The History of Gin - Explained
Amid the revelry of our Garden Street gin tastings and events, casual gin drinkers will often ask us things like: ‘what exactly is gin?’, ‘isn’t gin just flavoured vodka?’ or ‘where did gin come from originally?’.
Over the course of the next few posts, we’ll attempt to distil these questions into digestible, all-encompassing articles. So go make yourself a gin and tonic and get ready to learn about the colourful origins of gin.
The Origins of Gin
Gin gets its name from genever, the Dutch word for juniper. Juniper berries are the primary ingredient in gin, which give it its distinct taste; there are over 50 types of juniper trees scattered primarily throughout the Northern Hemisphere.
Did you know? The Dutch supposedly used to drink gin before battle in the Eighty Year’s War. This led to the term Dutch Courage being coined by the British.
The exact chronology of gin is murky. However, gin became a widespread drink of choice in Holland during the 16th century. By the middle of the 17th century, Dutch distillers were selling a crude form of gin in pharmacies to help fight gout, stomach and kidney issues, gallstones and more (much the same as how Coca Cola was once sold for its medicinal benefits).
Gin continued to gain popularity. In the 1700s, gin began to take off in England, thanks in part to the high taxes on imported spirits such as brandy and on the ascension of the Dutch William of Orange (aka William III) to the British throne.
This deregulated spirits market led to what’s referred to as the Gin Craze, a heady period in which Britons were said to consume upwards of 10 litres every year. Part of this was down to the fact that it was cheap and deemed safer to drink than tap water. However, harsher legislation and the rising cost of grain caused the craze to dilute by 1760.
Modern Gin Landscape
As these reforms took effect, the gin production process became more refined. As a result, gin evolved to become a delicate balance of flavours, and began to become a drink for the high society. The end result is what we know today as London dry gin.
During this time, gin spread across the British Empire thanks to the navy, who served gin with tonic water to stave off malaria (quinine in tonic has antimalarial properties) and a squeeze of lime to help avoid scurvy.
Gin also travelled across the Atlantic and became popular in America, especially during the Prohibition era, in which desperate distillers used bathtubs and sinks to make cheap, fragrant spirits known as ‘Bathtub Gin’. Ironically, the botanicals were not celebrated but used simply to disguise the acrid taste as much as possible.
The worldwide popularity of classic gin-based cocktails - the Martini, Negroni and Tom Collins to name a few - has helped gin remain a firm favourite. Ask your local bartender or mixologist for their preferred spirit and chances are, they’ll tell you it’s gin. Because when it comes to sumptuous cocktails, gin has an unrivalled complexity. Sometimes, the botanicals only truly reveal themselves when mixed with other ingredients, making gin a seductive temptress.
Gin in Australia on the Rise
With gin bars popping up around the country, gin-dedicated festivals and popular classes and events dedicated to mother's ruin, as well as a huge rise in local craft gin distillers, Australia's appetite for gin certainly seems to be rising.
At Garden Street, we’re passionate about gin. Read more about what gin is, the common gin botanicals and find exclusive gin cocktail recipes. Or sign up to Australia’s newest gin club today and get an exciting new gin delivered to your door every month.