In the middle of the seventeenth century, the Dutchman Franciscus de la BoĆ«, professor of medicine at the University of Leyden, distilled spirits in jenever—juniper—berries for entirely medicinal purposes. When it reached England, it became known simply as gin. While some may argue that gin is still an effective medicine for what ails you, the British were producing it solely as a beverage by 1710. Cheap and easy to make, gin became so popular among England’s poor that the government attempted to curtail its production with the Gin Act of 1736. The response was similar to the reaction to Prohibition in the United States, inspiring such illicit varieties as Cuckold’s Comfort and Royal Poverty.

At its core, gin is simply a neutral spirit distilled from grain. It is in the second distillation that gin gets its distinctive character. Botanicals such as juniper berries, anise, coriander, and potentially dozens of other herbs and spices impart their flavor to the spirit. The earliest gins, such as England’s Old Tom gin, were made with sugar. By the end of the nineteenth century, unsweetened gin known as London Dry supplanted them and set the trend to come. A dry gin today is simply a gin that is not overly floral.

There is no one preferred gin, and a good home bar would do well to stock several. Dutch gin is heavy and complex, and at 70 to 80 proof it is generally drunk neat and very cold —and never in a Martini. English gins run the spectrum from bone-dry to refreshingly botanical, with a higher proof ranging from 86 to 94. The United States became a key producer of lower-proof, British-style gins, but the recent wave of smaller distilleries has also sired exciting new blends. France and Ireland also have many agreeable offerings. Gin does not need aging and may be drunk as soon as it is distilled —as it often was right out of the bathtub during Prohibition.

from Quirk Books: