In the simplest terms, gin is in essence flavored vodka, made by infusing a neutral spirit with a variety of botanicals that must legally include juniper berries. Gin typically has a higher proof than vodka, and its enticing herbal, floral and/or citrus aromas make it a willing cocktail base. Several styles exist that make gin a versatile category.
Gin can be made from a base of any fermentable material, from grapes and grain to molasses and sugar beet, and most gins undergo two distillations. The spirit is initially distilled in a column still, which results in a high-proof, lightbodied and clean profile; afterwards, juniper berries and other botanicals are used to add flavor. This can either be done through coldcompounding, in which botanicals are macerated in the base spirit before it’s redistilled, or by suspending the botanicals in a basket over the still during the second distillation (this method is done for the highest quality gins as well as genever, which is pot-distilled). In the latter process, the vapor extracts aromatics and flavors as it travels over the botanicals on the way to the condenser, resulting in a more complex spirit.
WHAT IS GIN?
Gin has its origins in Dutch genever, also known as Holland Gin or Dutch Gin, which wasoriginally created by distilling malt wine and adding herbs to make a harsh tasting beverage alittle more palatable.
Legend has it that genever was created by Dutch chemist Sylvius de Bouve in the sixteenth century, but since there are written references to it that date back to the thirteenth century its actual year of founding is unknown. However, by the mid-seventeenth century genever production was widespread in the Netherlands and Flanders.
Gin became popular in England after the government allowed individuals to produce it without a license, which led to the Gin Craze of the first half of the eighteenth century, when gin consumption (and often, overconsumption) rapidly increased. This in turn led to a surge in various social problems, to which the government responded by passing a series of Gin Acts which imposed higher taxes on producers and retailers in an attempt to curb the effects of a spirit referred to as “Mother’s Ruin.”
Over the years, other styles of gin emerged, including the softer and sweeter Old Tom Gin and the high proof Navy Strength Gin. Recent years have seen an increased popularity in Modern Gin or New Western Style Gin, which downplays the juniper notes craved by purists but offputting by others in favor of other botanicals including spices, citrus peels and flower petals. Gin was the major base for most cocktails before 1920, but Prohibition and a big marketing campaign by the vodka industry saw its decline in popularity. However, the recent cocktail revolution has revitalized the category, and it’s often used in both classic and modern libations.
Regions & Styles
Though some associate London Dry as the default example of the category, there are actually many different styles of gin. Except for barrel-aged gin, most gin is not enjoyed neat or on the rocks but in libations. Since each is produced in a slightly different way, different gins work better in different cocktails.
Highland DistilleriesHighland Distilleries produce whiskies that are intensely flavored, with peat notes as well as a honeyed and floral character. Speyside distilleries produce elegant, refined whisky.
Lowland DistilleriesLowland Distilleries traditionally produce whiskies that are triple-distilled, making them lighter than other styles. They also generally make whisky that is 100% peat-free.
Islay DistilleriesIslay Distilleries make the most unapologetically peated whiskies, which have notes of smoke, iodine and seaweed. Lowland whiskies are light in style and generally used for blending.
CampbeltownCampbeltown Scotch is peaty and briny.
Island DistilleriesIsland Distilleries are not technically a Scotch region, but encompass all the islands except Islay: Arran, Jura, Mull, Orkney and Skye.