The tipple of choice for many, gin is one of the world’s best loved spirits, but when you get to the bar and order your regular G&T, do you know where it came from?
For hundreds of years, Sipsmith have been producing gin in their London distillery (the first of its kind). Jared Brown, the master distiller, mixes up classic gin cocktails for a living. He also believes that if you can only enjoy gin in a gin and tonic, then you simply haven’t found one that you like yet!
Discover the birthplace of this classic spirit, the different styles, and some new ways to enjoy it, courtesy of Sipsmith and the authority on gin that is Jared Brown.
The History of Gin
Gin as we know and love today was born in London in 1689. It is commonly confused in history with the Dutch liquor genever; whilst the English were inspired by this malted spirit distilled with juniper berries, gin is ultimately a different and far purer spirit.
The English discovered genever during the Thirty Years’ War in 17th century Holland. They saw the Dutch soldiers drinking genever before heading into battle, and brought back the idea of creating and drinking a juniper flavoured spirit, which is where the term “Dutch courage” originates from. Juniper had been imported to England for centuries before it was associated with gin, and was hugely popular during the plague. People believed that the plague spread through bad odours, and that juniper would cover the smell and ward off the disease (little did they know, it’s actually a flea repellent).
After King William III – better known as William of Orange – came to the English throne in 1689, he dropped taxation and licensing on spirit production, effectively encouraging the public to begin cheaply distilling their own spirits. As you can imagine, they weren’t always properly made. The rich continued to drink the imported genever, while the new imitation “gin” became the most popular drink with the poor, replacing beer and wine, which by comparison was much more expensive.
Gin became so popular that the government attempted to curb the rising alcohol abuse with the Gin Act of 1736. This Act made gin exceedingly expensive, and subsequent riots broke out (understandable). It was later repealed and replaced with something more enforceable: appropriate prices and licensed distribution. The business of properly distilling and marketing gin grew, and it became the high quality spirit we know today.
What makes gin... gin?
Gin is defined completely by its flavour. To be classed as gin, a spirit must predominantly taste of juniper berries over other botanicals, but there is no rule as to the ratio, which is why it can vary so much in flavour.
Beginning with neutral spirit, a gin distiller will infuse botanicals into the spirit by distilling them together. Flavours can also be added after the distilling process, but this is seen as the more inferior method.
When gin was first being made in England, the only botanical used was juniper. As gin became more popular, distillers introduced other botanicals to create new flavours. Some of the most commonly used botanicals include fennel, orange peel, lemon peel, coriander, liquorice, almond, and angelica root.
Today, gin is categorised into different styles depending on how it was made. There have been many different categories over the years that are no longer popular, and nowadays we are used to three: London Dry Gin, Plymouth Gin, and Old Tom Gin.
1) London Dry Gin
Not necessarily distilled in London, London Dry Gin is seen as the benchmark of quality for gin. To be called a London Dry, a gin has to have all natural ingredients. The botanicals are added during the second or third distillation, and then nothing further is added after the distillation process except from water and sometimes sugar. The amount of sugar is limited, however, so it will never be sweet. The Sipsmith distillery has been making London Dry Gin since 1820.
2) Plymouth Gin
Unlike London Dry, Plymouth Gin is restricted geographically and must be produced in Plymouth, Devon. Both a category of gin and a brand, Plymouth Gin tastes similar to London Dry, but is sweeter and the botanicals included tend to be fruitier.
3) Old Tom Gin
Considered the sweetest style of gin, Old Tom contains less botanicals than its counterparts, and more sugar is usually added.
Popular Gin Mixers
Gin is rarely enjoyed on its own, and as it can contain many different flavours, the list of garnishes and mixers suitable for gin is almost endless. One of the most popular spirits for cocktails, gin is found in a lot of classic cocktail recipes, such as the original martini (gin and dry vermouth) and the classic gin and tonic.
Generally, gin is garnished depending on the botanicals infused in it. A gin such as Hendricks, which is famous for its unique mix of cucumber and rose, is garnished with extra cucumber to bring out the flavour.
New Ways to Enjoy Gin
Try this exclusive Sipsmith cocktail recipe Jared created for the Fifth Floor Café & Terrace: Dan Doherty dinner, at your next evening event:
20ml lemon juice
15ml Manzanilla Sherry
10ml sugar syrup
Shake all ingredients and pour into an ice filled glass. Top with soda
Garnish with a rosemary sprig
Q&A with Sipsmith Master Distiller: Jared Brown
What is a master distiller?
A master distiller oversees the production team in a distillery, serving as guide and mentor and also the public face of the production team. My work is divided between this and research and presentations for the trade and consumers.
How did you become Sipsmith's master distiller?
I met Sam and Fairfax (the fellow founders) at a negroni party at the Beefeater distillery. I was drawn to their reverence for the tradition and heritage of gin, England’s national spirit, and their desire to resurrect traditional copper pot, one shot distillation in the city of its birth.
What's your favourite gin cocktail?
This is a tricky question as it depends on the circumstances, the mood, the time of day, etc. I love red snappers (the gin-based bloody mary), martinis, negronis, gin fizzes. This could become a pretty long list.
What do you like to garnish gin with?
I like an orange or lemon twist on a martini. I prefer it squeezed over the drink but not dropped in. I like the sweet floral notes this brings. One of my favourite garnishes in history was on a mint julep (though that’s a whiskey drink, I have been known to revive the long lost gin julep on occasion). As described in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in the mid-1800s a bartender nestled a small rose into the mint and served the drink with short straws (straws at that time were actually made from straw, usually hollow rye stalks). The drinker’s nose would sit just above the rose with every sip. It works.
What food goes with gin?
Aside from breakfast cereals there aren’t too many foods gin is incompatible with. I love it with smoked salmon, lamb, steak. At home I occasionally make a venison-smoked gin on the barbecue. I freeze the gin overnight, then place it in a metal bowl on the grill over a natural lump charcoal fire with soaked cherrywood chips next to a venison haunch or tenderloin. By the time the meat is done, the gin has taken on the flavour of the smoke and the venison.
Fun facts about gin?
Juniper is not a berry at all. It is a seed pinecone. The scales have fused together and become fleshy so it give the impression of being a berry.
Gin in the UK has primarily been made with juniper from the north Mediterranean since the birth of gin as it gives the best flavour.
The gin we drink today was shaped in part by acts of Parliament as the government sought to eliminate dangerous distillation practices and to improve the spirit.
Gin is the spirit of England.
Which other countries like gin?
The country with the highest per capita gin consumption in the world is the Philippines. Gin is hugely popular in Spain and Germany and on the rise in the United States, too.
Why is there a gin resurgence?
We are seeing a rise in consumer sophistication, a growing passion for better and better food and drink. Gin is not an entry level spirit. Gin’s flavours are complex and alluring and worthy of exploration.
Every bottle of Sipsmith is hand-crafted and laboured over by their dedicated Distillers, in London’s first traditional copper distillery since 1820.