In the span of nearly 500 years, gin—born in Holland, weaned in England and raised around the world—has blossomed from rudimentary origins to become the most beloved spirit in classic and contemporary cocktail culture. A liquor named genever was distilled in Holland as a medicine in the mid-1500s. It became popular for its flavour, which was derived from mixing neutral grain spirit and sweet moutwijn (malt wine), and then adding infusions of botanicals and spices. Juniper berry defined the spirit’s character, its oils giving distinct aroma and flavour. The Dutch word for juniper gave its name to this therapeutic nectar, while the alcohol made consumption desirable. Genever would go on to become a global phenomenon.
Holland’s invention was a hit in England when Dutch-born William of Orange was crowned the English king. The consequent war with France enlisted the spirit into the role of the financier—encouraging local mass production of poor-quality distillate. The rampant popularity of what was now called gin swept a drunken nation into funding war, sponsoring tax revenue while fuelling civic dependence—“Dutch Courage” mutating to “Mother’s Ruin”. By the mid-1700s, gin production and consumption began to return to normalcy. Refinements in distillation led to various expressions and regional styles of the virile, modern spirit being born; among them, London Dry, Old Tom, and Plymouth have defied time and trend to remain in popular use today.
By the early 1900s, cocktail culture thrived in a golden era throughout Europe and North America. Gin-inspired bartenders forged incredible classics like the Negroni in Florence, the French 75 in Paris, and the Aviation in New York. While the rest of the 20th century was generally unkind to gin, today the virtues of gin are resurgent in a thriving contemporary cocktail renaissance. The creamy texture, soft spice, and rich malty tastes of genever are less familiar to many present-day drinkers, taunting discovery and further study. From the humble juniper berry are born these divergent styles of spirit; a discerning and creative bartender embraces the disparate yet kindred beauty of both. Both publican and patron are amply rewarded.
Keep sipping cocktails.