Gin is a spirit (a distilled alcoholic drink) flavored with juniper seeds and, occasionally, botanicals such as coriander, cinnamon, lemon peel, nutmeg, cardamom and others. Gin has been a popular drink worldwide since the 17th century, and current types can range from the relatively cheap to the astonishingly expensive.
Gin was first made in 1550 by Franciscus de la Boe, a Dutch professor of medicine searching for a cure for stomach complaints. Juniper berries had long been used as a diuretic, so they were a natural addition to de la Boe's concoction. He named the drink "genever" after the Dutch word for juniper. The popularity of the new liquor soon spread from the Netherlands to England where the name was shortened to gin. Eighteenth-century England saw a tremendous boom in gin production and consumption after the British government allowed gin to be stilled without a license.
There are several general categories of gin, each with its own distinctive flavor. These include:
- distilled gin, which is redistilled white grain spirit flavored with juniper;
- compound gin, flavored grain spirit without added distillation;
- London dry gin, redistilled grain spirit containing added botanicals;
- sloe gin, gin flavored with blackthorn fruit.
Gin is very rarely consumed straight. It is, however, a common base for a wide variety of mixed drinks, including classic cocktails such as the following:
- Gin and Tonic
- Salty Dog
- Tom Collins
- Long Island Iced Tea
- Sinagpore Sling
The key to navigating the multitude of gin brands is to match the quality of gin to the drink you'd like to make. Cheaper, value-priced gins are appropriate for fruity cocktails with plenty of mixers included. Premium or expensive brands, however, are best for drinks that contain a large amount of gin and will showcase the liquor's unique flavor.
Value-priced gins (ranging from $10 to $14) include:
- Glenmore London Dry
- Gordon's London Dry
- Seagram's Extra Dry
Premium gins (from $20 to $30) include:
- Bombay Dry
- Tanqueray London Dry
- Tanqueray Rangpur
- Bombay Sapphire
High-end gins ($40 to $60) include:
- Tanqueray No. Ten
- Old Raj
For an alcoholic beverage, gin has played a strangely large role in historical events, particularly those related to England. After its initial introduction to England, British soldiers in the 30 Years War were given gin before battles, creating the basis for the modern term, "Dutch courage."
After citrus fruits were found to be an effective preventative against scurvy, the British navy gave sailors lime juice mixed with gin to stave off the disease.
And, in British colonial India, the gin and tonic became the drink of choice after it was discovered that quinine (which was often mixed with tonic water) prevented malaria. Not only were the gin and tonics tasty, they prevented the soldiers and their wives from contracting the native disease.