Gin – A Brief History and the 5 Gin Drinks You Should Know

Gin – A Brief History and the 5 Gin Drinks You Should Know

Little nips of whisky, little drops of gin, Make a lady wonder where on earth she’s bin – Anonymous

Gin – Iconic Beverage

Outside of whiskey, Gin may be enjoying the greatest renaissance in recent memory. Dozens of boutique distillers are popping up everywhere here in the PNW and even more around the world. People are not only remembering but re-imagining the spirit in flavorful and unique ways while maintaining the distinct taste that is uniquely gin.

The scattered history goes something like this: the Dutch had been drinking a juniper berry-infused alcoholic beverage consistently since the 1600s (some argue the history of gin goes back to Italy several centuries prior to that but no one seems to come to a consensus on that, so I sure won’t). One thing that is consistent is that like so many other spirits, gin was originally sold for it’s supposed medicinal properties.

Military service has a curious way of bringing people and their food, and drinks, together. The Dutch military and the English military partied (shortening the history for the sake of this blog post) and the English came home wanting this beverage, called jenever, at home. Now known as gin, this botanical-infused spirit became incredibly popular, first among the elite.

When William the Orange, the Dutch-born ruler of the Netherlands, and by marriage, also ruler of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland (lame) came to power, he loosened the laws on homemade distilling, which opened up gin-making to all classes.  This also allowed for the use of low quality wheat, the kind that the beer brewers wouldn’t even use, which became prevalent in gin during this stretch. Gin quickly became more popular, and cheaper, than beer. More than half of the drinking establishments in England were becoming referred to as “gin joints.” The English, and especially the poor, began consuming gin in large amounts, leading to what is now called the “Gin Craze.”

Eventually, because of taxation and legislation, quality benchmarks were established, distilling techniques improved and the way was paved for gin to make a sophisticated move back into a more refined and high class society of the time. Many of these quality standards still endure today.

Making Gin – The Basics

Gin is essentially a neutral spirit, say a 100 proof or higher grain mash like vodka, that has been steeped with juniper berries (this is what give us that unique “piney” smell) and other botanicals. If left like that, the spirit would be kind of a dehydrated urine yellow (trust me, I have made it myself). If you then distill it, up to 3 times, it will become smoother and clearer and a little bit easier to consume.

It is actually quite easy to do at home and although the color is a little off-putting, can definitely be drunk. I have done it, drank it, and lived to tell about it.

Homemade Gin Recipe

3 cups 100 proof vodka
2 T juniper berries
1/2 t coriander seeds
1 t chamomile
1/2 t lavender
3 cardamom pods, cracked
1 bay leaf
4 allspice berries
2, 4 inch grapefruit peels (no pith)

Add juniper to vodka in a jar and let steep for 12 hours.

Add the rest of the ingredients, shake and let steep for 36 more hours.

Strain and serve. Should keep indefinitely with one of your flip top cap bottles.

5 Gin Drinks Everyone Should Know

Gin doesn’thave to be relegated to the G&T but you should definitely know how to make a proper one (2 oz gin, 2 oz tonic and a squeeze of lime).


Equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth (i.e. 2 oz each)
2 Dashes citrus bitters (but any would work)

Stirred and served with lemon peel in an old fashioned glass.

Berkshire Martinez

2 oz gin
1/4 oz maraschino liqueur
3/4 oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes angostura bitters
Twist of orange or lemon

Stirred and served in a coupe-style glass.

French 75

1.5 oz gin
3/4 oz lemon juice
3/4 oz simple syrup
1 oz champagne or prosecco
Lemon twist

Shake all ingredients save the champagne or prosecco. Top with the bubbly in a flute (champagne) glass. Garnish with lemon twist.

Gin Martini

5 oz gin
1 oz dry vermouth (Dolin)
1 olive (Sinatra said 2 so you can share)

Personally, I am OK with either shaking or stirring but keep in mind that shaking will get the martini colder, faster, but will also dilute because of the ice slowly melting as you shake it). Served in a martini glass (obvi).

Vesper (made famous by James Bond)

3 oz gin
1 oz vodka
1/2  oz Lillet
Lemon peel

Shake or stir still super cold (I like shake but if you chill your martini glass for a bit first…that could work for a super stirred chilled drink) in a martini glass.  A special shout out to my pal Phillip Meech who introduced/reminded me that this drink existed. It is both strong and elegant.

Others you should explore on your free time include Amalfi Tonic, The Sawyer, Gin Rickey, Basil Gimlet, and the Southside.

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2 thoughts on “Gin – A Brief History and the 5 Gin Drinks You Should Know”

  • Mike,
    Let me just say, I love Gin and ALL James Bond movies. So few years ago, I told Norman my wish for my birthday was the real Martini from the James Bond movie Casino Royale, where he gives the exact measurements! And Norman did it. It is very hard to find Lillet in Cyprus! It was quite a task. But oh how I love this Martini aka Vesper. It is soooo smoth. Sometimes he puts a tiny bit of honey in it, just saying ….If we are ever in the same country again, we should have one together, made by Norman 🙂 Kerstin

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