Today is World Gin Day, and any of you who follow me on social media will know that I absolutely love gin! The name gin comes from the French genièvre or the Dutch jenever, which both mean “juniper” and refer to the berry that gives it its distinctive flavour. Right now, gin is enjoying a massive boom and has become one of the nation’s favourite tipples, but this wasn’t always the case.
Although now thought of as quintessentially British, gin was unheard of in the UK until William of Orange was crowned King of England in 1688 and brought with him the spirit favoured by his soldiers. (And so the term “Dutch courage” was coined!) However, while the upper classes drank imported gin, the poor made imitations which included turpentine and sulphuric acid to replicate the flavour and warming sensation. Sounds delicious, right?
Gin addiction was rife across 18th-century Britain and its evils were depicted in artist, William Hogarth’s, Gin Lane. The picture features gin as "mother's ruin" and shows a drunken mother who is letting her baby slip from her arms as she takes a pinch of snuff.
During the 1830s, the distillation process was transformed and a much cleaner, smoother gin was created. Gin shops were replaced with more glamorous gin palaces and the new style drink became known as ‘London Dry Gin’ to differentiate it from the previous sweeter gin. (For more details on what "London Dry Gin" means, read this great article over at the Gin Foundry). As gin became more refined, it quickly became the drink of choice for the discerning London gentry who drank for social pleasure.
Probably the drink most synonymous with gin, is the classic gin and tonic, but I’ll bet you didn’t know that tonic was originally created to ward off malaria across the British Empire because the quinine in the tonic acted as an antimalarial agent! Similarly, pink gin, or gin and bitters, was originally used as a cure for seasickness because naval officers believed the bitters soothed their nausea.
Following a brief boom across the post-war heady cocktail party scene of the 1920s, gin lost favour, but a recent revival amongst small, independent distilleries has put it back on the map. There are so many ways to drink gin now, including in classic cocktails like the Singapore Sling, Negrino, Gimlet, Tom Collins and not forgetting 007’s Classic Gin Martini.
While I love gin cocktails, especially ones made with rhubarb gin (yes, rhubarb gin is a real thing, people!), you’ll mostly find me drinking G&Ts. We have a gin bar at home that is usually stocked with about ten different gins. Some are favored mass produced gins, like Gin Mare which we like to serve with sprigs of fresh herbs like rosemary or leafs of basil. Some are hand crafted gins like the Pink Grapefruit Gin from the Sacred Microdistillery that is based in a residential home in Highgate, north London. I’ve tried a lot of tonics, but my hands down favorite brand is Fever Tree.
When we go on holiday, one of the first things we do after picking the destination, is find a gin bar where we can try out local specialties. Many of the gins on our shelves have come from experiencing them on our travels.
We aren't experts. We probably mix citrus with things we shouldn't. We throw in all kinds of things... like chili peppers and coriander just to see what it tastes like. And we ignore the whole apéritif culture and drink it whenever we darn well please. Like on book deadlines, or book release days, or cover reveals... you get the idea.
To celebrate World Gin Day, we bought two new ones… Hand-crafted Elephant Gin from Germany (15% of profits go to fight the illegal ivory trade), and one closer to home, Manchester Three Rivers gin which is a small batch produced in my very own home town.
As I post this, it is lunch time, a tad too early to be imbibing… but keep an eye on my Instagram account later on as I post pictures of what I am drinking.