It’s springtime. Stash those dark, heavy spirits in the back of your liquor cabinet and bust out spring’s power spirit: gin. Served in both boozy classics like the Negroni and the simple, refreshing Gin & Tonic, gin can adapt to whatever flavor profile suits you best. This aromatic liquor may be perfect for drinking during the warmer months, but how much do you really know about it? Let these ten facts serve as a botanically-charged crash course.
1. Holland Made It First
While gin may be the national spirit of England, the spirit originated in Holland. The English discovered genever while fighting the Dutch War of Independence in the 17th century and brought the spirit back with them. The London-style gin we’re familiar with now would be born 150 years later.
2. Franciscus Sylvius May Be the Godfather of Gin
Franciscus Sylvius, a Dutch physician, created genever as medicine during the 16th century. His high-proof concoction was believed to improve circulation and other ailments. During the Dutch Independence War, it was given to soldiers and referred to as “Dutch Courage.”
3. Gin & Tonics Began in India
During the 19th century, Brits began to move to India after the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 and, subsequently, the popularity of Gin & Tonics spiked. In efforts to avoid malaria, the demand for “Indian Tonic Water” grew. Gin was added to the tonic water to mask the bitterness.
4. The Gimlet Was Born to Stop Scurvy
In the old days, sailing the open seas was not for relaxing vacations. The threat of death by disease was prominent. The Royal Navy mixed gin with lime juice to prevent scurvy, the lack of vitamin C. This drink would soon be known as the Gimlet. Thank you, Royal Navy, thank you.
5. About “Mother’s Ruin”
While genever was referred to as “Dutch courage,” gin sported a darker nickname, “mother’s ruin.” The reasoning behind the moniker varies, with claims that, being inexpensive, gin was the spirit of choice in brothels and that the spirit also induced abortions.
6. Say “No” to Bathtub Gin
Whiskey and moonshine might steal the spotlight when it comes to illegal imbibing during Prohibition. But gin was also popular due to how easy it was to create. Often made in bathtubs, this type of gin was created by mixing cheap grain alcohol with flavorings like juniper-berry juice and sometimes left to ferment and be distilled right from the tub. Bathtub gin wasn’t as clean as you might think; the obvious lack of regulations lead to many illnesses and even deaths.
7. The Gin Diehards Are Not Who You Think
Thought the British drank the most gin? Think again. Reportedly taking up around 43% of the global gin market, the Philippines guzzle the most of this clear spirit. There’s even a Tagalog word for a gin-drinking session, “Ginuman.”
8. Gin Was Not for Drinking Neat
Bathtub gin was made for a specific purpose, and that purpose was not to be gentle on the palate. Drinking gin straight during Prohibition was sure to grow some hair on your chest, but it had to be terrible on the throat. In order to get the firewater down, the spirit was mixed with other ingredients and thus the reason many, many classic cocktails are made with gin.
9. The Classic You've Never Heard Of: The Gin Twist
The next time you need to show off your gin knowledge (that happens, right?), drop this fun fact. In 1923, the Gin Twist was all the rage. Mentioned in multiple novels and periodicals, this drink consisting of gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and hot water was the Beyoncé of cocktails—if Beyoncé were even more famous.
10. You Can Make Your Own
Gin is essentially a flavored vodka, and you can make your own at home. But making your own gin is as simple as taking vodka and infusing it with juniper berries and other spices and botanicals. Just don’t do it in your bathtub, okay?