Gin is variously referred to by a multitude of nicknames including Mother’s Ruin, Mother’s Little Helper, Daffy’s Elixir (named after the celebrated quack Doctor Daffy), Old Tom (named after the wooden plaques shaped like “Old Tom” black cats that adorned the outside wall of pubs in 18th Century England), Blue Ruin (referring to the colour the glass bottle) and many others.
Whether you love it or loath it, there would be no gin without juniper. Juniper is one of our three native conifers (Scots pine and yew are the other two).
Gin, in its simplest form, is a liquor of typically 37.5% alcohol by volume that is derived from grain distillation and primarily flavoured with juniper berries (or juniper extract).
Gin gets its name from the Dutch word for juniper, genever, and indeed it is juniper that must be the prevailing aroma and flavour for liquor to be classified as gin.
The History of Gin
Gin probably traces its origins back to the Middle Ages, with references to a spirit flavoured with ‘genever’ referenced in a 13th Century Flemish manuscript. By the 1600s, the Dutch were producing gin in earnest, with hundreds of distilleries in the city of Amsterdam alone.
Gin was originally produced as a medicine. It was distributed by “chemists” for the treatment of ailments such as gout and dyspepsia. Gin gained in popularity doing the Thirty Years’ War (1618 to 1648), when British soldiers fighting on the continent were bolstered with Dutch Courage, in other words by drinking gin.
Gin Reaches Our Shores
It didn’t take long for gin to hop across the English Channel. In the latter half of the 17th century and in the early years of the 18th century, gin rapidly gained popularity in England, cementing the association it still enjoys today. In fact, by the year 1720, some experts estimate that as many as a quarter of the households in London frequently produced their own gin. This period in the city’s history became known as “The Gin Craze”, an era that was so renown that Parliament had to pass no fewer than five major legislative acts over the course of 22 years in a vain attempt to rein in the population’s consumption of gin.
Gin remains popular today, notable for its use by soldiers and colonials living in lands prone to malaria infections: gin was excellent at masking the unpleasant, bitter flavour of the antimalarial alkaloid quinine and it is this medical elixir that developed into the G&T we know and love to this day.
In recent years gin has seen a resurgence in popularity as mixology has gone mainstream. From the classic martini to the Gimlet, and the Tom Collins, the same cocktails that knocked F. Scott Fitzgerald and his cronies cockeyed are again being shaken and stirred at bars across the land.
A Lovely Song About Gin 😉
Ben Jones April 2013
Now I’d like to tell you of a liquid
And a beverage clearly divine
It matches the holiest spirit
And most blessed communion wine
But it’s not to be found at the altar
Of the temple, the mosque or the church
You’ll see it in glasses lined up on the bar
Wherever the pensioners perch
Oh Gin, Gin, fabulous Gin
Finest concoction there ever has bin
A knee to the crotch and a kick in the shin
To him that speaks ill of that heavenly Gin