The English National Drink
The history of distillation is also the story of gin and rum as we shall learn. Fermentation and distillation have been common processes in all growing communities throughout the ages. Here we will look briefly at the beginnings and how first beer and then spirits arrived in England to compete with traditionally brewed ale.
Gin has been known by many terms
The English saw Dutch soldiers taking genever to give them courage in battle and solace in time of war.
Also ‘mother’s milk’. Sweet as sin and cruel as the devil when you know it.
Blue from its tint, ruin from the effect of over-consumption.
This refers to home-made spirit. In prohibition America bootleg gin was made in bathtubs by gangsters.
The British have laid claim to many things that have not originated from the native isles, but have been considered equally valid adoptions because they were brought back from British Empire territories, such as curry from India.
In the case of gin, it certainly has a long and interesting history since the English became aware of it, but we have to look at the Dutch for its origins. England and the Dutch were at war three times but were allies against the French and Spanish during the 80 years war.
The early 1600s were turbulant times in Europe and the English noted that Dutch soldiers drank a schnapps called genever for courage. And so the English brought home the Dutch courage, genever.
The words ‘genievre‘ and ‘jenever‘ are the French and Dutch words for juniper. After a time in England the drink became known simply as gin.
The distinction between gins is whether they are distilled or compound. Compound gins take a neutral alcohol and flavour it with botanical ingredients and distilled gins involve adding the botanicals after the first distil and then re-distilling the batch.
As far as the process used to create gin, one of two techniques is used: pot-distilled and column-distilled. Earlier gin used the pot-distilled technique which is regarded as giving the better character and can be aged in barrels like other spirits. Column-distilled gin produces a much more highly concentrated alcohol. Botanicals are placed above the mash and the spirit is re-distilled. In this way, the vapours extract flavour compounds as they evaporate.
The spirit obtained from pot-distillers is amber coloured and carries more flavour whereas that from column-distillers is clear and less flavoured but with a stronger alcohol. London Dry Gin is an example of column-distilled alcohol.
Oxley have developed a cold distillation method for their gin →
The Taste of the Caribbean
Rum is a spirit which derives its predominant flavour from sugar. From its earliest origins humans have derived some sort of alcoholic medicine and beverage from sugar. Since the New Age of discovery when industrial global trading emerged across the seas, rum has been a prized commodity.
Possible sources of ‘rum’: Derived from rumbullion (a great uproar). Or from Dutch drinking glasses called rummers. Or from the Latin for sugar, saccharum.
Rums from French-speaking places use the word rhum.
Rums from Spanish-speaking places use the word ron.
The word aged is used to denote time served quality. In France it is termed ‘rhum vieux’ while in France it is ‘ron añejo’.
The Origin of Rum
Every rum distiller wants to lay claim to their part in the history of rum, in the tale surrounded by pirates, greed and misfortune. The story of rum begins on the plantations that grew sugar for colonial rulers.
Pusser’s rum claim a long tradition in making rum for the English navy. They state the navy were issued a daily ration of rum by the ship’s purser, (where Pusser’s name originated). Pusser’s rum was provided since 1655.
This is the rum that allegedly was used to pickle Admiral Horatio Nelson on the journey from Trafalgar to Gibraltar, in the same manner that Napoleon is said to have been pickled in brandy. Sailors found a way to drain some of the rum and so it gained the nickname of Nelson’s Blood.
The English navy first introduced rum to the service in the West Indies but considering the quantities crews were often a gang of drunkards. In 1740 Admiral Edward Vernon, known as Old Grogram, diluted the rum with water which became known as ‘grog’.
For taxation purposes rum is defined as a spirit distilled from the fermented juice of sugar cane, sugar cane syrup, sugar cane molasses or other sugar cane by-products at less than 95% alcohol by volume, having the taste, aroma and characteristics generally attributed to rum and bottled at not less than 40% alcohol by volume.
Rhum Agricole is freshly squeezed cane juice fermented without adding water. The fermentation process must begin within 24 hours of pressing to avoid natural fermentation by wild yeasts. It is mostly produced in the Caribbean, an example is Barbancourt, a rhum distilled and bottled in Haiti by Société du Rhum Barbancourt.
Rum Industrial sometimes called ‘traditional rum’, uses as a base any of the by products from sugarcane processing. Historically this is primarily from molasses, but can be from turbinado (raw cane sugar), panella (a solid form of sucrose), or brown and white refined sugar.
Bacardi is the largest rum producer in the world and they use different types of molasses sourced from around the world.
British Navy Pusser’s Rum is the same Admiralty blend of five West Indian rums as issued on board British ships
Pusser’s rum is pot-stilled rum and produces a malty flavour. It is 100% natural with no flavouring agents.
Prior to 1740, the daily ration of Pusser’s Rum had been a pint a day, which was taken neat. Before and after a battle the crew were issued more rum. The naval tradition continued until 1970 when the rum ration was abolished and Pusser’s rum faded.
However in 1979 a sailor called Charles Tobias obtained the recipe and the rights to produce authentic Pusser’s rum from the Admiralty and restarted production in 1980 making Pusser’s rum from the British Virgin Islands. It was the first time Pusser’s rum was sold openly as previously its sale was restricted to the navy.
The Royal Navy Sailor’s Fund receives a donation from the sale of each bottle of British Navy Pusser’s Rum and it is the charity’s largest source of income.
Fermentation & Distillation
The process of extracting alcohol dates back to Babylon and ancient China when it was observed how fruits fermented naturally taking on alcohol. Since those ancient times various methods for fermenting have been used and new methods of distilling alcohol employed, in both manners, in order to create alcoholic substance for medicinal and beverage use.
Fermentation is a simple process that preserves foods by converting sugars into alcohols. Sugars are carbohydrates and so any agricultural carbohydrate can be used. Yeast is used to break down sugars and convert them to carbon dioxide or organic acids or bacteria under anaerobic conditions (occurring in the absence of oxygen). Anaerobic bacteria produce energy from food molecules increasing the level of good bacteria.
Up until the ninth century CE, herbs were used to flavour beer. The Carolingian Empire (924-800 CE) was the final stage in the history of the early medieval realm of the Franks. In 822 CE a Corolingian Abbot was the first that we know of to write about using hops to flavour beer.
Herbs did not have the same preserving properties as hops. Hopped beer was able to be exported whereas using herbs alone meant increasing the alcohol content to keep it preserved. So German towns became the first to mass produce beer by using hops in the 13th Century CE and within a millennium, the process had spread to Holland and then to England where only ale was being brewed (i.e. a drink made from water, malt and yeast alone).
In England, the law prohibited the sale of both ale and hopped beer from the same establishment. This was presumably an attempt to safeguard the English product over foreign imports, as it was viewed that:
Ale for an Englysshe man is a naturall drinke
Despite legislative precautions, nothing could have prepared England for the impact that gin would have on the country. Protecting existing ale establishments from foreign imported hopped beer was one thing but when distilled gin arrived many ale houses would close or be taken over as gin houses.
Fermentation can make beer, wine and ciders from grains, malt, and fruits up to an ABV (alcohol by volume) of around 15%-20%, before natural factors end the process. Fermentation leaves behind a variety of undesirable constituent substances besides the ethanol, like yeast and unfermented sugar and residue from plants.
Distillation is a different process for producing alcohol that has also been known about for a long time and is a method for producing beverage higher than 15%-20% ABV. Distillation differs from fermentation in that it separates the alcohol from all the contaminants and concentrates it.
Every spirit starts with a base that has been fermented first. The base determines the type of spirit produced, as shown below. Fermented grains make a beer and fermented fruits make wines. It is at this point that the base is distilled to extract the alcohol.
- Fruit make brandies
- grain (corn, rye, millet, sorghum, barley) make whiskey, gin, vodka
- sugar cane & molasses make rum
- Agave plants make tequila
- vegetables (potato) make vodka,
Vodka can be made from grain, potatoes or fruit. The issue in making vodka from potatoes is the same as for all starchy vegetables, potatoes must first be boiled so that the starches gelate i.e. the starch first needs to be broken down into basic sugars so that the yeast can use them.
Grain spirit can come from any combination of grains. American Bourbon is whiskey that is made from a sour mash of rye and corn. Irish whiskey is dry because it has less sugars. Molasses can be used as a sugar source instead of potatoes, which is how rum used to be started by molasses. Of all spirits rum best retains the natural taste of its base because converting starch into sugar is not necessary.
A vodka recipe:
- 4 parts potatoes
- 1 part malted barley
- 1 pound cane sugar per 5 gallons (optional)
There is evidence of a distillate from fermented barley that was practised in Ireland when Henry II invaded the country in 1170 CE. It is believed this knowledge may have been brought to Ireland by Phoenician visitors way earlier.
At one time Ireland was more advanced than the surrounding lands and one might see how a myth evolved of Saint Patrick teaching the art of distillation as applied to potcheen, an Irish spirit made from potatoes (40%–90% ABV).
Similarly to fermented beer being used medicinally, distilled alcohol started out purely for medicinal purposes as it was thought too brutish to consume and as such was known as ‘aqua ardens’ which translates to burning water.
By the 13th Century the distillation process had been refined and experimentation in flavouring took apace. There are legal documents referring to ‘aqua vitre’ a beverage made from malt in 1494. Over time the burning water became better known as ‘aqua vitae’ or in the Celtic ‘uisque-beatha’ translated as ‘water of life‘.
Ethanol alcohol freezes at -133°C and boils at 78°C. Distillation is the process of separation using the heat method. The freezing method is called congelation or freeze distillation. Congelation was originally used in the 8th Century CE in Poland before distillation was discovered.
Congelation involves cooling of the fermentable material (the wash) below 0°C which is a dangerous method of separation because poisonous molecules tend to stick more closely together under cold conditions and can be left in the extraction. This is why the method is not widespread today and less than 2% of the world’s distilled spirits are made this way.
By comparison, using the heat method ensures that alcohol will always vaporise well before water boils and so it is an assured ethanol extraction method of 100% purity. When the alcohol steam meets a cool surface, it drips back to liquid form but the alcohol strength is now higher than it was in the base that the alcohol was extracted from.
Distillation from fermented material should be distilled only to a point where it is purified, yet retain sufficiently the characteristics of the base. Re-distilling is repeated as necessary to achieve the desired alcohol level (e.g. Irish whiskey is distilled three times).
e.g. A wine of 8% ABV condenses into distillate of 20% and when distilled a second time the alcohol strength increases to 60%. Brandies are made in this way.
The more re-distillations and the closer a liquid gets to pure ethanol then the lesser of the original fermentation flavours remain. Eventually a neutral spirit is derived that is odourless and flavourless.
Gin brands like Beefeater and Bombay Sapphire place neutral spirit in a still with juniper berries and other ‘botanicals’ (i.e. herbs and spices) and the mixture is re-distilled so that the two components fuse together and arrive at flavoured gin of the desired strength. Gins that start with neutral spirit are called dry gins and British drys are considered among the best in the world.
Flavouring of spirits post-distillation is by filtration. Filtering the alcohol helps remove impurities that may still be present but the process may also remove some base flavour so filtration is only for neutral based spirits like vodka or gin.
At the final stage spirits are diluted to drinking levels by adding distilled water and once bottled, a spirit does not undergo any further chemical changes.
Once a distillate has been watered and is in its final state i.e. bottled, in Europe it typically must have an alcohol content of at least 37.5% whereas America requires at least 40% of alcohol by volume.
Measuring alcohol content can be done with a hydrometer, an instrument that measures the density of a liquid. A sample is put in a tube and the hydrometer floats upright inside. The denser the liquid the more the hydrometer is buoyed up as defined scientifically by the Archimedes principle which states that:
a body totally or partially immersed in a fluid is subject to an upward force equal in magnitude to the weight of fluid it displaces.
The ratio of the density of the liquid to the density of water at that temperature is what is established and the outcome given as the liquid’s specific gravity. This ratio of alcohol to liquid is known as the ABV standard (alcohol by volume).
‘Proof’ on the other hand is not an exact measurement of alcohol content like ABV but rather it is a test confirming that the alcohol level falls between broad values. 100% proof corresponds to a level of taxation that was introduced in England being eleven parts alcohol to ten parts water. So by this system 100% proof spirit means roughly 50% alcohol or ABV.
Distillation in the wrong hands has extreme results not least because alcohol vapours are highly ignitable and because methanol is a by-product of the distilling process and highly toxic which means there is a stage at which it needs to be removed from the distillate.
So a way of gauging quality was devised as ever, not for safety but for tax purposes; if the alcohol content was rated above proof it was taxed at a higher rate.
English sailors had discovered no doubt by accident, that gunpowder in alcohol would ignite but not if it was diluted. This is due to the vapours being the ignitable part and so the neater the liquid the more vapours present and therefore the more ignitable.
The navy was in close quarters with the West Indies where the lands it controlled were for the most part sugar plantations, or simply overseas factories that were ideally located to harvest and process raw materials ultimately destined for importation back home.
Sugar was of course the prime product but rum came a close second. Plantation owners were keen on keeping any English man-of-war nearby to discourage and avert raids by pirates after their produce. In return for protection, rum was provided to the ships and it played out that the English made it law for rum to be carried on all ships – This is why we associate rum with a sailors lot, which was half a litre a day.
Being that rum became a respected part of protocol on navy ships of nearly every nation, and the legal right of every English sailor, the English navy was ardent to ensure the best quality because it believed that rum provided a sailor with health benefits and psychological relief from the ardours of prolonged stay at sea.
Of spirits imported into England the two most significant were rum and gin. Rum is considered a traditional English spirit due to empire ownership of the Caribbean where plantation slaves in the 17th Century CE, discovered that molasses, a by-product of the sugar refining process, could be fermented into alcohol and rum obtained.
Plantation harvest of sugar cane
A consignment of rum for the English navy was tested by adding gunpowder and igniting the mixture. If it burned steadily with a blue flame then it was considered ‘proof’ of the alcohol content of that batch and so only proven spirit was purchased.
Proof is a measure of the ethanol (alcohol) contained in an alcoholic beverage equal to about 1.75 times the alcohol by volume (ABV) and is no longer used in favour of the ABV method.
ABV averages 4.5% for beer, 11.6% for wine and 37% for spirits. In the UK there are legal requirements set by the Spirit Drinks Regulations 2008 which state that the raw materials must be stated on the bottle.
The idea that a process is created when heat is applied to a liquid was seen in nature with cloud formation. So from the earliest times when humans were able to produce sustained heat, food and beverage were the primary use of it hence bread and alcoholic drink emerged pretty much simultaneously.
Cereals that contain certain sugars can spontaneously ferment due to wild yeasts in the air and it is therefore easier to understand that following the domestication of cereals, beer-like beverages appeared due to the biological process of fermentation.
In fact beer is just bread in liquid form. Beer and bread are made from the same stuff and both have been vital to all grain-growing civilisations. It has been a significant part of the daily diet for Egyptian pharaohs and one of the most common drinks right up to the end of the Middle Ages.
We know that ancient beer was a gruel mixture of bread and beer which was thought of as a food. It was of course brewed and used medicinally as well and for religious ceremony but it was not enjoyed as the clear refreshing beverage that we know today.
Evidence for brewing beer in the Mesopotamian region was found at the Sumerian settlement of Godin Tepe (in modern-day Iran), where it is believed that in Mesopotamia as well as the lands of Egypt, beer was the daily staple.
It was drank through a reed straw to draw from the liquid below the more bitter impurities that rose to the top and to avoid the sediment on the bottom. It certainly was nothing like what we would recognise today and has been described as deep amber or red in colour. It must have been quite sludgy and warm.
Ninkasi is the ancient Sumerian Goddess of brewing and beer. Her name translated means ‘The Lady who fills the mouth‘. By this was meant that she feeds the people and this was done with beer from barley.
The Hymn to Ninkasi is one of 400 literary compositions from Mesopotamia and it describes baked grains being broken into pieces and stuffed into a pot then water and aromatics are added and the mixture is then left to ferment. This is reckoned to be the oldest known recipe.
Evidence exists other than written that the Ancients were brewing beer. Chemical tests of pottery jars dating back 7,000 years have shown that beer was brewed in Babylon, and in the region known today as Iran and also in China. The evidence revealed that they brewed beer from barley and other grains using similar methods.
The regions of Nubia, Sudan and Egypt are considered by some to be the cradle of civilisation. The Ancient Nubians had used beer as an antibiotic medicine. Green fluorescence in Nubian skeletons indicated tetracycline-labeled bone, the first clue that the Ancients were producing the antibiotic.
A chemical analysis of the bones of ancient Nubians shows that they were regularly consuming tetracycline, most likely in their beer. The grain used to make it contained the soil bacteria streptomyces, which produces tetracycline.
Streptomyces produce a golden bacteria, which when seen floating on a batch of beer would have seemed to the Ancients who revered gold, like beer had magical properties. Even the bones of a 4-year-old were found to be full of tetracycline, suggesting high doses were being given to cure an illness.
The art of fermenting antibiotics is thought to have been widespread in ancient times, and handed down through the generations. It’s known that beer was used to treat gum disease and other ailments.
A famous copper engraving of Doctor Schnabel (a.k.a. Dr. Beak). This beak mask is actually a face mask, predecessor of the gas mask. Juniper and other medicinal herbs were placed in the beak to prevent the wearer contracting the disease when in working proximity to those effected.
Gilbey’s advertisement – 1962
Tanqueray advertisement – 1964
The recently re-released Tanqueray Malacca Gin is based on an original recipe from Charles Tanqueray’s 1832 recipe book
Rum & Rhum
Rum distillate is a clear liquid usually aged in oak barrels. It takes its name from the last syllable of the Latin word for sugar saccharum When you see the word Rhum it refers to rum distilled from sugar cane juice as opposed to rum from molasses.
English and Spanish rums are made from molasses, but Spanish rum is crispier like Bacardi and English rum is fuller like Lamb’s Navy Rum. Other Caribbean rums tend to be made directly from a sugar cane base, i.e. the French make Rhum. French rhum falls into two types, ‘industriel‘ made from molasses and ‘agricole‘ is made from sugarcane.
Sugarcane fermentation is reckoned to have been done in ancient India and China. The 14th Century CE explorer Marco Polo made record of “a very good wine of sugar.” However distillation from sugarcane juice belongs to the Caribbean.
A rum product has been noted in Brazil dating from the early 1600s. The Portuguese and Dutch took cane from Madeira in the 1540s and two decades later, Brazil was producing 2,500 tons of sugar a year and this was 100 years before the English had sugar plantations on Jamaica (1655 CE).
The first rum distillery of the British colony in North America was set up in 1664 and the rum industry seriously took off in New England. In Jamaica, the English navy changed a sailor’s alcohol ration from brandy to rum which continued until 1970.
French colonial rhum agricole is made from sugarcane juice and retains a greater amount of the original flavour and so is dearer than that made from molasses. It can be made using pot stills but most is made by column-distillation.
Pot still output contains more congeners than the output from column stills, so produces fuller-tasting rums. As is the case with other distillates, the pot method preserves flavour while the column method reduces it in favour of a much higher alcohol yield than the pot.
Because of rum’s accentuated flavour it is a popular cocktail ingredient: rum punch, piña colada and the mojito.
Take a look at these Australian rums made by Bundaberg, a family run business until it was sold to Diageo in 2000; Australians call it ‘bundi’. The rums below are good examples to demonstrate colours and labels.
Knowing a little about the distillation process and the base it is started from makes it easy to appreciate the difference between the types below. In Australia, distillates including whisky, brandy, rum, gin, vodka and tequila must contain at least 37% ABV. Notice the ABV’s below are 37% ABV except the ‘Overproof’ variety on the far right which is 57.7%.
This mixing of the terms ‘proof’ and ‘ABV’ usually serves to confuse most people. But as we have learned in this section; 100% proof roughly equals 50% ABV. Looking at the Bundaberg labelling, they like to identify their products as being; Underproof, 100% Proof, and Overproof. This means that a product with less than 50% ABV is underproof and a product higher than 50% ABV is Overproof.
Named ‘Five’ because it is filtered 5 times in white barrels for a clean and crisp finish
A smooth rum using a unique Red Gum filtration process which gives it its deep gold colour and a perfumed sweet and spicy nose. Red Gum is any of a number of species of Eucalyptus.
Made by blending and maturing Bundaberg’s Original rum with vanilla and many other spices to create an interesting spiced rum.
Bundaberg Underproof Rum is the original product made from molasses. The recipe hasn’t changed in 100 years. Aged for two years to an alcohol content of about 78% then diluted and bottled at 37% ABV.
Based on the Original and blended to extra strength. The stronger blend brings emphasises the rich the rich and intense character of Bundaberg Rum.
A Potted History of Gin
Since ancient times distilled alcohol has been used for medicinal purposes and it was thought that flavouring the liquid with herbs and flowers had a healing effect. Today we know that people who regularly consume a small amount of alcohol have a lower incidence of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers when compared to those who don’t drink at all or drink only occasionally.
It must have seemed perplexing for early discoverers of the results of distilling fermented juices, that in went a harsh but hearty liquid such as a crude beer or wine, and out came a clean crisp liquid that burned your throat.
It’s no wonder they looked upon their new discovery as medicinal rather than a beverage considering its awful taste and conversely its antiseptic properties. What is surprising is that so much time elapsed before the distillation method improved sufficiently for spirits to be made distinctly.
Juniper berries have been regarded a medicinal plant since ancient times, due to their content of citric acid, tannins, manganese and menthol, and were generally used to abate digestive and liver issues. In Belgium a scholar recommended boiling juniper berries and this process was used for a variety of ailments.
By the time of the bubonic plague in Europe (1330s – 1351 CE) juniper was seen as the only real medicine and was consumed in various ways. It was following the plague that distilled alcohol started to become a drink for leisure and less a cure for disease.
But the transition to leisure drinking would take several hundred years until the sixteenth century when distillation became possible from grain and in due course came national spirits such as whisky from Scotland and vodka from Russia.
But Dutch distilleries were able to stabilise the grain distillation process meaning that distillates were available for export and better quality distilled genever started to arrive in England probably from the 1620s. In Belgium as well as the Netherlands and France, they flavoured their grain spirit with juniper. The first recipe for ‘aqua juniper’ appears in 1622.
In a new seafaring world where trading on the seas was rife, England was trading sugar and rum in the West and the Dutch were involved in the Asian spice market of the East.
England and the Dutch were the superpowers of trade. The Dutch rivalled England’s East India Dock Company by employing their very own Dutch East India Company. While England was maintaining the largest empire in world history, the Dutch made a truce with Spain in 1609 and were able to open up a trade route into the Mediterranean.
To maintain its empire England needed sugar from the plantations of the Caribbean and the rum trade that grew out of that. In the meantime the investment attracted by Dutch traders allowed them to expand into further territories and establish trading posts.
Dutch Imports into Europe consisted largely of spices and tea, in direct competition with the English and as is the way, the situation led into four consecutive trade wars. It was during these times that shipments of Dutch genever arrived on English shores.
In 1585 English soldiers had experienced a foul tasting genever when fighting alongside the Dutch during the 80 years war. However, Dutch pharmacists now called upon their successful spice trade for ingredients to mix with juniper so that genever became better quality using imported botanicals.
Flavoured spirits get their flavour during the distillation process by introducing the ingredients in with the mash. This gives a subtler flavour than adding ingredients post-distillation as is done with liqueurs.
While England was happily drinking ale and beer, the navy was busy looking to secure export markets for rum, and the Dutch were taking advantage by trading with English smugglers.
Royal Mail stamps depicting Royal Navy personel
The official view is that Dutch genever arrived in England during the 1690s but this is rather to mask the failure to deal with smuggling because unofficially gin had been smuggled in for 70 years. The official year coincides nicely when William of Orange took the throne in 1688. He relaxed laws by allowing distillation by anyone in England so long as domestic grain was used as the base.
This was done because after William of Orange arrived it was clear that consumption of gin was leading to public depravity and the authorities attributed this to a rising crime rate. This attempt to match genever imports with home-made hooch only provided legal alcohol in abundance and England headed into a gin consumption frenzy commonly referred to as the Gin Craze.
A common print depicting the gin craze era of the 1720s. ‘Gin Lane’ by William Hogarth
Without regulation the home-brew gin of the day was nothing like the finer imported stuff of the Dutch. It was so rough that it had to be sweetened with sugar, because anyone could make it in any way and it came to based on a malt wine and tasted more like sherry or whisky than how we would think of gin today.
With many water-borne diseases prevalent in and around London, gin was a safe drink for the poor. 7,000 gin houses sprung up in London. Roughly 100 years since genever had been smuggled in by the Dutch, by the 1720s close to 5 million gallons of gin were being consumed annually in England with 25% of all homes in London involved in its sale or production.
It was impossible for the government to control and therefore to tax gin and the social problems of alcohol addiction left many destitute and penniless, and gin became known as ‘Mother’s Ruin and Blue Ruin’.
The government responded with a series of Gin Acts designed to raise the cost of gin for drinkers, retailers and producers. The Gin Act of 1736 aimed to control production by making it expensive but was repealed in 1742 and a new policy emerged that licensees would provide reasonable excise duties and charge higher but reasonable prices. This led to the 1743 riots in London.
The Gin Act of 1751 forced gin distillers to sell only to licensed vendors and only to approved establishments and then taxed the distributors heavily. The government encouraged men to drink ale or beer and preferred that everyone rather partook of tea than alcohol and help somewhat to lessen the social drunkenness problem. As a result, the Gin Craze began to diminish after the Gin Act of 1751.
The 1800s brought about a gin revival, gin was made in a style called Old Tom. Laced with liquorice and later sugar and it was produced in pot stills.The invention of the continuous still in (sic. 1826, 1827) made a purer alcohol and the base taste did not need to be disguised by sweetening. This new beverage became known as London Dry Gin.
Dry gins are flavoured during distillation and have very little or no sugar added. A variation on London Dry is Plymouth gin, which is subtler and a touch less dry. The combination of botanicals used by gin producers dictates the eventual flavour and aroma of the spirit. Hendricks includes rose petals and cucumber while Bombay Sapphire has lemon peel and liquorice.
The gin types we discussed were:
- Dutch genever (malty)
- Old Tom gin (not as malty as genever but sweeter than London Dry)
- London Dry Gin (very dry distilled from grain)
- Plymouth Gin (dry & juniper rich)
Can you imagine an era of alcohol prohibition without gin? Oddly gin rose to fame in America during the 1920s prohibition years. Distilleries were closed to avert an alcohol social problem which gave rise to bootleg gin.
It was very easy to make and did not require ageing, so the mafia became the new providers. They literally filled bathtubs with water, alcohol, juniper berry extract, often toxic methol, and some spices and then distributed that. In one year alone toxic gin killed 4,000 people.
Worldwide – Did you know?
Surrey gin brand Silent Pool have created the world’s largest and most expensive bottle of gin, costing £5,000, as shown in the image above. The bottle is nine litres and has been hand painted to include the 24-botanicals in Silent Pool Gin.
Spain has more than 30 gin brands of its own. They consume the most gin in Europe, consuming 3.2 million cases of gin a year. They prefer to drink it out of a large balloon-shaped stemmed goblet (copa de balon) rather than from a highball glass.
America are the biggest gin markets by volume.
Parisian Alexandre Ricard is the deputy chief executive of the family business – Pernod Ricard, and will soon control the €23 billion (£18.7 billion) drinks giant next year. Pernod bought the Beefeater gin brand in 2005.
Beefeater gin has been based in Kennington since 1958, distilling gin in London since 1860. Alexandre Ricard said the first decision the group made was to keep the distillery in Kennington. One reason is that Beefeater remains as the only major brand still made in London.
At the peak of London gin production in the 1800s, gin companies like Gordon’s and Tanqueray were based in London and all but Beefeater moved to cheaper locations in the 1900s.
Global gin sales are dominated by big brands but as of 2016 some of the many thousands of craft brands have began to take market share.
The leading brands are:
- Diageo’s Gordon’s
- Bacardi’s Bombay Sapphire
- Pernod Ricard’s Beefeater
- Diageo’s Tanqueray
- Pernod Ricard’s Seagram’s Extra Dry
Old Tom Gin
Old Tom gin was popular in 18th century England and became lost to us. It has seen a recent resurgence in the cocktail genre and many brands are now making it again because of its malty sweetness. This is the gin called for in gin cocktails such as the Tom Collins and the Martinez.
During the 1750s illegal sales persisted with the production of a sweet gin called ‘Old Tom‘. It was sold under-the-counter by London gin houses displaying the symbol of a black cat, hence its name.
Old Tom gin is the ingredient of a classic gin and tonic and it is how the Tom Collins cocktail got its name. It is the perfect accompaniment for sweet gin cocktails.
Ableforth have created a traditional Old Tom style gin created following a request from The Handmade Cocktail Company, which needed a slightly sweet Old Tom gin for use in their Martinez cocktail. And, whom have created a series of old style authentic cocktails ready made in the bottle.
The list includes:
- Antique Martinez – 1970s
- Antique Rob Roy – 1970s
- Antique Negroni – 1970s/1980s
- Antique Martini – 1980s
- Antique Manhattan – 1980s
- The Vesper Cocktail
The world’s largest international gin brand Gordon’s also make a variety of gin flavoured with sloe berries as opposed to juniper berries. And Plymouth gin, a slightly less dry London gin also make good sloe gin.
For gin enthusiasts and spirit adventurers, the question soon arises; what is sloe gin? Quite simply there are such berries known as Sloe drupes, a small fruit relative of the plum. They are very bitter and therefore ideally suited to gin flavouring. It’s almost like they sprang into existence for this very purpose.
It does take some getting used to though. Whilst the beverage is dry and bitter, the berry retains a strong blackcurrant prescence of flavour almost like a dark berry cordial that has only been one quarter diluted and so it is rather an acquired taste.
For those not honed to the splendours of the flavour refinement of London Drys, Sloe gin offers a less clinical introduction to the spirit but of course it does retain every bit of punch as the juniper version, they are gins of distinction after all. Gordon’s sloe gin is 26% ABV.
Making your own sloe gin has become something of an English thing to have ready in time for Christmas, like a Christmas cake or Christmas pudding. It’s easily done by combining berries with distilled gin and sugar, and then left to ferment for as long as you can bear in a dark place.
Quinine is a naturally occurring alkaloid extracted from the bark of the cinchona tree. Spanish colonisers of Peru around the 1630s learned of a plant with healing properties which they sought out and later Carolus Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, classified the family of the Peruvian bark in 1742 and named the tree ‘cinchona’.
Cinchona bark became one of the most valuable exports out of Peru. Oliver Cromwell, who had ordered the execution of King Charles I of England in 1649 after a successful rebellion and civil war, had adamantly refused cinchona when he was struck with malaria in 1658 and died as a result.
During the protectorate of Cromwell, King Charles II (the son of Charles I), was in exile sheltered by King Louis XIV of France. When Charles II was invited back to England to reclaim his throne in 1660, he appointed Robert Talbor as Physician Royal.
In 1679 Charles II contracted tertian fever and was cured by Talbor. When the son of Louis XIV contracted malaria in the same year, Charles II sent Talbor to the French court and the dauphin was cured of malaria. Talbor went on to cure many other royal and aristocratic persons including Queen Louisa Maria of Spain, and quinine became very popular.
The genus Cinchona contains about forty species of trees that grow around 15-20 meters and produce white, pink, or yellow flowers. All cinchonas are indigenous to the eastern slopes of the Amazonian area of the Andes, and are also to be found in its northern parts.
Cinchona belongs to the genus Cinchoneae which in itself is a sub-family of the genus Cinchonoideae which again, is a sub-family of Rubiaceae. Remijia is another sub-family of Rubiaceae containing 45 species and the bark contains 0.5–2% of quinine.
Cinchona trees are widely cultivated today in non-indigenous tropical countries but it is the Remijia trees that are cheaper than bark of cinchona and due to its intense taste is used for making tonic water.
Originally quinine was popular because Malaria had been endemic in Europe and there was no known cure until the introduction of cinchona. However the quality of the bark varied and it was by no means a complete antidote to malaria because some strains of malaria were resistant to quinine. For a hundred years after it arrived in Europe the bark remained difficult to obtain outside of Peru.
Quinine wasn’t generally known about in Europe until 1817 when two French chemists Pierre Joseph Pelletier and Joseph Bienaimé Caventou discovered how to isolate alkaloids from vegetables. They isolated the highest yielding antimalarial alkaloid chemical and named it ‘quinine sulfate’ which is the remedy to treat malaria. The name was derived from the Inca word for the cinchona tree bark; ‘Quina’ which means ‘bark’.
The use of quinine spread rapidly in the United States during the 1820s and English colonies first used it in Asia and Africa. In 1847 it was introduced on all English navy ships in the tropics with instructions to administer crew a measure of bark mixed in some wine before going ashore and the same again on return to ship.
English soldiers in imperial India were given quinine to ward off disease and for general well being. Because of its excessive bitterness, water (later gin) and sugar were added to make the medicine more palatable and this became known as Indian tonic water.
It became so popular that the East India Company was not able to supply enough quinine to meet the demand.
The solution was to grow the cinchona tree in the colonies. To protect their valuable commodity, Peru and surrounding countries outlawed export of cinchona seeds and saplings. Yet seeds of Cinchona calisaya and Cinchona pubescens were smuggled out of South America by the British and the Dutch.
The pubescens species was cultivated in India and Ceylon by the British and by the 1850s the East India Company was spending £100,000 a year harvesting cinchona bark for quinine production and yet it was not enough to meet the demand. The Dutch cultivated the calisaya species in Java.
Both species were to prove inferior for cost-effective commercial production. However, the Dutch tried again this time smuggling the species Cinchona ledgeriana out of Bolivia which established more profitable yields of quinine for Dutch colonial Java.
The English discovered that cut and regrown cinchona produced higher levels of the effective alkaloids in its bark. Meanwhile the Dutch discovered that grafting Cinchona ledgeriana onto the hardier Cinchona succirubra enabled them to corner the market and this drove down the high price of quinine which no doubt saved the lives of many victims of malaria.
By 1918 the majority of the world’s supply of quinine was under the total control of the Dutch ‘kina burea’ in Amsterdam. By the early 1930s they were responsible for 97% of the world’s quinine production.
World War II changed the field when Germany controlled the Netherlands and Japan seized Java in 1942. The cessation of quinine production resulted in thousands of deaths due to the lack of it. Even the Japanese who were ignorant of the power or quinine didn’t make use of it and lost thousands of their soldiers needlessly to disease.
These days quinine is commercially available under brands such as Qualaquin and used in the treatment of lupus and arthritis as well. In the drugs world it is the agent drug dealers use to cut cocaine.
In small dosages many popular alcoholic beverages from around the world use quinine as an ingredient. For example a French apéritif known as quinquina contains quinine (as you might expect,) and in Uruguay and Argentina quinine is an ingredient of a PepsiCo Inc. tonic water named Paso de los Toros.
Dubonnet is an aromatised apéritif blend of herbs and spices and includes a small amount of quinine for bitterness – invented in Paris in 1846 by Joseph Dubonnet. Campari is another bitter apéritif – invented in Italy by Gaspare Campari. However, the ingrediants for Campari have remained a trade secret.
Campari is made by infusing herbs and fruit and it has a predominantly bitter taste that comes from the Chinotto fruit – a sour and bitter fruit of the myrtle-leaved orange tree. But it also contains a small amount of quinine.
And yet Pimms is another example of bitter apéritif that contains quinine.
Gin & Tonic
Reference is made to a beverage called ‘genever’ in a 13th century encyclopaedic work ‘Der Naturen Bloeme‘. On this page we have learned that Dutch genever flourished in the Netherlands in fermented form until distillation was introduced. But the history of gin is a miserable recount of the discovery of a rocket fuel.
In England the dominant drink had been ale until Dutch hopped beer was imported around 1400 CE because hopped beer had opened up an export market. By 1428 CE hops were being planted in England and there was petty rivalry between both types of brew until gin came along two hundred years later.
When it became known how to distil from grain it opened up another export market for the Dutch and when they perfected their distilling technique and learned to blend in aromatics, there was no stopping them and England from 1620 was flooded with genever, later to be referred to as gin.
At one time ingredients had been used to mask the foul taste of gin, but In tropical British colonies gin was used to mask the bitter flavour of quinine, a product deriving from the bark of the cinchona tree and an effective deterrent against malaria.
Quinine was dissolved in carbonated water to form tonic water and gin was then added to mask the taste. This was the beginning of the famous marriage of gin & tonic. This time things didn’t evolve out of a tax requirement but because scurvy, malaria and other nasties were a real problem at sea for the English navy.
In this story, the nation’s favourite tipple and cocktail involves the navy, gin, quinine, carbonated water, ice and a slice of lemon or lime.
A gin and tonic is usually more at home in a highball glass. Gin and a little vermouth is poured over ice and Indian tonic water to top up then add the citrus fruit.
The classic choice for a Gin and Tonic is a London dry style gin, a crisp and bold juniper infused distillate that includes the brands Tanqueray, Beefeater, Seagram’s, Gordon’s, Greenhill’s, as well as many others.
Although gin is a harsh liquid the botanicals do come through if mixed correctly at the start. Too many lemon pieces in the glass, too much vermouth, too much tonic water, too much bitters; these factors can all destroy the subtle flavours that are suspended in the alcohol.
So when mixing, take care to issue the correct amount of gin over ice; add the very smallest amount of your favourite vermouth, something like one part vermouth to five parts gin; then add half a slice of citrus fruit; and top the glass with tonic water, something like one part gin to three parts tonic water.
What you are looking for is a combination that tastes really nice, then you will have found the classic taste of a classic gin and tonic. Keep adjusting your ratios until you can taste the gin. Otherwise you may as well buy the cheapest gin on the market and save your money.
Two ways that aide the search for tasting the botanicals are to use a slice of cucumber instead of citrus, this subtle infusion adds a delicate note and does not overpower the botanicals. Try subtler tonic waters, for example the brand Fever Tree have been globally praised for their excellent range of tonics.
Fever Tree is a little more expensive but the difference is like that between champagne and sparkling wine where Fever Tree takes the role of champagne. It is a wonderfully fresh taste sensation that is almost as neutral as the gin spirit and so blends itself to the gin allowing delicate flavours to pass through.
Instead of using a splash of Angostura bitters try Hendrick’s gin, it is quite a bitter gin and so your tasting can feel the effect of the alcohol and work from there to distinguish the aromas.
If you still cannot decipher anything, try some drops of Nielsen & Massey rose water to give the beverage a twist, it may not be to everyone’s taste but the rose water carry the botanicals with its own aroma.
When you feel you are appreciating the gin a slightly bolder approach can be experimented with. Try adding a couple of grated shavings of ginger or perhaps a hint of orange and ginger liqueurs. And even a slice of mandarin or a star anise instead of lemon.
Winston Churchill stated: “The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.”
The books and newspapers of the early 1920s make mention of a gin cocktail called the ‘Gin Twist’. It was the big drink of its day yet surprisingly you do not find much information about it on the internet other than a brief paragraph stating that in 1923 the Gin Twist was all the rage, consisting of gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and hot water.
It is reckoned to be a lost cocktail. It came from an era when gin was not mixed with much other than water or tonic, art deco introduced variation or ‘mixers’ and so it was gin with a twist. Therefore anything added to gin and tonic can be called a gin twist.
Here is an example of a Gin Twist:
- 1 shot Gin
- Half a shot Blue Curacao
- Top up with Bitter Lemon
Another gin recipe and a more familiar one is the Gin Gimlet. The English navy mixed gin with lime juice to prevent scurvy.
As they had added gin to quinine here again gin was added to make lime more palatable. The Gimlet cocktail is simply gin with lime and a little simple syrup.
The Gimlet, can be made with gin or vodka, lime and soda water.
Tonic water is carbonated water in which quinine is dissolved. The difference between Indian tonic water and tonic water is that Indian tonic water has a significantly higher quinine content due to its historic medicinal use. Both are used as alcoholic mixers because of the distinctive bitter flavour
However nowhere near as much quinine is added in tonic water as for medicinal treatment. A glass of tonic water holds roughly 20 mg of quinine. For the treatment of ailments other than malaria a dose would be in the region of 200 to 300 mg. But you would need to consume 20 liters of tonic water daily to achieve the dosage necessary to treat malaria.
The English theologian and clergyman Joseph Priestley (1733 – 1804) published many works and is generally credited with the discovery of oxygen. In 1772 he published a paper with a most wonderfully title:
Impregnating Water with Fixed Air
He described dripping sulfuric acid onto chalk to produce carbon dioxide gas, and encouraging the gas to dissolve into an agitated bowl of water. He found that water treated this way had a pleasant taste and that became his invention of carbonated water.
Carbonated water goes by many names; soda water, club soda, Seltzer. Seltzer is pure carbonated water originating from one location in Germany that first produced it whereas other soda types have added minerals like potassium bicarbonate and potassium citrate to enhance the flavour or added sodium.
Tonic water is carbonated water containing quinine and a sweetener like high fructose corn syrup or an artificial sweetener to make a diet tonic water. So as a beverage ingredient soda adds a pleasant tasting water base (mixer) and tonic adds sweet and bitter qualities. So whereas soda and seltzer are interchangeable, soda and tonic are not.
It was discovered in 1824 by the English navy that Angostura bitters were effective against seasickness and they were therefore used for medicinal purposes. As had been the case with quinine in wine, the navy found that bitters were a great accompaniment to gin, producing a pink gin.
During the 1840s the English were using 700 tons of cinchona bark annually and Pink Gin became a cocktail fashionable in London made with Plymouth gin and enough Angostura bitters to turn the drink pink.
In 1858 Erasmus Bond introduced the first commercial tonic water and soon after in 1870 Schweppes introduced Indian Quinine Tonic. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Schweppes is supposed to be thought of as the best Indian tonic water out there but it can be quite brutish to gin and masks almost all of the flavour of London dry gins. On the other hand Canada Dry is very sweet and equally brutish for the same reason as above.
Looking on the bright side, soda water and tonic water contains no fat, calories or cholesterol.
Seagram’s gin. Only four other brands sell more bottles per year. Owned by the same company that owns Beefeater gin, the 3rd largest selling gin producer in the world. Whatever the gin brand, it is ideally diluted with tonic water.
Fever Tree produce premium drink mixers including tonic water, ginger beer and lemonade and a recently introduced ‘aromatic tonic water’ which is truly inspiring. The product contains pimento berries from Jamaica, and ginger from Cochin and it has been designed to be paired with juniper-rich gins such as Plymouth Gin.
Fever Tree recommend their aromatic tonic water for Pink Gin garnished with lemon zest.
Pinkster is a delightful pink gin made from raspberries, the company is based in Cambridge.
Its origins date back to the start of the 1800s.
How many brands do you know?
Two of this company’s gin brands are in the top 5 selling gins in the world
Pernod Ricard UK has recently acquired the premium dry gin Monkey 47 which is now available in the UK adding yet another quality gin to their portfolio.
The company started in 1975 when two French anise-based spirits companies joined: Pernod, founded in 1805, and Ricard, founded in 1932.
Chairman & CEO Alexandre Ricard, looks over 18,000 employees in 80 countries. They have a large portfolio of international brands that are constantly winning brand prizes. instance.
3rd best selling gin – worldwide
Beefeater takes its name from the Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London, also known as ‘Beefeaters’.
Beefeater’s creator, James Burrough, was a trained pharmacist whose passion for experimenting and developing flavours led him to discover a recipe of nine natural botanicals that resulted in a distinctively bold and full-flavoured gin. Combined with his unique method of steeping the blend in the grain alcohol for 24 hours prior to distillation, Beefeater London Dry Gin was born.
Today’s Beefeater Master Distiller, Desmond Payne, maintains guardianship of the Beefeater London Dry Gin recipe developed by James Burrough in the 1860s. Desmond, with more than 40 years’ experience in the industry, is the world’s most experienced gin distiller and created the award-winning super-premium gin Beefeater 24.
Owned by Pernod Ricard
5th best selling gin – worldwide
Seagram’s is a Canadian gin and the best selling gin in Canada and America.
Seagram’s Extra Dry Gin Launched 1939 Exceptionally smooth with hints of orange peel, cinnamon and lilac in the nose. Exceedingly mixable, it makes a superb, sophisticated martini and is equally delicious in a casual mix of tonic, fruit juice, or soda.
There are many varieties with a ‘twist’ including: melon, red berry, pineapple, apple and grape.
Owned by Pernod Ricard
Seagram’s Extra Dry Gin
Havana Club Rum
3rd best selling rum – worldwide
Havana Club is the genuine iconic Cuban rum international brand.
Havana Club has kept alive the art of ageing and blending premium rums, thus ensuring the heritage and excellence of the Cuban rum-making tradition.
The art of Añejamiento (“ageing”), based on successive ageing and blending, is the essence of Havana Club rum, proceeding with the greatest respect for Cuban tradition. All rums in the Havana Club range are aged, hence their name Añejo (“aged”),
Owned by Pernod Ricard
No1 best selling coconut flavoured rum – worldwide
An innovative and dynamic white rum which invites consumers around the world to share the Caribbean spirit.
3.5 million cases sold worldwide. Produced on the island of Barbados, Malibu owes its unique taste to a refined blend of Caribbean rum, natural coconut flavours and very high quality pure cane sugar.
Malibu has received many awards, including Impact magazine’s “Hottest Brand” award in 2003, 2004 and 2005, followed by the Adam’s Growth Brand award in 2006. In 2008, Malibu received eight medals in international spirits competitions.
Owned by Pernod Ricard
Other popular and hugely successful brands owned by Pernod Ricard
- Ballantine’s whisky – No2 Scotch whisky worldwide
- Jameson Irish whiskey – No1 Irish whiskey worldwide
- Absolut Vodka – No2 vodka worldwide
- Kahlúa – No1 coffee liqueur worldwide
- Ricard – No1 aniseed-based spirit worldwide
- Martell – No.1 Cognac worldwide
- The Glenlivet – No.2 malt whisky worldwide
Monkey 47 Gin
The new product from Pernod Ricard via its German affiliate Pernod Ricard Deutschland.
This January 2016 it was announced that the acquisition of a majority share of the dry-gin brand Monkey 47 was agreed between Pernod Ricard and Black Forest Distillers.
The gin is produced in the Black Forest region in Germany. Monkey 47 is already a very successful gin without the new investment.
Yes there is actually a real monkey in the story of this gin and the number 47 refers to the number of herbs that are hand picked for the making, many from the Black Forest itself.
The world’s best selling premium rum brand is BACARDI. Bacardi has a portfolio of more than 200 brands including DEWAR’S Blended Scotch whisky, BOMBAY SAPPHIRE gin, MARTINI & NOILLY PRAT vermouths, GREY GOOSE vodka, and CAZADORES tequila.
Founded by Don Facundo Bacardi a Spaniard from Barcelona, today Bacardi rum is produced in Puerto Rico, filtered five times for smoothness then aged in American white oak barrels.
In 1862, Don Facundo Bacardi was in Cuba and with help from a Cuban called José León Boutellier, they developed the world’s first smooth light-bodied spirit — Using cognac yeast, charcol filtration and white oak barrel ageing.
They sold the rum through Bacardi’s brother’s store until they were able to buy a distillery. The company company grew and Bacardi was able to buy out his brother and Boutellier.
The rum Bacardi is fundamental to many popular cocktails. One such is the Original Cuba Libre dating back to the Cuban War for Independence in 1898, when Colonel Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Cuba. And soon after they brought in Coca-Cola.
The story goes that in 1900 an American Captain in Havana ordered a Bacardi with Coca-Cola served with lime. Captain Russell proposed a toast to ‘Cuba libre’ which means ‘free Cuba’. So the cuba libre was born, aka rum & coke.
Around 6,000,000 cuba libres are consumed every day around the world.