So where does gin come from? What is gin made of?
The origins of gin are surrounded by mystery and controversy, much like a Shakespearean play. It's as if everyone wants to be the star of the show and claim credit for this timeless spirit!
The French, English, and Dutch are all vying for the title of 'Ginventor,' with their creations gracing bars across the US and UK.
first, let's start in 11th century salerno, Italy
The Benedictine monks began making gin (ginepro in Italian) from grapes for “medicinal purposes.” You need something to do in between midday prayer and vespers at the monastery, so why not whip up a bit of not-so-holy spirit?
According to a recipe included in the 1055 Compendium Salernitanum of the Schola Medica Salernita, the monks distilled alcohol and infused it with juniper berries and other herbs to create a tonic wine.
Many people attribute the invention of gin to the Dutch, who got in on the act in the mid 13th century, again, claiming medicinal properties for the stomach, kidneys, and, ironically, the liver.
So well regarded were the juniper berries’ medicinal properties, many people thought the consumption of gin would protect them from the Bubonic Plague, also known as the Black Death, during the mid-14th century. People even wore masks stuffed with juniper berries in hopes of warding off the deadly disease.
Early distillation methods were based on grapes, and by the 16th century, Dutch distillers figured out a way to scale up, by using grain (originally fermented beer). Jenever, the Dutch word for gin (from whence the term Dutch courage originates, once you’ve consumed enough) became hugely popular in The Netherlands, which could account for why many people think gin originated there.
By the 17th century, this magical, medicinal elixir had found its way into England where it was pronounced slurringly gin (most likely as a result of consuming more than a few ounces of the stuff).
Funny story that
William III, also known as William of Orange, a Dutchman by birth, showed up in Devonshire with 15,000 men intent on gaining power. Now granted, parliament had invited him because they preferred to have a protestant on the throne. The current monarch, James, who incidentally was William’s father-in-law, was abandoned by his own army. William and Mary, his wife, peacefully assumed the throne and were granted joint sovereignty, of the British throne by parliament, in 1689.
THE GIN CRAZE AND THE POLITICS OF DEMONIZING GIN
The Gin Craze of affordable hooch made public drunkenness a massive problem, along with unscrupulous distillers using harmful ingredients. The general populace was overserved. So much so in fact, the Gin Act of 1751 came bearing down on the little man, the corner gin shop. The Gin Act provided that distillers must sell to licensed merchants. In order to obtain a license, a merchant was required to be a “significant” property owner, and the license fees were very expensive.
Did you know? The Gin Act was not repealed until 2008.
Evidence seems to indicate that gin was consumed straight up or neat until the 1800s. Talk about a tough liver. Sometime around 1825, British soldiers of the East India Company were being wiped out by malaria in greater numbers than were being killed in battle.
Consuming quinine powder (made from the bark of the Cinchona tree) was discovered to prevent and treat Malaria, but the stuff is very bitter and doesn’t smell too good, either.
To make it a bit more palatable, soldiers started mixing it with sugar and soda (which essentially is tonic) and then threw in some gin for good measure.
Thus, the Gin and Tonic was born and is credited for saving millions of lives. Chin chin.
Gin in the u.s. (and that darn prohibition)
Prohibition dried out America from 1920 to 1933. The Eighteenth amendment prohibited the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages.
Just like with teenagers, when anything is forbidden, it makes the desire for it that much stronger. Liquor was smuggled into the country from Canada, Mexico, and Cuba among other places. Americans are nothing if not industrious.
By the late 20s, bootleggers were making corn liquor in their hidden stills, usually out in the country.
Unfortunately though, while a few bourbon and whisky distilleries procured favor from the United States government (and hence still exist today), no U.S.-distilled gin made it through. No pre-prohibition gin still exists.
Demand was high, production was fairly simple, and folks began making gin from grain alcohol and juniper berries, which they allowed to steep in a bathtub for a few days before distribution. Some bootleggers weren’t all that scrupulous with their alcohol source and on occasion used unprocessed denatured alcohol, which resulted in the unfortunate deaths of an estimated 50,000 people.
the martini: gin in its perfect form
We could never properly discuss the history, influence, and adoration of gin without tipping our hat to the ubiquitous martini.
To quote the American poet and notable party girl, Dorothy Parker, “I like to have a martini, two at the very most. After three I’m under the table. After four, I’m under my host.”
There are 54 million search results for martini recipes on the internet (we still think we have one of the best obviously), and two prevailing stories of how this drink got its name.