Le Gin: Where do you come from? Who are you ?

Gin, which today tends to be democratized in many countries, has long had a “So-British” image that sticks to its skin! And yet ...

Gin originated in Flanders (the present-day Netherlands), in the 17th century under the name of Genever. Its development is often attributed to the chemist and physician Franciscus Sylvius. At the time, it was a brandy made from cereals, generally rye or barley, flavored by maceration of juniper berries which made it possible to mask the defects of a still very coarse distillation. The Flemish Genever served as the initial model for 18th century English Gin.

It was indeed during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) that the English soldiers warring in Holland discovered a new drink that they would soon bring back to England. Genever is commonly consumed as a remedy for heartburn 

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stomach pain, gout or pain from gallstones. The soldiers are also served a glass of it to galvanize them before giving battle, and the English quickly take a liking to this elixir, which they call "Dutch courage" once returned to the country. 

It was in England that this “juniper water” experienced a new boom at the end of the 17th century. It is called "genever" then "jenever" and finally quite simply "gin". The craze for this new alcohol spread beyond soldiers returning from a military campaign in Flanders and was accelerated by the abolition of the monopoly of the London Distillers Guild in 1690 with the Distilling Act.

At a time of religious and political conflict between France and England and in order to limit the importation of French brandy, King William III of Orange passed a series of laws aimed at restricting the importation of brandy and encouraging distillation brandy on English soil. The distillation methods are rudimentary and again, flavoring with juniper berries is a great way to improve the taste quality of eaux-de-vie.

Gin, which at its creation was used for medicinal purposes, quickly becomes recreational… and dangerously addicting. This cheap domestic brandy quickly wreaked havoc among the urban working classes.

For decades, the excessive consumption of poor quality Gin decimated the populations of the poor districts of London in particular. It is the sordid "Gin Craze" (1723-1757), the aptly named "Folie du Gin". In a century, Gin has gone from "Dutch Courage" to "Mother's Ruin" (the bane of mothers).

It was not until the 19th century that Gin acquired its letters of nobility in England. Technological progress (with in particular the invention of the Coffey distillation column in 1831) gives a good quality to cereal spirits. England, the first European nation to make its industrial revolution, is economically dominant and imports thanks to its navy, aromatic plants and spices from the four corners of its empire. Gin goes upmarket. The Phylloxera crisis ravaged the vineyards of France and Europe and deprived the British wealthy classes of their favorite aperitif, Brandy & Soda, which Gin & Tonic quickly replaced. Gin has become respectable. Distilleries are rising and growing, mainly in English port cities (like London and Plymouth) where distillers have direct access to spices and a thriving urban market. The great historic British brands of Gin (Plymouth, Tanqueray, Beefeater…) all originate from there.

In the 20th century, Gin began to prosper: progress in distillation gave manufacturers access to a perfectly neutral base alcohol, which no longer needed to be sweetened to mask its imperfections. The style of Gin "London Dry" (see the page "Types of Gin") is essential then, and becomes dominant from the 20s. The rest of the century is chaotic: Prohibition in the United States then the economic crisis of 1929 and the Second World War followed one another. Gin became popular again in the 50s and 60s, an absolute synonym of cocktail style as with the iconic Dry Martini, then slowly declined.The late 1990s and early 2000s saw the beginnings of a real revival of the category, which first took root in Europe and now spreads throughout the world, thanks to the rediscovery of the personality and the versatility of this alcohol of great character. 


But what is a Gin in the end?

Gin is a distilled and flavored alcohol, mainly based on neutral alcohol, the predominant flavor of which must be that of juniper. It must be bottled at a minimum of 37.5% vol. What will give this spirit its personality is mainly its flavor (and, more rarely, its alcoholic base if, like some modern gins, it is not distilled from neutral alcohol). The aromatic plants used should always include juniper (whether juniper berries or an extract already distilled). Most gins are made by distilling a bouquet of aromatic plants (including juniper) in an alcohol base (usually neutral). The distillation and infusion techniques vary, but the fundamental principle remains the same: the essential oils loaded with the aromatic principles of the plants are extracted in contact with alcohol (either in the liquid state if the aromatics are macerated directly in the alcohol, or by the alcohol vapors inside the still if the 

distiller chose the method known as “steam infusion”) and then collected in the distillate recovered after condensation. Some gins, more rare, are not flavored by distillation (see below), but either by simple infusion or by means of aromatic extracts added to an alcohol base.

There are currently 3 types of Gin defined by European Union legislation:

GIN (without further mention) : mixture of a base alcohol (neutral most of the time, but this is not strictly required by law) and extracts of aromatic plants (including juniper)

DISTILLED GIN : gin obtained by distillation of a base of neutral alcohol and aromatic plants (including juniper), to which extracts and flavors can be added after distillation.

Gins produced by simple maceration (that is to say without re-distillation), very rare, bear the name "Compound Gin" ("mixed gin" in English).

LONDON GIN or LONDON DRY GIN : Distilled gin made from neutral alcohol and aromatic plants (including juniper), to which nothing other than water can be added after distillation to lower the alcoholic degree. A London Gin cannot therefore be flavored or sweetened when it comes out of the still. It is therefore necessarily “dry”. The name "London Gin" does not correspond to a protected geographical indication but to a style of Gin. So you can produce a “London Dry Gin” anywhere in the world, not just in London.

What about other types of Gin?

OLD TOM GIN : It is a style of gin, not strictly defined or recognized by European regulations, inspired by the sweetened gins popular at the end of the 19th century, then supplanted by London Dry Gin (unsweetened, distilled from neutral alcohol from better quality, the imperfections of which it was no longer necessary to mask by a strong sweetening, and thus allowed an aromatic expression of the juniper and the aromatic plants much more precise).

GIN "NAVY STRENGHT" : From the middle of the 17th century, it was common to supply large quantities of spirits on board European ships. Distilled alcohols, unlike wine or beer, do not spoil after a few weeks at sea, and thanks to their antiseptic properties, clean the water on the shore. The British fleet gets its supplies of Gin for the officers.
Spirits on board military ships must have an alcoholic strength allowing the gunpowder to ignite even when soaked in alcohol. This minimum degree is 57% vol., And marks the “proof” threshold in English, thus determining the so-called “overproof” rums (titrating above 57% vol.) And the “Navy Strength” Gins (at the level of the Navy. ).

YELLOW GIN : Yellow Gin is not a name strictly defined in European law. Traditionally, a Yellow Gin is a Gin aged for a few months in oak barrels.

SLOE GIN : Sloe Gin is not technically a Gin, but a Gin-based liqueur. It is made by macerating sloes in gin, sometimes with other aromatic plants, then sweetened before being bottled.

BATHTUB GIN : Term which designates the counterfeit Gin produced at the time of Prohibition in the United States by mixing contraband alcohol and essential oil of juniper.

PINK GIN : Originally Pink Gin was a fashionable cocktail in England in the middle of the 19th century, it owes its name to the dark brown color of Angostura, which, when diluted in gin, offers a color dew in the cocktail… Today, many Gin houses have revived interest in ever more complex flavor combinations by creating their own Pink Gin. It is currently found flavored with rose, strawberry, melon, etc.


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