The simple version is gin is a flavoured white spirit. Ethanol, neutral spirit or white spirit can be made from anything really, grain, potato, sugarcane etc. This is made in a distillery. Straight ethanol must be at least 96% pure alcohol. This is mixed with distilled water in roughly equal measures so the spirit come to around 40% alcohol, and that is vodka. To make gin, the vodka is flavoured with juniper primarily, and other botanicals to make it delicious! There are a number of ways to flavor gin, some of the better than others, but we’ll get to that in another post.
Monthly Archives: June 2012
Last night, in honour of World Gin Day, I tried a new (to me) gin; No. 3 London Dry Gin. It’s that one in the dark green bottle with a silver key set into to the front. It appears to be named for the original address of the distillery, 3 St James Rd, London, but according to the bottle it is now distilled and bottled in Holland. Which I guess is appropriate as it is the original home of gin.
I have developed a bit of a method for tasting new gins, I’m sure it’s not the right way, if there even is such a thing, but it works for me. I taste a few drops of the gin straight to see what I can taste, then I work out how I want to drink it: a martini? Gin and tonic? An experimental cocktail? No.3 tastes most strongly of cardamom, which I love.
When I was growing up, my Dad’s favourite cake was a cardamom coffee cake, which he was only allowed to have once a year for his birthday as my mother was so horrified at the amount of butter in it. I, on the other hand, spent years and years as a child trying to figure out why it didn’t have coffee in it!
I also spent a bit of time in India as a child and I loved ilayaci (Hindi for cardamom) cream biscuits, spiced chai and kulfi (pistachio and cardamom ice cream). Even though cardamom is a curry spice, I associate it with sweets. So I chose to mix it with a wee splash of St Germain elderflower liqueur, stirred with ice, served in a purple martini glass with burnt lime peel. On a cold winter night it was beautifully warming, yet with the spicy-sweet balance of cardamom, elderflower and lime it had a freshness that kept me up well past bedtime.
There is some dispute about who first created gin, but I credit Dutchman Franciscus de la Boe Sylvius, a professor of medicine who was experimenting with juniper as a diuretic in the 1550s. He infused juniper into white spirit and it was sold in chemists as a treatment for stomachaches, gout and gallstones.
During the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) Dutch soldiers in the chilly trenches were fed gin for its warming properties. When Dutchman William of Orange became King of England he took gin with him. At the time England was at war with France so they had stopped buying French brandy and wine and started distilling gin.
So if you need a little Dutch Courage, make sure it’s gin.