Gin 101: A little history of Gin

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great american gin

Gin is in the midst of a powerful resurgence. Driven by the high-end boutique gins, with their mix of exotic and refreshing botanicals, Gin is becoming fashionable again. It is the choice drink for those who value style, traditional and sophistication in their drink. It is the quintessential cocktail drink, one that has a long and checkered past as well as a very optimistic future. This Guide to Gin will provide you with a comprehensive overview of Gin, including; the history of Gin, the regions where it is produced, the distillation process, the flavoring agents and the different types and styles of Gin.

Gin: What is it?

gin botanicals juniper berry

By definition, Gin is made from a neutral white spirit (primarily grain, usually rye or wheat) that is flavored with juniper berries and other botanicals. All gins are required to have juniper berries as a common ingredient. What gives each gin a distinctive character and flavor is the distillation process and use of different botanicals.

The Distillation Process

While the exact approach differs from producer to producer, the fundamental process to making Gin consists of three steps. Its base is a clear, distilled grain spirit (or occasionally a molasses based spirit) that has no flavor or color. The flavor comes from the various botanicals that are added, as well as the unique distillation process applied by the producer. The three step process is as follows:

 Step 1: Distill the base spirit.

The grain alcohol is distilled in a column still to a high proof, flavorless spirit.

 Step 2: Distill the spirit again with the botanicals.

The second stage is what differentiates a high quality gin from a lower quality compound gin. The lower quality versions are typically produced by soaking the botanicals and juniper berries in the base spirit and distilling the mixture a second time. The higher quality versions are flavored in a more unique manner. The alcohol vapor is passed through a chamber that holds the botanicals and juniper berries. This vapor will extract the essential oils and aromatics from the botanicals as it passes through the chamber and on to the condenser.

 Note that a small still or use of small batches results in a higher quality Gin and is best able to capture the essences of the botanicals. This allows the Gin to maintain the balance of ingredients needed to create depth and character.

 Step 3: Add water and bottle

Pure water is added to bring the strength down to the legal requirement before the final product is bottled. Gin is ready to be bottled straight from the still. Unlike Whisky, it does not need a period of time for maturation

The Flavor of Gin

The primary flavoring agent in Gin (and Genever) is the Juniper Berry. The Juniper Berry is a highly aromatic berry that comes from the Juniper bush, a low evergreen that grows in Europe and North America. Since all gins contain the Juniper Berry, what makes each gin unique and versatile is the use of different, and often exotic, botanicals. There are approximately fifty different botanicals used in different gin brands, the list includes:

Lemon and Orange Peel
Angelica Root
Coriander
Anise
Caraway Seeds
Orris Root
Licorice Root
Cinnamon
Cassia Bark
Rose Petals
Iris
Poppy
Bitter Almonds
Calmus
And many more…..

Regions of Gin Production

Gin was first produced in Holland and quickly moved to England where it grew in popularity. Today, gin is made in areas where British and Dutch influences have historically been strong. It is produced in England, Scotland, Holland, Germany, The United States, France, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Spain. Below are the styles produced in a few of these countries.

England

The English tend to primarily produce London Dry Gin from column stills. English Gins tend to have a citrus flavor, due to their choice of botanicals (dried lemon and orange peels, among others). They generally have a high proof and are usually consumed chilled or as a mixed drink

Spain

The Spanish primarily produce London Dry Gin from column stills. They consume it as a mixed drink as well, but often with cola rather than tonic.

United States

The United States is actually the world’s largest Gin market. Like Spain and England, the majority of the Gin produced in the U.S. is London Dry Gin produced in column stills.

Belgium and Holland

Belgium and Holland produce Genever, which is made in pot stills. Genever is aged in oak casks for one to three years and has a much fuller body. These Genevers are chilled and served straight.

Germany

Germany produces Dornkaat, which is a Genever style gin produced in Frisia (a region on the eastern edge of the North Sea). This is a very light version of Gin, lighter in body than both London Dry Gin and Genever. In Germany, Dornkaat is chilled and served straight.

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