What is Gin

A Complete Guide to Gin

By Timo Torner / Last updated on January 2, 2023

First published on September 16, 2022 

Gin is a juniper-infused spirit flavored with different botanicals. It's a tremendously versatile liquor, available in countless types, styles, and flavor profiles amongst Gins.

In the last few years, Gin became an extremely relevant ingredient in cocktails. The spirit infused with juniper berries has always played a vital role in mixology, but with modern types and flavor profiles, the impact grew even further.

Still, answering the question of what Gin actually is, is not as straightforward as it may seem. So, what turns a clear, distilled grain spirit into Gin?

What is Gin?

Gin is a distilled spirit infused with juniper berries and additional botanicals. It's typically clear unless having been aged or sold as a Sloe Gin.

The ABV of Gin has to be at least 40% in the US. In other parts of the world, the alcohol content typically ranges between 35% and 57%.

Usually, the base spirit is obtained from grains, but other ingredients, like potatoes or grapes, can be used, as well.

Juniper berries

Besides juniper berries, Gin can be flavored with all sorts of botanicals. There are no limits to what can be used to flavor the spirit. You can find classic flavorings like citrus peels or angelica roots and exotic ones like Kalahari truffles, seaweed, and even meat.

But one thing every Gin must contain is juniper berries. Without it, a spirit cannot be called a Gin. But since that is the only legal requirement, it leaves a lot of room to get creative.

Gin Fact Sheet

Spirit base: Mostly grain but also potato, grapes, etc.
ABV: 37.5% to 57%
Proof: 75 to 114
Calories per ounce: 57 to 92
Origin: England & the Netherlands
Color: transparent (unaged), light golden (cask-aged), red (Sloe Gin)
Best served: Highballs or cocktails

How Gin tastes

The variety of flavors in Gin is immense. Still, a regular Dry Gin tastes slightly herbal and often has citrus notes and a spice mix in the background. The juniper notes are well-pronounced, and the other botanicals are mainly there to build complexity.

However, the taste of Gin heavily depends on the type and on the botanicals used in the production process.

More modern expressions sometimes lack junipery notes. Instead, these Gins pronounce citric, floral, or herbal flavors.

The different Gin types

Here's an overview of the most common styles available:

  • London Dry Gin
  • Dry Gin
  • Plymouth Gin
  • Sloe Gin
  • New Western Dry Gin
  • Old Tom Gin
  • Reserve / Cask-aged Gin
  • Compound / Bathtub Gin
  • Genever

The classic types of Gin are London Dry and Dry Gin. More modern variations include New Western Dry Gin or Cask-aged Gin. If you want to know more, read our guide to the different Gin types

The history of Gin

The origin of Gin likely goes back about 1000 years, but there are a lot of gaps and holes to fill. So I want to give you a rough timeline of the events that lead to the Gin of today:

The early mentions

The earliest roots of Gin date back to the 11th century. Back then, monks in Italy created medical tonics reminiscent of Gin, containing alcohol infused with juniper berries.

The earliest reference to Jenever, another predecessor, dates back to the 13th century. However, this reference was just a mention, and the earliest printed recipe followed in the 16th century.

Later, during the 17th century, Dutch and Flemish distillers established the re-distillation of grain spirits with additional ingredients like juniper berries, anise, coriander, and caraway.

Those spirits were sold in pharmacies to cure numerous diseases like kidney or stomach ailments and gallstones.

The Gin Craze

In the early 17th century, a slightly modified form of Gin came up in England. The popularity of this juniper-infused spirit skyrocketed once the British government allowed production without the need for a license.

That, in turn, led to lower Gin prices. In the time that followed, Gin was so cheap that people, especially the poor, drank way too much of the strong alcohol. The years from 1730 to 1750 became known as the Gin Craze, with over 7000 Gin shops in London alone.

Distilled Gin

Only in 1751 did consumption decline - probably due to increased grain prices. Around the same time, a sweeter style of Gin, called Old Tom, came up. It lost popularity around 1830 when the column still was invented, and people started distilling London Dry Gin

The quality of London Dry Gin evolved over the decades, but, apart from that, things didn't change much. Only in the early 2010s, something shifted, and Gin became a worldwide phenomenon.

Botanicals for Gin

How to make Gin

Gin can be made in different ways. For instance, you can infuse the spirit with botanicals before or after distillation. If the herbs and spices go in retroactively, vapor infusions help impart the flavor and aroma of the ingredients into the spirit.

Compound Gin, also known as Bathtub Gin, uses a simpler approach. A neutral base spirit is infused with fruits, herbs, peels, and other botanicals. In the past, people sometimes used bathtubs to produce this kind of Gin. -Hence the name Bathtub Gin.

That is also the approach utilized in the homemade Gin kits you can find online or in stores. However, the results are often of low quality.

Gin and Tonic

Gin in cocktails

The most popular way to drink the juniper-infused spirit is in a Gin & Tonic. The challenge here is to choose a tonic that complements your Gin.

A Dry Martini is another option to showcase the different botanicals in the spirit. 

Besides these two-ingredient drinks, many other cocktails rely on Gin as a base spirit: The Negroni, Aviation, and Gin Basil Smash - to name just a few.

Because the flavors of Gin vary widely, selecting the perfect Gin for these cocktails can be challenging. Therefore, you can find recommendations for suitable options here:

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