You may be an eager gin and tonic drinker, but do you know your gin facts? From the origin of the spirit to its most famous imbibers, there’s so much to know about this beguiling beverage.
From our expert Head Distiller, published author and all-around drinks authority Jared Brown, these 50 gin facts might well change everything you thought you knew about gin. Once you’ve brushed up on your knowledge, it’s time to try making Jared’s favourite gin cocktails.
A SPIRITED HISTORY
1. Gin is English, not Dutch. Genever was born in the Netherlands and is a malted spirit that is essentially a light whisky made with juniper. Gin was developed in London and is a unique and much purer spirit – our London Dry Gin is a quintessential expression of this classic spirit.
2. London Dry Gin doesn’t need to be made in London – instead, it is a broad style guideline rather than a legal indicator.
3. In Holland, genever was sold in pharmacies in the late 1600s. If you went to a drinking establishment, one of the top-selling beverages was wormwood wine, otherwise known as vermouth.
4. In 1721, Britain consumed 3.5 million gallons of gin.
5. By 1726, London had 1,500 working stills and there were 6,287 places where you could buy gin.
6. At one time there was a working gin still in one out of every four habitable structures in London.
7. The earliest known gin and food pairing occurred in 1731: gingerbread. Served at London’s Frost Fairs – when the River Thames froze over allowing daring locals to enjoy an afternoon’s ice skating – a glass of hot gin and a gingerbread biscuit was the perfect way to warm up. We even created a Gingerbread Gin for our Sipping Society members in honour of this seasonal tradition.
8. The Gin Act of 1736 imposed an annual fee of £50 (today equal to about £20,000) on distillers of base spirits and the same again on gin rectifiers. Thus, it became traditional for London gin distillers to buy their base spirit rather than producing it in the distillery.
9. Faced with government acts that seemed poised to stamp out gin production, Londoners staged a mock funeral for Madame Geneva in 1736.
10. Hogarth’s famous Gin Lane etching, created in 1751, was intended to illustrate the dangers of drinking and was part of a pair. While Beer Street was a place of industry, happiness and hard work, Gin Lane was a den of squalor and social ills.
11. The earliest mention of the word ‘cocktail’ in reference to a drink was on 20 March, 1798 in the London Morning Post and Gazetteer. In the newspaper’s satirical account, it was consumed by Pitt the Younger at the Axe and Gate Tavern on the corner of Downing Street and Whitehall, which was later torn down to expand the Prime Minister’s residence.
12. London’s most popular drink in the winter of 1823 was the Hot Gin Twist. One man wrote a 149-line poem extolling its virtues.
13. Old Tom Gin originated in the 18th century, and is generally a rounder and sweeter style than London Dry Gin.
14. At the Yalta Conference in 1945, President Roosevelt complained that there were no lemons to make twists for the Martinis. Stalin had a lemon tree flown from Georgia that day.
15. After Sir Francis Chichester became the first man to successfully circumnavigate the world solo in a sailboat (say that three times after three Martinis!), he credited his success to a daily glass of pink gin (made with gin, Angostura bitters and cold water), and said the saddest day was when the gin ran out. Raise a delicious pink gin cocktail in his honour.
16. Until 2015, Plymouth Gin was the sole gin style in the UK to boast geographical indication.
17. The first cocktail listed in the first British book to contain cocktail recipes – William Terrington’s Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks – was a gin cocktail made with ginger syrup, orange curaçao and bitters.
18. Time to get technical with our gin facts as we turn our attention to masterful mixology. First up: essential Martini terminology. A Martini is made with gin and sweet vermouth; a Dry Martini is made with gin and dry vermouth.
19. If Winston Churchill ever bowed toward France with gin in hand it was not because he did not like vermouth in his Martini. It would have been out of respect, because the Vichy government had banned alcohol production and good French vermouth was unattainable.
20. You can’t make the perfect Martini within the perfect Martini glass. However, this gin fact might surprise you – the Martini glass only got its name in the 1990s, when Martini-style cocktails became all the rage. Prior to that, it was called a cocktail glass.
21. The Martini has prompted a great deal of poetry and inspirational quotes. Writer E. B. White called it ‘the elixir of quietude’, while journalist H. L. Mencken said it was ‘the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet’. However, given the murky origins of the Martini, whether or not it’s truly American is still disputed.
22. Though James Bond’s famous ‘shaken, not stirred’ line is probably the most remembered Martini quote in the world, the majority of bartenders disagree, and would recommend a stirred Martini instead, as shaking prompts too much dilution.
23. Another Bond-related gin fact – Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond books, is credited with inventing the Vesper, a cousin of the Martini that blends gin, vodka and vermouth – topped with a lemon twist.
24. Gin and tomato juice was all the rage as a hangover cure in New York City in 1928, years before the vodka-based Bloody Mary made its debut at the King Cole Room in the St. Regis Hotel. Our Red Snapper recipe is perfect for mornings after and is delicious gin twist on the Bloody Mary.
25. While British sailors received a daily rum ration, British naval officers got a daily ration of gin. Lucky devils.
26. British naval ships were supplied and mixed their daily drinks with limes rather than lemons (which contain more Vitamin C) as British investors with connections in Parliament had invested in Caribbean lime plantations.
27. The Gin Rickey was the most popular gin drink of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is a simple drink: a highball glass of gin, ice, sparkling water and half a lime squeezed and dropped in. There is no sugar in a rickey.
28. The gin and tonic first gained popularity in the British colonies, as the quinine in the tonic water was found to be a potent deterrent to malaria-carrying mosquitoes. However, the bitterness of the quinine was unpalatable, so gin was added to make the drink taste better.
29. Even though the cinchona bark from which quinine is derived is brown, the first tonic water was clear. This is because even the earliest tonic waters were made with quinine directly, not the bark. Grab your tonic, and learn to make the perfect G&T today.
30. No gin and tonic of quality can be made without high-quality tonic as well, as the tonic makes up a significant proportion of the drink. Artisanal tonic makers like Fever-Tree are recommended, while tonic producers like C&B in San Francisco are refining the art of tonic water by making their own, small-batch tonic syrup.
31. The olive was popularised in cocktails when American drinkers began moving from sweet to savoury flavours in the late 1800s.
32. The best way to taste gins for comparison is at room temperature, diluted with an equal measure of water. This reveals both qualities and flaws.
33. While bartender Harry Craddock, who wrote the seminal Savoy Cocktail Book, is often credited as one of the early popularisers of the Martini, the source of the drink’s name is still a mystery.
34. The birth of cocktail culture in London can be credited in part to the rise of the so-called ‘American bars’ in the early 20th century, which were known for their innovations – like the fact that they used ice in their drinks.
35. Dukes Bar in Mayfair’s Dukes Hotel is often cited as home of the best Martini in the world. Drinks are mixed on a tableside trolley, and the bar maintains a strict two-Martini limit.
GIN AROUND THE WORLD
36. The country with the world’s highest per-capita gin consumption is the Philippines, with an estimated 25 million cases consumed annually.
37. The gin and tonic has lately undergone a transformation in Spain, where the ‘gin tonic’ is served in balloon wine glasses and comes with all kinds of unusual botanicals.
38. The ‘bathtub gin’ that was made in the United States during Prohibition had dangerous – even lethal – physical effects due to the fact that it sometimes contained methanol. Sufferers were blinded or even poisoned.
39. However, we do have bathtub gin to thank for many classic cocktails (the effortlessly easy Bee’s Knees being a prime example), as the initial recipes were devised to help mask the task of the low-quality alcohol.
40. Barrel-aged gin is an expanding, relatively new gin category, with craft distilleries like Few Spirits in Illinois and St. George Spirits in Northern California helping to spread its popularity.
AN ODE TO JUNIPER
41. Centuries before the birth of gin, juniper was already being imported to Britain from the Mediterranean. It is considered the best in the world.
42. Nearly all juniper used in gin is picked wild. Almost none is cultivated.
43. Gin’s primary flavour is the sweet pine and soft citrus of the juniper berry. All other botanicals are added to highlight nuances of this complex and sophisticated flavour.
44. The juniper berry is actually not a berry at all. It is a female seed cone, a highly evolved pinecone with fleshy and merged scales that give it the appearance of a berry.
45. During the plague years, doctors wore masks filled with juniper berries as they thought the plague was spread by bad odours. People began eating juniper, drinking wine infused with juniper, bathing in juniper and covering themselves with juniper oil. This is considered superstition by modern historians, but juniper oil is an effective natural flea repellent.
46. Sloe Gin is made with the handpicked berries of the blackthorn tree. While some superstitions dictate the berries must be pricked with a silver needle before use, this isn’t necessary – simply freezing the berries in order to break their thick skins before adding to the gin should suffice.
48. Gin must legally have a ‘predominant juniper flavour’, but there are no specifications or limits to how many other botanicals may be used, or the quantity of juniper berries that need to be added during the distilling process.
49. While some distilleries produce gin concentrates, which they later ‘water’ down with a neutral spirit, traditional one-shot distillation distils the botanicals with the spirit.
50. The pipe at the top of a gin still is also known colloquially as the ‘swan’s neck’ – hence the swan illustration that you’ll find on Sipsmith’s labels.