to the neutral spirits immediately prior to distillation.
Tanqueray Gin: Delicate, citrusy nose with just a hint of spice and juniper berries. Creamy, yet clean, extra dry palate. Full, dry, very extended finish, The #1 premium imported gin in America. Kindred Spirits gives it a ***** rating or Highest Recommendation.
Gin Brands Descriptions
Bombardier Military Gin: Imported gin from England. Gin, which was first made in Holland, was originally brought to Britain by the soldiers returning home from the European wars; thus the name 'Military Dry Gin'. The Dutch gin was sweeter than the British, so the term 'British Dry' or 'London Dry' style was given to the British gins.
DeKuyper Geneva Gin: Imported gin from Holland. The Dutch were actually the first to make gin. However, their gin is sweeter than the London Dry style that most of us are used to. Geneva or Genever gin is made by infusing juniper and some, but not many, other botanicals into malt wine. Malt wine is a neutral grain spirit made from equal amounts of malted barley, corn, and rye. This mixture is fermented for a few days and then distilled. There is a slight golden color that comes from a small amount of coloring added to the final product.
Booth's London Dry Gin: Domestic gin made in the 'London Dry' (not sweet) style. Distilled from grain, 100% neutral spirits. Higher proof (90) than most other domestic gins, more in the style of British gin. Booth's still uses the same recipe that was invented by Felix Booth in 1740.
Burnett's Crown Select Gin: Imported gin made in the 'London Dry' (not sweet) style. Packaged in a unique green bottle with gold accents.
Burnett's Gin: Domestic gin made in the London Dry (not sweet) style. Fruity aromas and flavors. Also, flavors of herbs and a mild metallic quality. Good for mixing.
Five O'Clock Gin: Extra dry, English (London Dry) style gin. Produced at the oldest family distillery in the U.S. (Laird & Co.).
Fleischmann's Dry Gin: Domestic gin that is light on the botanicals (juniper berry), but heavy on licorice essence. Good for mixing.
Gilbey's Gin: London 'Dry Style' (not sweet) gin made in the U.S. Made from 100% grain neutral spirits. Spicy, zesty nose. Some berry flavors, also minerals, herbs, and spices. Creamy texture. Dry, minerally finish. Good for mixing. 'Wine Enthusiast' gives it 88 points.
Gordon's London Dry Gin: Domestic gin that is the number one selling gin in the world. Made with 100% natural ingredients and real botanicals (juniper, etc.). Aromas of spice and peppermint. Flavors of mint, fruit and licorice. It is distilled in 18th century copper pot stills just as it was in 1769 when it was created. A gold medal winner at the 1995 Monde selection awards.
Seagram's Extra Dry Gin: Domestic gin that is the #1 selling gin in America. Made with 100% grain neutral spirits and botanicals, then aged in oak casks. Fruity aroma with distinct elements of orange peel and cinnamon that carry over into the flavor. Very dry finish with a hint of spice. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it a *** (recommended) rating.
Seagram's Lime Twisted Gin : Premium extra dry gin with natural lime flavor from the company that produces America's #1 selling gin. Aroma and flavors of just-picked limes and lime is the primary fruit added to gin drinks i.e. Gin and Tonic.
Gin and Prohibition
The 18th Amendment to the Constitution, called Prohibition, was ratified on January 16th, 1920. It provided that "the manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof is hereby prohibited."
It was no more successful than other attempts to eliminate the production and/or consumption of alcohol. In England, as we have described, the attempts to regulate the production of gin during the 16th and 17th centuries immediately resulted in a vast underground market for spirits of all kinds, and this is basically what occurred in the Untied States. Imported liquor was available either on the black market or at "speakeasies" where the cost of a single drink was as much as the booze-deprived market would bear. The 18th Amendment had nothing to do, of course, with distillers in other countries, and it was not illegal for them to ship their products to islands just off American shores. The contracts sometimes stipulated that the product be packed 'in cases designed to float.'
Those who could not afford these products could brew their own quick and simple "bathtub gin," a combination of raw alcohol and other flavorings that harked back to the ersatz products of Gin Era London. Once again, an entire nation was developing a taste for gin.
Throughout the 1920s the rise of organized crime, as well as the creation of what was virtually a nation of lawbreakers consuming illicit gin in ever- increasing quantities, led to perpetual conflict over Prohibition, and the eventual repeal of the 18th Amendment by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933. It is interesting to note that Roosevelt's repeal was accompanied by the ceremonial creation of the first "legal" martini by Roosevelt in the White House -- the silver drinks cups used for the celebratory quaff are preserved in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, New York.
The "Ginning" of America and the Rise of the Cocktail
President Roosevelt's "legal" martini called for two parts gin to one part vermouth, with a teaspoon of olive brine. It was served with an olive for extra smoothness, the rim of the glass was rubbed with lemon peel. Roosevelt's choice of drink, and its composition, would doubtless have been the occasion for heated discussion wherever liquor was consumed, for America was in the grip of a passion for cocktails, born partly of the necessity to adulterate the raw flavor of bathtub gin. And the major ingredient in those cocktails, spurred by its Prohibition-based popularity, was gin.
Though 1910 had seen the opening of London's first "cocktail bar," the Criterion in London's Piccadilly Circus, and the provenance of many popular gin cocktails can be traced to Imperial roots (the Gin and Tonic, for example, was created as a way of making malaria-fighting quinine more palatable to the officers of the Raj) it took American ingenuity and the America's new-found taste for gin to institutionalize any number of classic gin cocktails. The Gimlet, the Tom Collins and, of course, the Martini -- whose composition and classic glass have become synonymous with the word and the image of the sophisticated cocktail -- were all originally perfected and consumed with gin, and found their highest expression with the increased availability and use of Tanqueray. Between the World Wars, the works of such expatriate American authors as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway described the consumption of gin cocktails with a Continental dash and drew more consumers into the cocktail fold.
The cocktail craze in America was exported back to its roots in England with the rise of the "Cocktail Set," youthful members of the upper classes who flouted convention and, as chronicled by Wodehouse and Waugh, and in the pages of the widely read Tatler, were emulated by the middle and lower classes. Public fascination with these "bright young things" and their gin-inspired antics continued unabated until the shadow of war in Europe curtailed the pleasures and availability of fine spirits and survival became the concern of the two great gin-drinking nations, and of the world beyond their hard fought borders.