You’re a Benedictine monk. You look at your watch and it’s about 10 after the 11th century. (Hey, you’re in Salerno in the southern part of Italy.) Anyway, one of the monks there, you forget his name, shows you this contraption, an alembic something or other. While this thing is bubbling and boiling away, you reach into your sack cloth and throw in a couple of berries. You take a sip and boldly exclaim: “Compendium Solernita.” The other monks look at you a little weird.
A little later in the 13th century, you scribble the word “jenever” in the Der Naturen Bloeme encyclopedia. In the 17th century, you hand out business cards with the name Franciscus Sylvius MD. Oh – and you also go around saying that you are the ingenious creator of this spirit made from gemoute gerst, anijs, coriander, jenever, karwij and other stuff. The medicinal properties are simply amazing. Not only does it-what? Someone else did it before you? Aw, nuts.
You’re in the 1600s now and you have people thinking you’re William of Orange. Cooool. You become King of England, add III to your name and give tax breaks to everyone who makes spirits. Wow, do they love you. This one particular concoction becomes really really really popular. Of course, after a few belts, the patrons had a hard time slurring the name Jenever, so they intoxicatingly shrunk in to “Jen”. Odd they would spell it g-i-n, though.
The juniper infused spirit is certainly clear in your glass, even if its history is a little fuzzy – literally. Imagine the stories those British soldiers of yore would tell when given a cup of “dutch courage” before they went into battle. One term you’re most likely familiar with the prohibition era coined “bathtub gin”. It was called such because, as the name so aptly states, the gin (Or any other spirit one create.) was made in a bathtub. Thing is though, closed distillation is awfully tough to do in an open vessel which in turn leads the term “bathtub” to probably refer more to its taste. Who would drink this swill? Step in speakeasy bartenders who take the bathtub gin, pour it in a glass, mix in other things they have on the bar shelf and voila – the gin cocktail is born. When I was a few decades younger and barhop, I mean, infrequently visit purveyors of spirits on a Saturday night, I would unhesitatingly order and enjoy a Tom Collins, a Singapore Sling or a Gin Fizz (I’d always ask the bartender for a Slow Gin Fizz. I was always corrected to call it a Sloe Gin Fizz.)
I’m sure if I walked into a room of gin enjoyers and muttered something out loud like oh, I don’t know: “All gins are the same.”, I dare say I would sit corrected. First off, all gins aren’t even made the same way. Some are pot distilled while others are column distilled. Compound gin is when you add essences to neutral spirits. Also, I would be told, the European Union differentiates gin into four categories: Juniper-flavoured spirits drink, gin, distilled gin, and London gin. Then again, this conversation could get a little politely heated as Canada and the U.S. only recognize three (Genever, Gin and London Gin.) while other countries also recognize Old Tom Gin and Plymouth Gin. Oh, there’s Navy Strength Gin too which is London Gin with more abv heft. And let’s throw in Quebec Terroir Gin in there, too. Just in case you’re ginquisitive about the legal definition of this spirit in Canada, it goes something like this:
Gin, other than Hollands, Hollands Gin, Geneva, Geneva Gin, Genever, Genever Gin or Dutch-type Gin, (a) shall be a potable alcoholic beverage obtained. (i) by the redistillation of alcohol from food sources with or over juniper berries, or by a mixture of the products of more than one such redistillation.
Wow – that legalese about gin is dryer than gin itself. Still, I’m sure this makes you want to quench your knowledge thirst even more. Perhaps, you could even visit a country or two where gin is made you ponder to yourself. Great! May I suggest though you get the extra thick passport. There are about 5,500 gins being made in over 60 countries. Your starting point is easy though. How about right here. Yup. Our backyard is home world-class, national and international award-winning gins. And, geographically as well as historically speaking, Canada has a gin connection: Distiller Sir Felix Booth, financed John Ross to chart the Northwest Passage. Well, that didn’t work out so well; however, along the way, Mister Ross did name a few places after his financier including the northern most part of mainland North America – Boothia Peninsula.
Something that requires going through not as many time zones is picking up a book on gin.
There certainly isn’t a shortage of pages penned and thoughts opined on this spirited topic.
Winston Churchill, even had something to say about it:
“The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.”
Ok, so I’m not sure if there’s any “empirical” evidence to back that up. In the end though, no matter what you marry your gin with in your class, next time, add a little dash of history to it. Cheers.