The history of gin may be centuries old, but it remains as popular today as it did then because of its versatility and variety. We take a look at how gin has evolved over the years since it came about in the Netherlands, and how it might taste like in the near future.
Modern day dry gin is a descendent of the 400-year-old Dutch spirit genever, which was essentially a mixture of unaged whisky and juniper spirit. The turning point for its popularity came about after the Thirty Year War (1618-1648), when the British got a taste for it. In fact, they liked it so much that a good part of the 1700s became known as the “Gin Plague”: In 1725, it was estimated that a quarter of all London houses were gin distilleries, and by 1740, Londoners were consuming 38 litres of gin a year for every man, woman and child (about 4.5 bottles per month per person).
To qualify as a gin, the only botanical the spirit must have is juniper, a berry found wild in the Italian region of Umbria. Most gins, however, have somewhere between 4 to 12 botanicals to add more depth of flavour, with coriander seed, liquorice, fruits, orris and angelica among the more common ingredients.
The most traditional method of making gin – used until today by Beefeater and Tanqueray – sees the botanicals being steeped for hours (sometimes even a couple of days) in neutral spirit before it is distilled using a copper pot still. The other less common method is the vapour infusion method – Bombay Sapphire is one brand that employs it – where botanicals are placed into a basket that’s hung inside the pot still, infusing the rising alcohol vapours with the delicate aromatics.
The past few years have seen a boom in the variety and demand for gin. Because it’s easy to make, gin is a blank canvas for distillers who want to experiment with different herbs and spices – sometimes by the dozens. Take, for examples, two relatively new gins: The Botanist, an Islay-made gin that features 22 botanicals including cinnamon, elder flowers and white clover; or Beefeater 24, which features a complex mix that includes Seville orange peel, angelica seed, and a blend of Chinese green & Japanese sencha teas.
If you want to experience the full breadth of gin’s variety, you can make a trip to The Gin Bar in Holborn, which has over 400 gins ranging from Rathbone London Dry (£9) to the rare 1950s Taplows London Dry Gin (£52). Nerds can also check out The Ginstitute in Notting Hill, London, where participants are given the chance to sample, taste and blend 25 different flavoured distillates (spirits) to create their own unique gin.
Gin makers continue to find new ways of getting their gins to taste better. One such way is through vacuum distillation, whereby the gin is distilled in a vacuum – a practice carried out by Sacred Spirits Company and Durham Distillery. The thinking here is that the lower boiling point created by the vacuum results in notes that are less “cooked” and better preserves the botanicals’ aromatics.
The mixture of botanicals has now expanded to include insects. The Anty Gin – the result of a joint venture between Copenhagen-based Nordic Food Lab and the The Cambridge Distillery – is the world’s first gin to be infused with red wood ants, which are known to produce a citrus flavour due to the formic acid they produce in their abdomens.
Each bottle of Anty Gin contains the essence approximately sixty-two wood ants, and are produced in small batches of 99 bottles (hence its hefty price tag of £200 per bottle) that are quickly sold out the moment they are released online.
And in case you’re wondering how wood ant distillate tastes like, every purchase comes with a 50-milliliter bottle of “pure wood ant distillate” to give an untarnished taste of the aromatic creatures.