Gin, James Bond, stuffy old Brits, the roaring 1920s, Prohibition and so many other things pop into mind when you mention this simple 3-letter word for which everything from the British Royal Navy to Italian Mobsters in the 1930s made this practically currency, if not even more valuable. But the spirit actually has roots Amsterdam, but some will argue Italy. Whichever the case, it began to appear in the late 1500 to early 1600s somewhere in Europe.
Also known as genever, gin is a clear spirit and it derives much of its taste from juniper berries and other botanicals (herbs). Some credit Dutch physician Dr. Sylvius for inventing gin, but evidence suggest he would have only been about 9 years old at the time of 1623. Often called “Dutch Courage” because it had a calming effect the night before, or even the adrenaline one gets after drinking enough of it.
Fast forward to the early 1920s when alcohol production, sale or consumption was illegal, and you basically had vodka flavored with herbs (or whatever) and “aged” meant longer than a few weeks (most likely during shipment in a barrel on a bumpy back road). It was then we had the other invention of bitters to help mask the harsh taste, along with vermouth and there you have the first Martini, for which gin is best known for. Of course today there are many fine gins, several barrel aged which have a brownish color, and it is a far more drinkable spirit then what it once was.
Gin usually breaks down into three, four or even more categories:
- Genever; generally made from malt and grains
- London Dry; a gin that is dry and best in tonics and dry martinis
- Old Tom; slightly sweeter than the “dry” and popular in mixed drinks
- Plymouth; flavored with more earthy herbs like roots and softer juniper flavors.
- New/International; craft, small batch, barrel aged, etc.
From there it goes on. Tanqueray even has a Rangpur lime, but the best are those who experiment with other herbs. notably the lemongrass in Farmer’s Organic or even Elephant gin from Germany. For a more spring garden like gin, there is Hendricks which is noted for its cucumber. No matter what the case, type or brand, gin is far more versatile in classic cocktails, modern cocktails or even nearly straight in a martini. Much more so than cotton candy or caramel flavored vodka.
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