The History of Gin and its Origins

by Sara Rodrigo
Bottles of gin

This popular spirit boasts both flavour and variety, but it also has an interesting history. The origins of gin are somewhat different compared to other alcoholic beverages. Have you ever stopped to wonder where the ingredients come from or where our beloved G&T was first created? Keep reading for some trivia knowledge!

Let’s Take a Tour of its History and Origins

The discovery of this famous alcoholic drink arose by chance due to its medicinal use. To understand the origin of gin we must go back as far as the 11th and 12th centuries in Europe. Italian monks were among the first to start distilling a drink which was very similar to gin. They were using cereals and juniper trying to create a medicine against the bubonic plague (unfortunately, it was not very effective).

Even though the Italian monks had created a gin-like distillate, it was British soldiers who discovered the drink during the Anglo-Dutch wars in the Netherlands. They would drink it before battle to gain courage and to get relief from the cold. Hence, the drink was named ”Dutch Courage”, and later it was imported into the islands where it quickly gained popularity. A monopoly was created as everyone from all parts of the island wanted to enjoy the drink. Later, William III of Orange banned the consumption of non-British distillates. However, instead of preventing the English from drinking gin, they allowed for unlicensed gin production to take place. During this Gin Craze, there were riots, drunkenness in the streets and various social problems. The painter William Hogarth (1697-1764) has portrayed this in his painting called Gin Lane from 1751. This is how the English government spread the culture of gin while regulating its consumption and production.

Genever or Gin?

Shortly after the war ended in 1650 a Dutch professor of medicine of Leiden University, Franciscus Sylvius, also known as Franz de le Boë, created a distillate called ”Genever”. He did this by distilling juniper berries in search of medicine.

The best-known brand of Dutch Genever, and the most marketed worldwide, is Lucas Bols. Founded in 1575, it is characterised as the oldest distillery in the world still in operation. Among their brands of Genever, we find Jonge Bols, Zeer Oude Bols and Bols Corenwyn. Zeer Oude Bols was the first genever consumed in the Netherlands.

British gin made great strides in the 19th century. In 1862 the English pharmacist James Burrough returned from the United States with new ideas. By applying his scientific knowledge, he set out to mass-produce a quality gin. This had great commercial possibilities, and it was the birth of the famous London Dry Gin style. The original ingredients include juniper, coriander, Seville orange peel, lemon zest, and seeds of the angelica plant. The famous Beefeater-label, which is inspired by the uniforms of the guards of the Tower of London, was now established.

Gin distillation in the old days

Discover some interesting curiosities

You may not know this, but the famous mix of gin and tonic has a history in Spain too, more precisely in San Sebastián. Many consider this to be the epicentre of the gin tonic-trend with their Spanish-style gin tonics.

Another curiosity is related to the distillation process which is usually kept secret. Some brands seek to stand out by applying different techniques when distilling their products.

Finally, we have an interesting anecdote which refers to the name itself. It dates to 1714 when the first written use of the word ”Gin” was found in a book called ”The Fable of the Bees: or, Private Vices, Public Benefits” by Bernard Mandeville. He wrote “the infamous liquor, the name of which, derived from Juniper berries in Dutch, is now, by frequent use and the Laconick spirit of the Nation shrunk into a Monosyllable, Intoxicating Gin that charms the unactive, the desperate and the crazy of either Sex….”. The British are said to have been too drunk to pronounce ”Genever” and that is why they had to abbreviate it.

What forms of production are in use?

There are many different countries that produce gin. Some of the most important ones are the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, the United States and Spain. Most countries promote their own varieties which of course hints to the fact that there are various methods of production. The Dutch Genever variety is produced in the Netherlands while the English gin is produced in the UK and other countries.

  • The Dutch ”Genever” or ”Jenever” is produced by distilling smooth alcohol with treated and fermented malt. The liquor is then mixed with different elements adding aromas and flavours. Finally, it is distilled once more to obtain a gin with an alcohol content of 44 %.
  • If we talk about the production of British gin the main difference is the use of strong alcohol which is then reduced at a later stage. The rest of the process is the same as it is also flavoured and then distilled a second time. This type of gin is drier, and it reaches an alcohol content of 47 %.
Famous brands of gin

Types of Gin

In our everyday life, we have many types of gin to choose from and not just related to different types of distillation. Flavour-wise we’ll find botanical inspiration from e.g. vine flowers, orange, lime, liquorice, coriander etc. You can even be lucky enough to taste a gin created from the distillation of Albariño wine. And on top of that, you’ll also find gin in a wide variety of colours such as blue, pink, and purple, among others.

Finally, we leave some of our recommendations.

Gin Nordés

Nordés Gin is presented in a white and wide bottle. The label shows the world map with Galicia highlighted as a clear tribute to the Atlantic land where this fantastic gin is made.

Brockmans Gin

Brockmans Gin combines the best botanical ingredients from around the world: juniper from Tuscany in Italy adds Mediterranean aromas of pine and lavender, blackberries from northern Europe adds a unique floral contribution, and Spanish almonds offer a smooth texture with a pleasant bitter aftertaste …

Bombay Sapphire English Estate 1L

Bombay Spirits Co. offers us this Bombay Sapphire English Estate 1L. The gin is produced in Scotland and has an alcohol content of 41 %.

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