The Story Of: Gin


Gin is a neutral grain spirit that is flavored with juniper berries and other botanicals. The word gin is an English shortening, derived from the word genever, which is Dutch for juniper. Arnold de Villanova developed the initial gin-like spirits in the 1200s, creating most specifically a medicinal formula for geneverbessenwater, which helped alleviate discomfort related to kidney ailments.

In Holland in the 1580s, gin was consumed in copious amounts by British troops who were fighting the Spanish in the Dutch War of Independence. Referred to as “Dutch Courage,” gin was drunk by the soldiers during battle.

The next landmark use of gin was in the 1600s in the Dutch town of Leiden, when a doctor by the name of Franciscus Sylvius also used gin for medicinal purposes, gaining wide recognition in the process. While gin was first used as a diuretic, it was later seen as a legitimate beverage.

Drink photo courtesy of shutterstock images
When William of Orange and his wife Mary became the rulers of England after the “Glorious Revolution,” William discouraged the importation of brandy from other countries by implementing high taxes, thereby promoting the production of grain spirits, like gin, by abolishing taxes and fees on spirits that were being made locally. By the 1720s, a quarter of the households in London were being used for the production of gin, which led to mass drunkenness throughout the city. The government attempted to prohibit gin production with the Gin Act of 1736, resulting in illicit distilling and the marketing of gin as a “medicinal” spirit.

Gin saw an explosion of growth throughout the British Empire, with several different styles
 of gin emerging in different countries. The originally harsh “Old Tom” style of gin was soon transformed into a smoother, cleaner style known as Dry Gin, which eventually turned into London Dry Gin. This style became a generic term for the variety rather than a reference to where it was produced.

Meanwhile, Holland began to mass produce Genever. Genever is different from London Dry Gin because it is made from malt wine and is therefore more viscous in texture and flavor.

In the United States, illicit gin saw a huge production boost during Prohibition, which lasted from 1920 to 1933. Gin requires no aging and was relatively easy to make by mixing raw alcohol with the extract of juniper berries and other botanicals in a bathtub, thus coining the term “Bathtub Gin.” These gins were typically bad tasting and sometimes dangerous, but this illegal movement also gave rise to the popularity of gin cocktails which used mixers to disguise the taste of the gin. Gin is now one of the most popular spirits on the market, helped by the recent revival of classic cocktails such as the Martini, Aviation, Negroni and more.

Nowadays, gin is distilled mostly in column stills that produce a neutral-grain spirit. The resulting spirit is high in proof, light-bodied and clean. Compound gins are made by mixing the base spirit with juniper and other botanical extracts, while more mass-market gins are made by soaking the botanicals in the spirit and then re-distilling the mixture. Top quality gins are distilled as many as three to four times, with the final distillation releasing an alcohol vapor into a chamber in which dried juniper berries and other botanicals are suspended. The vapor extracts the aromatics and oils from the berries, resulting in a spirit that has noticeable flavor and complexity.

               Encylopedia Britannica

Here are tasting notes on a few gins that I was lucky enough to try. Some are good, some are great, all are worth trying! Get your hands on these brands and let us know what you think!

Juniper Green: Clean and calm on the nose, not very heavy on juniper which is kind of nice. Coriander, grassy. Slightly fruity, notes of raspberries, apricots. Juniper and licorice are present but play more of a supporting role. Smooth, very low acidity, a really great gin.

Hayman’s Old Tom’s Gin: Stone fruits, lots of apricots, pears and plums. This is much more fruit-forward, a classic Old Tom’s style in its slight harshness. Slightly nutty as well, like toasted almonds. Floral notes, very rosey.

Hendrick’s Gin: Juniper- and coriander-forward, but vegetal as well. Notes of cucumber, celery, corn. A slight spice on the palate, but this has a very unique flavor to it. Savory, salty, slightly grilled. An interesting complexity from the infusion of cucumber and rose petals. Very smooth and creamy. This is really fantastic.

Nolet’s Silver Dry Gin: Sweet on the nose, lots of berries and flowers. Notes of blueberries and raspberries are very present, with the juniper present but very well hidden. Smells like warm grass. Very clean and crisp with a slightly creamy mouthfeel. This gin has a lot of body and complexity, a slightly meaty quality from the richness. Extraordinary.

Want to see who got top honors in the Ultimate Spirits Challenge and Ultimate Cocktail Challenge? Check out all the winners here!

Mentioned in this article


  • If you've never tried Boomsma...what a great smooth gin. It's produced in Amsterdam and I can only find it a one liquior store. It has the color of whiskey, and to me, tastes nothing like the clear Gins. Much better :) Mix with club soda and a splash of diet coke

    Aug 30, 2012 at 1:58 PM

  • Snooth User: leffing
    329629 57

    For martinis (gin [4-1] or vodka [5-1]) I use a mix of vermouths: 3 parts Cinzano Extra Dry (a very light vermouth), 2 parts Martini and Rossi Extra Dry (the regular type of vermouth used), and 1 part Bianco (a slightly sweeter dry vermouth). Try it; you'll like it!

    Aug 30, 2012 at 3:04 PM

  • What gin do you use?

    Aug 30, 2012 at 3:11 PM

  • Try using gin instead of vodka in a Bloody Mary some time. Since there are already so many foliage flavors in a bloody mary, the berry/botanical nature of gin really adds a great robustness.

    Aug 30, 2012 at 4:09 PM

  • Snooth User: John Sears
    1133212 15

    Check out Pinckney Bend Small Batch Gin from new Haven, Missouri. Pinckney Bend Gin was awarded gold medals at both the 2011 Micro Liquor Spirits Competition in Los Angeles and more recently in 2012 the San Fransisco International Spirits.

    Aug 30, 2012 at 4:44 PM

  • Snooth User: leffing
    329629 57

    What gin? That's a very personal decision. I've tried a number, but for my daily pre-dinner martini I go the very traditional route - Beefeater or Tanqueray. I will occasionally use Bombay. For special occasions I prefer Ten, Tanqueray's super premium brand. I feel that a gin with a more distinctive taste overwhelms the vermouth. I also pre-mix the martinis and keep them in the refrigerator so that they won't be overly diluted when preparing with ice, either to be served straight up or on the rocks.

    On the Bloody Mary suggestion - right on. I've used white tequila as well, and even a dry white rum for a change of pace.

    Aug 30, 2012 at 4:46 PM

  • Snooth User: Tom Scott
    794468 2

    We like the 007 (aka James Bond) pairing Bombay Saphire with Belvedere vodka often with a small squeeze of lime instead of vermouth. An interesting taste treat is a 007 with Hendricks paired with Grey Goose, which adds a peppery/spicey touch. Garnish with a slice of cucumber! Hmmm. I think I'll go make one right now!

    Aug 31, 2012 at 12:32 AM

  • Snooth User: delmas2nd
    337567 3

    my favorite gin is Boodles. it is the smoothest i have tasted. makes the best Gin & Tonics of any brand. It is my wife's and mine nightly drink when she comes home from work.

    Sep 01, 2012 at 7:24 PM

  • Snooth User: gardenguru
    739439 18

    Leffing makes his own vermouth 'cuvee' !

    I like that.

    For years now, our martinis have just been
    the booze of choice, shaken over ice and poured up.

    Often 'Hendricks', usually 'Tanqueray'.

    If I could still find 'Noilly Prat' vermouth at local stores,
    I'd probably start pouring [4/7-1's] with Beefeaters--
    (a handle at Costco is $19.99)--a lot more often.

    I could probably find the trio of Italian's that leffing uses
    easier than track down my favorite Marseillan version.

    So,... I may just try your 'special blend' lef!

    But, if you see some Noilly Prat... do pick up a bottle.

    Sep 03, 2012 at 9:08 PM

  • Snooth User: Sara Kay
    Hand of Snooth
    1073521 1,420

    Wow! All these gin suggestions are really great, hopefully I can try them all soon and let you know what I think! Isn't gin fantastic?!

    and @atguilmette, I have tried gin in a bloody mary and LOVE it so much! It really gives a depth of flavor that vodka doesn't provide, and it goes incredibly well with the different vegetables and spices in the drink!

    Sep 05, 2012 at 11:48 AM

  • Very informative article. Tasting notes are superb too. The Comments are fabulous and guide me on how to go about it, also the best gin available. I didn't know such variety existed. Oh yes, I am going to try gin in bloody Mary as suggested by @atguilmette and supported by Sara Kay.

    Sep 06, 2012 at 9:56 PM

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