What Is Gin?
The staple and titular component of the G&T, gin is a grain-based spirit usually known for its predominant juniper flavour. In many ways, gin is very similar to vodka as it is essentially distilled grains that produce ethanol.
However, it undergoes a second distillation process where it is passed through a variety of herbs and spices. These notably include juniper berries, which produces its distinctive flavour.
The History Of Gin
Although often associated with the United Kingdom, gin is actually Dutch in origin and a derivative of jenever. While we cover it in greater detail in our full jenever guide, it was originally introduced to Great Britain as a medicine.
When re-distilled with herbs and spices, it helped treated various ailments like gout and gallstones. In fact, it was a popular drink for soldiers and its “calming effects” became known as “Dutch Courage”. Similarly, it was often used by sailors to prevent scurvy!
Interestingly, gin’s name is a modern shortening of the Old English “genever”, which is derived from the latin “juniperus”.
The Gin Craze
Gin Lane by William Hogarth, 1751
However, gin didn’t really become popular until the late 17th Century when the government imposed heavy taxes on all imported spirits. Furthermore, it simultaneously allowed unlicensed gin distilling.
This led to a gin craze, which caused numerous social problems and alcohol-related deaths and wasn’t corrected until the 1751 Gin Act. With the invention of the column still in the early 19th Century, gin eventually evolved into the spirit that we recognise today.
As for the aforementioned gin and tonic, it was originally used to counteract the bitter flavour of quinine, the only known treatment malaria. British soldiers would dilute the quinine into sparkling water to create tonic water and then add gin to improve the flavour.
Nevertheless, most modern tonic water today only contains traces of quinine compared to the original concoction as it wasn’t particularly pleasant.
During the Prohibition era of the early 20th Century, there was a renewed interest in gin as it was relatively easy to produce. People would distil what is commonly referred to as “bathtub gin” to sell or for private consumption.
However, gin’s popularity waned after the Prohibition in favour of more refined and now-legal spirits. Nevertheless, it briefly picked up again in the late 1980s with the introduction of premium brands like Bombay Sapphire.
Nevertheless, its real renaissance has been in the last 10 years. As a result, many renowned whisky distilleries have turned to simultaneously producing gin. Similarly, there are a growing number of new and unique craft gins that use increasingly original blends of herbs and spices to create rich flavours.
Thanks to the variety of cocktails that feature gin, it’s associated with both Christmas and summer. In 2017, its yearly sales reached record numbers of 47 million bottles being in the UK, which even doubled in 2019.
Yet, the definition of gin is becoming somewhat blurry due to its revived popularity. With a surge of new fruit and spice infused gin-based liqueurs, the boundaries of gin’s identity are continuously being tested. Still, its botanical properties have helped it become a staple for many cocktail bases.
What Does Gin Taste Like?
Depending on the variety, which are detailed in another guide, gin can actually vary somewhat in flavour. Being a typically non-aged and non-barrelled spirit, gin is usually very strong with a potent alcohol “bloom” or odour.
The resulting taste is imparted from the botanical herbs and spices used during the distillation process. Traditionally, common London Dry style gins will feature a pronounced juniper note that is often compared to a Christmas tree. Meanwhile, it tends to have a somewhat oily texture.
Master blenders will carefully balance the use of juniper in order to achieve the desired flavour. Indeed, some gins can be remarkably complex and go far beyond a simple pine cone flavour profile.
In fact, many contemporary gins will incorporate a unique selection of herbs and spices in order to engineer a variety of flavours.
Similar Drinks & Gin Substitutes
There are a number of reasons why you may seek alternatives to gin. For instance, you may have an allergy to juniper or you’re just not fond of the taste.
Firstly, we’ve already mentioned that vodka is chemically similar to gin. Indeed, it can act as an appropriate substitute base to a gin cocktail. However, it must be said that vodka will unlikely feature a flavour profile that contributes to the cocktail’s characteristics.
That said, there are some excellent infused Polish vodkas that can offer an alternative aroma to the overall experience.
Otherwise, we might instead suggest Scandinavian Akvavit instead. Rather than being re-distilled, Akvavit is simply flavoured with similar herbs and spices like gin without the use of juniper.
Typically, Akvavit consists of a dominant aroma note derived from herbs such as caraway, cardamon, cumin, and fennel. As a result, it will lend its distinctive flavours to your cocktail of choice.
What Are The Benefits Of Drinking Gin?
Firstly, it’s important that we clearly state that no alcoholic beverage is healthy when consumed in excess! In fact, only moderate use may have any benefits at all and those are sometimes very slight.
Nevertheless, we already explained how gin was a medicine before it was enjoyed in your Negroni. In fact, it was even only sold through pharmacies for many years.
Indeed, juniper is a natural antioxidant with anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties. As such, its oils can help alleviate coughs and soothe sour throats when blended with other botanical ingredients such as ginger.
Similarly, the juniper berry is a diuretic. As a result, it reduces water retention, which helps flushing out bacteria and toxins if you have something like liver disease or a urinary tract infection.
Furthermore, its a well-known digestif thanks to its ability to encourage stomach acid production, which helps after high-sodium meals.
Finally, gin is also an anti-inflammatory and can help conditions like arthritis. An old home remedy involves taking gin-soaked raisins to soothe discomfort.
Gluten, Carbs, & Calories In Gin
Some will argue that the juniper’s antioxidants will actually boost your metabolism. However, we’re somewhat doubtful that a shot of gin provides a sufficient dose to have any effect. Nevertheless, it is a very light spirit and a single shot only contains 97 calories and no carbohydrates.
Although gin is made from gluten grains, the distillation process should make it safe for those with a sensitivity to proteins. Nevertheless, some people with celiac disease may have an adverse reaction to it.
Furthermore, it greatly depends on the variety of gin and its ingredients. If the spirit was distilled more times than the average gin, it may have removed sufficient impurities to make it safe. However, some traces may still be present.
Otherwise, you could opt for a gin that has been produced using non-gluten grains such as Cold River Gin by Maine Distilleries.
Finally, bear in mind that all the information above only takes neat gin into account. If you begin mixing it, it may begin to lose its benefits!
Now that you have read our introductory guide to gin, let’s dig deeper and learn more!