The gin & tonic, an established value on terraces, in restaurants and at home. But what exactly is gin? How is it produced, is there a non alcoholic gin, what is the ideal ratio, ... What is the difference between an own gin or custom-made gin and a private label gin or personalised gin? Your questions about gin will be answered once and for all! To finish, we will also give you some recipes: our favourite gin & tonic and our favourite gin cocktail.
What exactly is gin
Gin is an alcoholic drink with different botanicals, herbs, that give it its characteristic taste. By law, gin must have the prominent taste and aroma of juniper, for the rest the maker has freedom.
The minimum alcohol percentage must be 37.5% in Europe, while in America the bottom limit is 40%. Alcohol percentage is expressed in ABV, Alcohol By Volume.
What is the origin of gin
To understand the origin of gin, we must first look at the 'father' of gin: jenever. There is some confusion about these two. It is often said that the inventor of jenever is Doctor Sylvius de Bouve, but this is not possible. It was sold as a medicine in the 16th century and Doctor Sylvius was born in the 17th century. Furthermore, documents have been found that show that jenever was already produced in Bruges in the 13th century. And in 1606, we see that the Dutch (present-day Belgium and the Netherlands) were already charging excise duty on jenever, so we can conclude from this that it was no longer regarded as a medicine but as a drink.
During the Spanish-Dutch War, the Dutch drank jenever to give themselves courage. When the British joined the Dutch, it was probably not long before they adopted the custom. Since they drank jenever to uplift their courage, the English gave jenever the name 'Dutch Courage'.
This way, jenever found its way to England. When the English wanted to reduce their dependence on foreign countries in 1690, distilling was made free for all. Thus a number of small, artisanal distilleries came into existence. They began to distil a juniper-based drink, inspired by genever. The name of this drink originated from juniper, but as the English could not pronounce it, they finally settled on ginnever, or simply gin.
In that period there was no regularisation on gin, it was cheaper than beer and in many cases safer than polluted water. All of this meant that London was the 'most drunk' in that period. The whole of this period is known as the 'Gin Craze'. Taxes went up, some distilleries went bankrupt and production fell to a few wealthy, professional distilleries and, of course, moonshiners. To disguise the pitiful quality of the home-distilled gin, a mountain of sugar was added. This type of gin was nicknamed 'Old Tom Gin'. The name refers to the black cat 'Old Tom' that was used as a mark during prohibition in England. Near the mark, you could deposit pennies in a slot and through a tube, the gin was filled into your bottle or glass.
The Old Tom Gin we know today (such as Meyer's Gin Silver and Ruby) no longer bears much resemblance to its predecessor. The category of sweetened gins has rightly acquired an important place in the gin landscape.
In 1830, the distillery column or column still (more information at: How to make gin) came into the world, created by Aeneas Coffrey. This allowed them to make better quality alcohol that didn't require any additives to be tasty, and so London Dry Gin was born. A gin in which all the herbs are stoked at once and only water may be added.
In the meantime, other styles of gin have emerged. More on that later.
How is gin made
The production of gin
There are different ways of producing gin, and these lead to different categories.
Gin must be made from ethyl alcohol (min. 96%) of agricultural origin. Some distillers make it themselves, others buy it from someone who specialises in making it and then distil it again to adapt it to their wishes.
An alcoholic liquid is created through the fermentation process. We take a liquid containing sugar, add yeast to it and these organisms convert the sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2). In this process, we get a liquid that is relatively low in alcohol content, between 5% and 12% (with turbo yeast, it can go up to 18%). In order to get a higher ABV, we will distil it. The alcoholic liquid goes into the boiler and is then heated. The alcohol evaporates at lower temperatures than water, so when we allow this vapour to cool, we catch a liquid that is higher in alcohol percentage than before.
Furthermore, we can distinguish two production methods:
The pot still is the image most people have when they think of distilling. This is the most traditional way of distilling and you will find it most often in small or traditional distilleries. You put a batch in the pot still, fire it to about 35% alcohol and once it is ready you can fire it a second time. This is a discontinuous method. The maximum average alcohol percentage you can get is about 80%, so you can never make neutral alcohol (96%) this way.
This still is divided into several 'chambers' by perforated plates. The vapour we create condenses against these plates, leaving impurities behind each time. The alcohol that comes up the column is therefore purer each time. In this way, we can make neutral alcohol.
Giving gin it's flavour:
There are three different ways to flavour gin:
Maceration: this is also called infusing or infusers. The principle is similar to making tea. The botanicals are placed in the alcohol and thus give off their flavour, aroma and colour. There is no boiler involved.
Maceration and distillation: the same as the previous one, but here we distill the liquid afterwards to obtain a clear liquid. This method is used to extract difficult or more flavours from the ingredient.
Distilling: The botanicals are placed in the still with the alcohol and then the process begins. The botanicals are either in the liquid itself or they are suspended in the boiler and then the vapour passes through.
What kind of gin can you get?
We have all held a bottle in our hands and seen different things. Gin comes in all sorts of different smells and colours, flavours and names. We read on labels 'London Dry Gin', 'Dry Gin', ... What does that mean exactly?
London Dry Gin: All the spices must be distilled immediately and together. Only water may be added to bring the gin to a drinkable alcohol content. You are not allowed to do an assembly of separate distillates, because then you are in the next category. A good example of a London Dry Gin is the Kyribaty "Herbal" Gin.
Distilled gin: here, too, you may only use natural ingredients. The difference with London Dry Gin is that here you are allowed to do assemblies of distillates. This method is used when the different ingredients are very different, e.g. a combination of dried herbs and fresh fruit. These botanicals must be distilled in a different way. Here Yo-Ho Gin comes to mind.
Compound Gin: this is maceration without distilling. The alcohol is flavoured by adding botanicals or flavourings.
In the best case, the flavourings are of natural origin, but the commercial pressure to put cheap products on the market means that artificial 'drops' are unfortunately also used. We stay away from these kinds of products.
These are the three most common, but next to that we can find:
Navy Strength Gin: a strong gin as the name reveals. It must have a minimum ABV of 57%.
Plymouth gin: a gin that can only be made in the Plymouth region.
Sloe Gin: gin macerated with blackthorn berry and this one is the only exception to the rule. It usually sits at a 25% ABV and is therefore the exception to the 37.5% law.
Pink gin: a gin see as we discover in the name a pink appearance. If we look at Yo-Ho Pink, for example, it is slightly more fruity and flowery.
Not all categories are official like Pink Gin. If you search online you may come across, for example, New Western Gin. An experimental style of gin making, where one searches to find the perfect combination of juniper and other different botanicals.
A non-alcoholic gin, a healthy variant of the gin. Many people ask about it and want to drink it because it is ideal for driving, for pregnant women, ... But actually this is not correct. A gin without alcohol cannot exist, as the law states that gin must have a minimum alcohol percentage of 37.5%. People say 'a non-alcoholic gin', but actually this is just a non-alcoholic drink that is flavoured to taste like gin.
You can use them to make a non-alcoholic 'gin' tonic. Some can even be used to replace rum to make a non-alcoholic mojito, for example.
How do you drink gin?
After all the theory come the practical side and the big question: how to drink gin. The answer to that question depends on your goal. Do you want to discover the exact flavours of the gin, do you want to discover what effect a certain tonic has on the gin, or do you prefer drinking a cocktail?
To discover the exact flavours of the gin, it makes sense to drink it pure. Some gins are made to be drunk both pure and mixed, others are not. But by drinking it pure, you can find out, for example, which botanicals it contains.
You can also explore with different tonics and see which tonic goes with which gin and what you definitely like or dislike. This can make for fun evenings with friends or family.
The common thread in drinking gin is enjoying your gin. Sometimes you do this by means of a cocktail. The best known here is of course a gin & tonic but there are so many more. To get some inspiration on which cocktails you can make with a couple of real Belgian gins, click here.
Tip: always use a full glass of ice. The more ice in your glass, the slower it melts and the less your drink is diluted.
Make your own gin
Your own gin. Who has never thought of that? We will be happy to help you! For many years we have specialised in customised drinks, a drink with a completely own recipe, or private labels, a drink with a personalised label and bottle. And we do this in much more than just gin!
There are several reasons to work with us. Read here why you should work with us.
Interested or have questions about making your own gin or other drink? Contact us here or send an email to email@example.com and we will be happy to help you!