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This information has been gleaned from a vast array of sources, and assembled in a gin-induced haze, hence the utter lack of attributions: it is all stolen, mangled, misspelled, improperly punctuated, devoid of grammatical nicety and paraphrased to avoid plagiarism. If you have been misquoted, please accept our abject apologies, and understand that we take no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the following…
What are etymological origins of gin?
Where the name “Gin” comes from is wreathed in mysteries, though all connect back to the Juniper berry itself. The botanical name for Juniper – Juniperus Communis – is derived from the original Roman word for the Juniper Tree iuniperus, and refers to a particular branch of the cypress or cupressaciae family.
The Dutch seemed to have borrowed jenever or genever from the Old French word genevre (modern French geniévre = Juniper tree). It has been suggested that the French word may have been derived from the Italian/French city of Genoa, called genova in Caesar’s time. Anyway, once the drink reached English shores, its name genever was mistaken for the Swiss city, Geneva, even though alcohol in any form has never has had anything to do with that home of the merciless Christian fascist Calvin. At any rate, the English soon mangled or slurred genever into simply gin.
The word gin was first recorded in print in the work of a political economist and satirist by the name of Bernard Mandeville. Born in the Netherlands he moved to England where, in 1714, he wrote a political satire called Fable of the Bees: or, Private Vices, Publick [sic] Benefits, in which he noted:
The infamous liquor, the name of which deriv’d from Juniper-Berries in Dutch, is now, by frequent use… from a word of middling length shrunk into a Monosyllable, intoxicating Gin.”
How did Gin arise?
Originally created in Italy in the 14th century to cure kidney problems, the prototype for gin was an infusion of Juniper berries in an alcohol base. However, uses of Juniper berries for medicinal purposes date back many thousands of years to ancient India and China, and also appear in American Indian traditional concoctions. Most commonly juniper extracts were employed as diuretics, but also they were used for contraception and to induce early childbirth (just like modern gin!)
A Dutchman by the name of Dr Franciscus Sylvius, a chemist, has been credited with creating genever (what we now know as Gin) in a laboratory at the University of Leydon in the mid 16th Century. Shortly afterwards, a Dutch distiller Lucas Bols began commercially producing genever in 1575, and his product has been consumed in bars around the world to this day.
What happened then?
Gin gained wider recognition when William of Orange, a Dutch nobleman, was appointed King of England in 1689, and banned imports of French goods; including the nation’s favourite tipples, wine and brandy. The English welcomed gin with open arms and mouths, and local entrepreneurs were soon producing large volumes of poor quality bath-tub brews to keep up with the demand.
As it was an unlicensed liquor, production of gin proliferated across England, with catastrophic social and medical side-effects. The Gin Act of 1736 saw high taxes imposed on retailers, leading to wide-scale public rioting, and eventually the Act was repealed in 1742. Subsequently, The Gin Act of 1751 succeeded where the earlier Act failed, stipulating that only licensed retailers could purchase Gin from distillers.
In 1771 Mr Jacob Schweppe created a tonic water containing quinine, designed for British Officers in India to assist in warding off the scourge of Malaria. When this tonic was added to gin, England’s favourite drink was invented. Until this time, the British Military had grown accustomed to Pink Gin: Plymouth Gin with the addition of quinine-rich Angostura Bitters. And, of course, in maritime quarters one took gin with a small splash or water, or with a squeeze of citrus to ward off rickets.
What about modern gins?
Today gin is made by infusing juniper (at least 51%) with other flavourings. Typical botanicals that can be found in many gins may include coriander seeds, caraway seeds and orrisroot, dried orange and lemon peel, angelica, liquorice, fennel or anise, almonds or cardamom pods. Each distillery has its own secret botanicals included in their distinctive “potpourri”, all of which are usually added to the grain spirit during its fourth distillation. Nearly all modern gins are classified as London Dry Gins. This classification arose to distinguish them from the typical 18th century gins which were sweetened to mask the fact their poor quality. A classic example of the earlier and sweeter style was “Old Tom Gin”, the gin originally used in a Tom Collins cocktail.
Production of gin has become more refined, and the product of higher quality, modern gins have become progressively drier. Nowadays, the nomenclature of London Dry Gin encompasses such a broad range of flavours it has become all but useless. There are three broad families of gins sitting outside of this all-encompassing sphere, these being Sloe, Plymouth and Xoriguer. Sloe gins are derived from the traditional genever drink of the Netherlands. Typically darker, sweeter and richer than their London cousins, Sloe gins incorporate the distinctive flavour of sloe berries, fruit of the blackthorn, a relative of the plum. Plymouth gins must, as the name suggests, be produced in the English town of Plymouth and Xoriguer gins originate from Spain.