Although the English claim to have invented gin, it’s origin actually lays with the Dutch who started producing it in the 16th century for its “medicinal power”. The name is also derived from the Dutch word “jenever“ which means “juniper”. The juniper berry is the prime component of gin giving its characteristic odor.
Next to the juniper berries gin contains other ingredients which can vary per distillery. But ingredients most commonly used are angelica, licorice, iris root, citrus peel, caraway en coriander seeds. Gin has a strong aroma but despite that it suits well as an ingredient in cocktails. This is due to the fact that it’s colorless and has an aroma of herbs and spices which mixes well with liqueurs, juices and other distillations.
From a legal point of view there are 4 gin categories. Juniper-flavored spirit drinks which are produced by pot distilling a fermented grain mixture and re-distilling it with herbs and spices. Compound Gin is a juniper-flavored spirit made by simply adding juniper and/or other natural flavoring substances to a neutral gin. Distilled gin is produced exclusively by re-distilling ethanol of agricultural origin with an initial strength of 96% ABV in stills with primarily juniper berries and other optional natural botanicals. London gin is made exclusively from ethanol of agricultural origin and with a maximum of 5 grams methanol per hectolitre which is introduced through the re-distillation in traditional stills of ethanol together with the juniper berries and all other natural plant components used.
In Europe the minimum required alcoholic strength is 37,5%. English gins are around 45%. The main types of English gin are London Dry gin and Plymouth gin. London dry gin is the most famous of the two and doesn’t necessarily needs to be produced in London as its name would suggest. They have an intense flavor and Gordon’s and Beefeater are the best-known brands.
Plymouth gin is distilled at the Blackfriars distillery at the coast of Plymouth. It’s a full-bodied gin with more subtle aromas and it’s dryer then the London dry gin . A small quantity of the gin ages on wood and is called “golden gin” due to its color.
Dutch gin or jenever varies from English gin due to the mixture of heavily fermented grains that’s being used. This results into a more beer-like taste. There are two types of jenever: old and young jenever. The young jenever resembles the English gin most.
What’s the difference between English and American gins? American gin tends to have more floral and fruity aromas. These more fragile flavors can get lost in a cocktail mixed with liqueurs and bitters. That’s why the stronger English gins are preferred in cocktails. The minimum alcoholic strength for American gins is 40%.
Gin is quite simple to make. A grain distillate is made from rye en barley while wheat is used for jenever or American gin . The gin gets purified by means of repeated distillation. The aromas are added by soaking the berries, dried herbs and spices in the alcohol or by letting the alcohol drip through the ingredients. The result is bottled and ready for consumption.
Besides gin and tonic there are some other cocktails that you should try like the famous Martini, the Gin Fizz which has an acid taste due to the lemon, the Negroni with its bitter taste, the Gimlet made with Plymouth gin or the Singapore Sling.