THE LIFE OF GIN
Gin is a distilled white spirit made from grains (usually wheat or rye) infused with juniper berries and varied “botanicals” like herbs and spices. The English coined the term “gin” as a shorter version of “genever,” the Dutch word for “juniper.” Although the origin of Gin is somewhat of a murky history, here’s a shot at chronicling the uncertain and checkered Life of Gin, as we know it.
Fighting the Spanish in Holland during the Dutch War of Independence, British troops bolster themselves for battle with a juniper-flavored spirit they call "Dutch courage.”
Dr. Sylvius, in Leyden, Holland, infuses juniper berries into distilled grain spirits to cure kidney disorders. He calls this potion “genever” after the French “genièvre” for “juniper.”
English royals William and Mary encourage their subjects to produce Gin at home…after all, drinking Gin is safer than drinking English water. Cheaper than beer or ale, Gin becomes the preferred beverage for England’s working class. Gin abuse is rampant, madness.
"Gin Madness" is pandemic in London as the poor guzzle Gin to escape the woes of life. Dram shops advertise, "Drunk for a penny, dead drunk for two pence and a straw for nothing.”
Londoners consume 11 million gallons of Gin a year. William Hogarth releases his engraving 'Gin Lane' to show just how widespread Gin abuse really is. The Gin of this era is the precursor to Old Tom’s Gin, the lightly sweetened style popular in the 18th Century.
Interesting side note: The name “Old Tom” comes from “Old Tom” cat. Some English pubs hang a plaque shaped like a black cat (an "Old Tom") outside on the wall. Pedestrians in need of a drink drop a penny in the cat’s mouth then insert the small tube between the cat’s paws into their mouth. Inside, a barkeep collects the penny and pours a shot of Gin through the tube and down the customer’s gullet. The birth of the vending machine!
Parliament passes The Tippling Act, putting an end to "Gin Madness." Small Gin shops shut down as larger, reputable distillers and retailers take over. Now comes to England a quality, commercial Gin. Gin starts its trundle to respectability and in time become the gentleman's drink.
On the coattails of the colonists, Gin enters the New World.
Witness the first reference to Coates & Co.’s refined style, Plymouth Dry Gin. Produced at the Black Friars Distillery, Plymouth, England, this is the world’s first Dry Gin.
Gin gains respectability in Victorian England as British high society embraces the new, cleaner “Dry Gin.” This style becomes identified with London, hence the generic term "London Dry." British “ladies” sip Sloe Gin, and “Pink Gins” (with Angostura bitters) and London Dry shows up in respectable establishments. Recipes for Gin-based cocktails proliferate, including the Gin and Tonic, a beverage English officers create to ward off malaria.
Martini Origin Urban Myth #1: Occidental Hotel, San Francisco. A bartender mixes bitters, maraschino, vermouth, ice and Old Tom Gin (sugar syrup on request) for a customer on his way to “Martinez,” CA.
Martini Origin Urban Myth #2: In Martinez, CA, a prospector pays for a bottle of whiskey with a gold nugget so huge he demands an extra drink on the house. The bartender has no problem with this and creates a Gin and vermouth drink he names after the town, "Martinez.”
Martini Origin Urban Myth #3: Martini di Arma di Taggia, bartender at New York's Hotel Knickerbocker, mixes up a drink using equal parts of London Dry and Noilly Pratt Vermouth with orange bitters. Customers added olives by whim.
August 16, 1920
With The Volstead Act, Prohibition sweeps the U.S. forcing thirsty Americans to distill their own Gin, the easiest spirit to produce illegally. “Bathtub Gin" becomes America’s bootleg of choice, a libation many say tastes like its name.
The cocktail hour slips into the U.S. lifestyle, starting at noon with the three-martini lunch.
After two decades of freewheeling popularity, the three-martini lunch gets the thumbs down. Thumbs up goes to Perrier.
Gin loses face and Vodka becomes the most widely consumed spirit in the U.S.
The Gin decline continues. “An amusing antique” says Time Magazine of the Martini.
Down but not knocked out, the martini resurges in popularity with the 20 to 30-somethings infatuated with the glam of old Hollywood and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Enter Light, 80-proof Leyden Dry Gin, produced in Schiedam's historic Dirkzwager distillery, the first new Gin to appear on the American scene in nearly a decade.
British author Doris Lessing, celebrating news of her Nobel Prize for Literature, bypasses a glass of bubbly for a stiff gin and tonic.
Fritz Hahn, writing in the Washington Post, dubs New Heights' small bar the "Gin Joint."
The Gin Joint at New Heights memorializes Gin in its official battle cry, “There's a Gin for every season, a Gin for any reason.”
September 21, 2009
New Heights’ Gin Joint hosts Ginmeister Scott Krahn as he educates the D.C. press about his own gin masterpiece, DH Krahn New World style Gin.
The Life of Gin...alive, well and stylin' at New Heights' Gin Joint, Woodley Park, D.C.