The Sipsmith Blog

Around the World in 80 Gins: American Gin

in Articles August 18, 2013

Our next stop on our global tour brings us to the United States and American gin.

Ranked number two in the list of the world’s top gin consumers, Americans have loved the spirit since it first arrived on their shores in the 1700s.


Gin first arrived to the New World with European settlers in the mid-18th century. While American gin drinking never reached the “Gin Madness” proportions that it did in London, the consumption of spirits was still very much part of the saloon culture. In 1830, Americans from the age of 15 upwards drank roughly seven gallons of pure alcohol per year – that’s more than three times the rate that they drink today. This excess prompted the rise of temperance unions, which in turn led up to that infamous event in American history: Prohibition.

Lasting from 1920 until 1933, Prohibition theoretically cracked down on alcohol consumption, but in practice it birthed speakeasies, Al Capone and legions of gangsters, and an array of new, gin-heavy cocktails. American gin was the drink of choice for bootleggers. The easiest spirit to craft at home, “bathtub gin,” a cheap compound gin that married grain spirits with water and flavouring additives, took off. On the plus side, its often unpleasant taste led to the birth of a number of classic cocktails, which were designed to mask its flavour. On the minus side, the lack of quality control meant that bathtub gin was known to cause blindness and neural disorders.

Post-Prohibition, American gin remained the spirit of choice for much of the 20th century, and factored heavily into the iconic “three martini lunches” favoured by mid-century ‘Mad Men’ executives. Though gin lost some footing to vodka in the 80s, these days it’s back with a force, and, as in many other countries, artisanal gin is gaining ground.

What do they drink?

The originally Canadian-owned brand Seagram’s is the most consumed gin, followed by a slew of British brands (Tanqueray, Gordon’s). Artisanal American gin is also having a moment, and smaller-scale producers like Aviation Gin and Bluecoat American Dry Gin are helping carve out a new “American gin” category, characterised by its focus on non-juniper botanicals.

Cocktail Recipe

The Bee’s Knees

This Prohibition-era cocktail was designed to make bathtub gin more palatable, though these days its sweet and sour blend works brilliantly with more refined gins.

2 ounces Sipsmith London Dry Gin

3/4-ounce honey syrup (1 tablespoon honey blended with ½ tablespoon of warmed water)

1/2-ounce fresh lemon juice

Pour everything into a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake well before straining into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist, if desired.

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