What is Gin?
The popularity of Gin has really exploded in Scotland and across the UK over the last 10 years. You may be a fan of this delicious tipple, but have you ever wondered what gin really is? Never fear, all the answers to this top question will be uncovered here.
The simple answer is that it’s is a distilled grain alcohol which is flavoured with botanicals. Juniper is usually the dominant botanical used.
The 5 types of Gin
This is what most people think of as “gin.” London Dry Gins are typically very dry, heavily juniper flavoured, light in body, and aromatic. To get the flowery, botanical flavour this style is known for, it has to be infused with various aromatic ingredients (as opposed to being flavoured at the end). This infusion takes place during the 2nd or 3rd distillation process. This infusion is a requirement to be labelled as “London Dry”. Carrying out this process gives each brand its own unique taste. London dry doesn’t have to be made in London – and most aren’t. Common brands include Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire, and Beefeater. This style is great for classic martinis, G&Ts, and Aviation cocktails.
This is the less dry cousin to the London Dry, and it must be made in Plymouth, England. Infused with more roots, this style of gin has an earthier flavour with softer juniper notes than other styles. Currently, there is only one brand of Plymouth gin produced in the world and, wouldn’t you know it, it’s called Plymouth. In term of cocktails, it can be used anywhere a London Dry is used. It is also what should be used in a “Pink Gin” cocktail.
Genever or Dutch
A unique group of gins that are very different in colour and taste to the others is Genever/Dutch. Unlike most others which are made with a combination of cereal grains, Genever is made from a base of malt grains which gives it a darker colour and flavour. It is more comparable to a light-bodied, botanical whisky. Recently, Genever has been revived by craft mixologists who are using it creatively in cocktails. However, it is just as good for sipping straight or chilled. The most commonly available brand is Bols Genever.
Here we have the sweeter cousin to the London Dry. It is appropriately named as it is the preferred gin in a Tom Collins. It’s generally thought of as somewhere in between a London Dry and Genever. It can be difficult to find but look for the Hayman’s brand and you’re on to a winner. Old Tom is most famously used in the Tom Collins and Martinez cocktails but is also delicious in a Ramos Gin Fizz.
New American or International Style Gin
This is an umbrella term used to refer to all the new styles of gin that use the same base distilling process but are predominantly infused with flavours other than juniper berries. The most common one you might be familiar with is Hendrick’s, flavored with cucumber and rose.
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What does gin taste like?
This is a very complicated question due to the vast number of gins available. However, most gins have juniper as the dominant flavour so let’s start there. Juniper is a small blue/purple berry from a group of around 50 different coniferous trees and bushes. They have a piney flavour with hints of citrus.
Gins are made using individual recipes, making use of many botanicals. This creates rich, complex flavour profiles but juniper is comfortably the most common and if you ever smell fresh juniper berries you will instantly think of gin.
The Origin and History of Gin
Crude spirits were being flavoured with juniper berries in Italy as early as the 11th century. However, gin as we know it originated in Holland in the 17th century. It was created by a dentist as a general medicine for people with tooth and mouth diseases. Then later popularised by the Dutch navy during the war with England in this time. The term “Dutch Courage” comes from the fearless acts of the Dutch sailors who would drink gin before battles to steady their nerves.
Gin became wildly popular in the UK when William III (William of Orange) came to the throne. He placed blockades and heavy taxes on wine and spirit imports from France and inacted a law making it incredibly cheap to distill alcohol in the UK. The gin market exploded with everyone who could afford to build a still (apparatus used to distill liquids) making it.
The poor glugged huge quantities of the stuff – a complete lack of social mobility would drive anyone to drink! Whereas the rich sipped on gin as a fashion statement. During this time a pint of gin was cheaper than a pint of beer. Just imagine if that was true now!
Shortly after, a £50 license fee was placed on distilling and the boom crumbled. Although plenty continued to make lethal, home stilled gins and sell them to the poor and desperate.
There is actually a gin called “Fifty Pounds” as it was one of only 2 distilleries to pay for a license in the first 7 years of this law.
G & T
The most iconic gin drink on the planet has to be the gin and tonic.
Drinking gin and tonic is an idea that dates back to 19th Century British Colonial India. To combat malaria the British were told to take quinine, which was administered in the form of tonic water. It was very bitter and unpleasant, so the British started mixing it with lime, sugar, water and gin to make it palatable. Soon after, Schweppes released “Indian Tonic Water” to make the quinine more palatable and it was consumed across the empire, wherever malaria was prevalent.
Prohibition in the United States is when cocktails really started to take off. With so many low-quality spirits being made and distributed, there was a bigger desire than ever to mix them with other things to make them more palatable.
Gin was one of the most popular spirits during prohibition as it was very easy to make. Take some industrial alcohol, thin with water, add glycerin and juniper oil and you’ve got gin.
This is also when the term “Bathtub Gin” first appears due to the cheap spirits being produced by bootleggers in their bathtubs.
Gin in Scotland
There are currently over 90 distilleries in Scotland, with more planned. No matter where you want to visit in Scotland, there is probably a local gin and a distillery you can visit to learn more about this fascinating drink.
Scotland is abundant in beautiful landscapes, perfect for creating a diverse and exciting food scene.
Click here to read all about the top Scottish foods and drinks to enjoy on your next trip.
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The Plate Unknown is an educational food blog. Here we share information about world food culture, the origin of dishes from around the world, and tips for taking a food-focused trip.