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 Corkscrew  Share this article     Summary of Not Just Wine column  
  Not Just Wine Issue 13, November 2003   
GinGin Wine ParadeWine Parade  Contents 
Issue 12, October 2003 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 14, December 2003


Produced by the distillation of cereals and aromatized with juniper berries and other essences, it is one of the most used spirits for the creation of cocktails


The Origins

 The history of great spirits is always rich of episodes and it is pretty difficult to tell history from legend. Gin is no exception. The history of gin originated in Netherlands. The story goes that a Dutch pharmacist, Sylvius Franciscus, physician and teacher at the University of Leiden, experimented in the seventeenth century a remedy for stomach and kidneys diseases by using alcohol of grain and juniper berries (juniperus communis). That is how the recipe of Jenever was invented, and later it will become “gin”. In Great Britain it is said that in the seventeenth century they produced “Geneva”, by using barley and other cereals blended with juniper berries. As already said, Jenever was intended as a therapeutic remedy that, by using the characteristics of alcohol as well as of juniper berries, could be used as a digestive beverage as well as a remedy for kidneys.


 This remedy was very successful in Netherlands and later it also arrived in England. In the beginning English imported huge quantity of gin, however they did not just drink it, indeed they also contributed to the evolution and to the development of the beverage that, in the meantime, lost its characteristics of remedy and was mainly used as an alcoholic beverage. In the beginning for the production of gin was used essential oil of juniper berries infused in alcohol. They were English that subsequently infused juniper berries directly with alcohol, as well as coriander berries, orange peel and other vegetal in order to smooth its aroma and its taste. This is how English gin was born, different from its Dutch progenitor: “London dry gin”.

 Gin rapidly became a very popular liquor, however the continuous increase of consumptions was suddenly stopped by the time it was promulgated a law, the so called “Gin Act”, which limited the selling of gin and imposed a high tax on the beverage, with the result of lowering the spreading in favor of cheaper beverages such as tea. This law, whose purpose was to lower the production and consumption of Geneva, did not obtain the results they hoped, and just like in the United States of America during prohibitionism, in the beginning both production and consumption in England decreased, but this was just a temporary effect. Indeed, the law favored clandestine production and gave a strong impulse to the imports from France and Netherlands, in particular from the city of Schidam, name still used today by English to refer to Dutch gin. The “Gin Act” was abrogated in 1742 with the purpose of limiting smuggling and clandestinity, however the result was an increase in consumption. The law called “Gin Act” did not obtain the results they hoped, however it was not useless, in fact it was thanks to this law, especially after it was abrogated and gin was controlled by the revenue bureau, started a competition among producers with the result of increasing the quality level of the product. Slowly the evolution of distillation techniques improved the product up to nowadays. Currently there are two different techniques used for the production of gin. In Netherlands is used the method of distillation of cereal alcohol (barley, corn, rye and others) blended to juniper berries and other aromatic plants. Sometimes the obtained product is redistilled in order to produce “double gin”. In Great Britain the base product can be any neutral ethyl alcohol which is subsequently aromatized with juniper berries, coriander (coriandrum sativum) and other aromatic herbs as well as anise and fennel seeds, lemon and orange peel, licorice roots, angelica, iris, cardamom, cumin and almonds. This aromatized liquor is subsequently distilled: the final product will be “London dry gin”.

 Gin is rarely aged, however for its aging are used oak casks which give the beverage a slightly golden color and it named as “golden gin”. Moreover, there is another method used for the production of gin by adding aromatic and essential oils produced by industrial processes to neutral alcohol: a disputable technique which produces a disputable gin. Despite the events happened in the course of its history, gin is still largely consumed in north Europe and north America, drunk both as an aperitif and plain as corroborant, as well as a main ingredient in many cocktails and long drinks.


Types of Gin

 The base of gin is a distilled liquor from cereals, such as corn, and juniper berries, coriander seeds and other aromatic herbs, it basically is a colorless product with about 43-45% of alcohol by volume. The most common and popular gins are the ones from England with a characteristic dry taste. Dutch gins, produced with the “pot still”, are richer, more aromatic and structured than the ones from England. As opposed to other styles, Dutch gins are aged from one to three years in oak casks and have a pale golden color. In Italy it is produced a gin by using the best juniper berries from the Mediterranean and producers claim its characteristics are similar to the beverage produced by monks of Alverna, near Arezzo, in the thirteenth century.

Juniper berries: the main ingredient for the
production of gin
Juniper berries: the main ingredient for the production of gin

 There are many types of gin. The “classic” London dry gin, colorless, dry, aromatic, can also be produced as “premium” with a higher alcohol by volume. “Old Tom gin”, colorless and produced in England, sweetened with a little of sugar or sugar syrup, was very popular in England during the eighteenth century. It seems its name derives from the first automatic beverage dispensing machine installed in some English pubs in the 1700's. It seems that after having inserted a penny in the mouth of the cat, a gin shot was served by a bartender through a pipe directly to the mouth of the client.

 Plymouth gin, colorless, dry, with a very intense aroma and characteristic nuances of roots, must be produced in the area of Plymouth, England, from which it also takes its name. Plymouth gin has a long history, it was born in 1793, and it is still produced in the most ancient and still working distillery. Plymouth gin, with its characteristic aroma, was used for cocktails since 1896 and was used for the original Dry Martini mentioned in many recipes of that time. Plymouth gin is round and aromatic with a taste characterized by juniper and with clean and elegant nuances of coriander, orange and lemon peel, however it is a combination of Old Tom gin and London gin. Among other types or gin are included Jenever gin, produced in Netherlands and aged in the characteristic earthenware bottles; Sloe gin, with its violet color, aromatized with wild plums macerated in the product, then filtered and slightly sweetened; Pink gin, aromatized with Angostura; Orange gin and Lemon gin, colorless and aromatized with essences of citrus fruits.


Production of Gin

 There are many methods for the production of gin, however European directives only recognizes two of them: the one produced from distillation and the one produced by aromatizing alcohol. Gin can be produced with three different techniques, distillation, percolation and maceration, and each one of them allow the production of a beverage having different characteristics and qualities. The preparation of a liquor can appear as simple when compared to the production of a brandy, despite the fact the chemical industry produces extracts used by many companies (concentrated substances and active principles) many distilleries produce the vegetal essences themselves.

 In the preparation of gin, the sugar used is colorless and has no iron traces, water is neutral with no organoleptic quality and demineralized, fruit juice is produced and processed when it is still fresh. Distillation is the operation that allows the separation, by processing a fermented must, of the alcohol utilizing the different boiling temperatures of the many components. There are two distillation techniques: continuous and batch. Continuous distillation is done by using stills that allow a continuous processing of the raw matters. Batch distillation is done by using traditional stills, where the liquid produced by one still is put into another and redistilled. This process produces a higher alcohol by volume and a more pure product; in fact the first distillation produces a liquor with an alcohol by volume of 28-30%, whereas in the second distillation the alcohol by volume can be as high as 75-85%.

 Distillation is not a simple task, it should be considered that must is made of many substances, including alcohol, esters and other volatile substances, each one having a different boiling temperature and not all of them have good characteristics for the production of a good brandy. For this reason during the distillation process are usually considered three different phases where three different products are obtained: head, heart and tail. During the first and last phase, the less noble substances are being transported by the evaporating alcohol and considered as “spoiling” and unpleasing, therefore they are eliminated. The three parts are not clearly distinguishable one from each other: only a master and expert distiller, by using proper instruments, knows when the distilled liquid coming out from the still can be considered as good and suited for commercialization.

 The preparation of gin consists in a solution of water, alcohol, juniper berries and other aromatic substances, put in the still, left to settle at a temperature of 40-50° C (104-122° F) for three days, therefore the distillation process is done. Ethyl alcohol, during its evaporation, transports aromatic components of herbs. Percolation consist in the preparation of a large tank, similar to a giant moka coffee pot, whose bottom is filled with hydroalcoholic solution and in the center is put a basket filled with herbs and aromatic substances, just over the solution. The process starts by increasing the temperature of the hydroalcoholic solution at 50-60° C (122-140° F): vapors, by raising up, pass through the herbs while extracting the aromatic substances which fall down and get mixed to the hydroalcoholic solution. This process lasts for about two days and at the end the aromatic hydroalcoholic solution is drawn from the tank.

 The maceration process is used in case a higher quantity of aromatic essences is to be extracted from herbs or roots. The efficiency of this process depends on the fact aromatic substances are in direct contact with the solvent solution: in a tank is put the hydroalcoholic solution and all the aromatic herbs, at a temperature of 45-50° C (113-122° F) for about two weeks. Among the many methods used for the production of gin, the most important one is distillation, used for London dry gin and Plymouth gin. The other method, less used, is the aromatization of alcohol, technically known as compounding, and gins produced in this way have a predominant aroma of juniper. In this method alcohol has a fundamental importance: it must be particularly neutral with a volume of at least 96%.

 Gin is now mainly used as a base ingredient for cocktails, including Negroni, invented in the 1920's when count Negroni suggested this recipe to barman Luigi Scarselli, it is made of red vermouth, bitter Campari and dry gin. Very famous is also Martini cocktail, mainly known for having being one of the most preferred cocktails of writer Ernest Hemingway, who liked it so dry that he excluded all the other ingredients and left just the base: gin. The recipe of Martini cocktail is dry gin, dry vermouth and a green olive.



 In order to taste a distilled beverage it is required a tranquil environment, with no noises and not influenced by extraneous smells; a proper glass, preferably a tulip shaped glass, clean and odorless, some water low in salts. In case the tasting is about many distilled beverages, the most delicate one will be the first one to be tasted.


  • Pour the beverage in the glass and smell it while trying to have a first impression. It should be remembered that smelling a substance for a prolonged time has an “anesthetizing” effect on the olfactory bulb, as our sense organs tend to ignore a smell which was perceived for a very long time
  • Cover the glass with the palm of the hand and hold the glass between the middle finger and the annular finger of the other hand, slowly rotate the glass as much as it is necessary to slightly shake the beverage, uncover the glass and smell again. This operation is useful for the perception of other delicate aromas
  • Dilute the beverage with little of water in order to allow other aromas to emerge to the opening of the glass. Add as much water as the beverage contained in the glass. Repeat the process until the last olfactory perceptions are being perceived
  • Take a little sip of the liquor while making sure the tongue is perfectly in contact with the beverage in order to better appreciate the fundamental flavors; the diluted liquor will be well tolerated by taste buds. Swallow while trying to analyze the many gustatory nuances and their persistence in the mouth, that is the quantity of time in which flavors can be perceived

 In the beginning it will not be easy to distinguish aromas and flavors, however with the right practice and training it will be possible to recognize, isolate and distinguish the many organoleptic sensations.


 Corkscrew  Share this article     Summary of Not Just Wine column  
  Not Just Wine Issue 13, November 2003   
GinGin Wine ParadeWine Parade  Contents 
Issue 12, October 2003 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 14, December 2003

Wine Parade


The best 15 wines according to DiWineTaste's readers. To express your best three wines send us an E-mail or fill in the form available at our WEB site.

Rank Wine, Producer
1 Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto Superiore “Prova d'Autore” 2001, Bonfiglio (Italy)
2 Masseto 1998, Tenuta dell'Ornellaia (Italy)
3 Franciacorta Cuvée Annamaria Clementi 1996, Ca' del Bosco (Italy)
4 Château Laroque Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classè 1998 (France)
5 Capo di Stato 1998, Conte Loredan Gasparin (Italy)
6 Teroldego Rotaliano Granato 1998, Foradori (Italy)
7 Fumé Blanc Napa Valley 2001, Grgich Hills (USA)
8 Alto Adige Gewürztraminer Kolbenhof 2002, Hofstätter (Italy)
9 Sauvignon Blanc 2000, Cakebread (USA)
10 Shiraz 2000, Plantaganet (Australia)
11 Margaux 2000, Ségla (France)
12 Barolo Brunate 1999, Enzo Boglietti (Italy)
13 Riesling Adelaide Hills 2001, Nephente (Australia)
14 Pinot Noir 1998, Mountadam (Australia)
15 Turriga 1998, Argiolas (Italy)

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