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Like many inventions, gin owes its origins to an idea that was originally intended to serve a completely different purpose. The exciting story of gin begins in a laboratory in the Dutch city of Leiden.

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Like many inventions, gin owes its origins to an idea that was originally intended to serve a completely different purpose. The exciting story of gin begins in a laboratory in the Dutch city of Leiden.

From medicine to trendy drink: the history of gin

In the middle of the 17th century, the German doctor Franciscus Sylvius, who was practising in Holland, tried to develop a medicine against stomach diseases, kidney stones and colic. He distilled juniper berries for this purpose. The spicy juniper schnapps, to which a limited healing or calming effect may well be attributed, soon developed into a "scene drink" among the population. The patients treated with it found the spice distillate so good that the doctor was confronted with a constantly increasing demand for this "medicine". Genever (or jenever, Dutch for juniper, derived from the botanical name Juniperus) became a sought-after drop, so that Sylvius soon commissioned professional distilleries to help him with production. Commercial production for the non-pharmaceutical market began.

The busy Dutch sailors made sure that jenever became known beyond the Dutch border. English soldiers who fought alongside the Dutch in the Dutch-Spanish War (1568-1648) brought the juniper spirit to the British Isles, where it was given the name gin (shortened from genever). In the middle of the 17th century, there were about 5000 Dutch living in London, which ensured a further spread of the drink.

When William of Orange became co-regent in England at the end of the 17th century, tolerance towards Catholicism and Catholic-influenced countries was over. Under the reign of the new ruler, the import of French brandy was prohibited and high taxes were levied on German beer and French and Spanish wines. As a result, domestically produced gin became the cheapest alcoholic beverage, and even the poorest could afford the juniper schnapps. Queen Anne, who took over the sceptre after William's death in 1702, allowed every Englishman to produce gin. This led to the unrestricted production of alcohol in almost every English household. In 1727, it is recorded that six million Englishmen consumed 22,730,460 litres of gin per year.

This mass consumption, however, developed into a problem that could no longer be ignored; more and more low-quality booze flooded the market. Politicians reacted in 1736 with the first so-called "Gin Act". Production without a licence and the sale of household quantities were banned. The minimum purchase quantity was set at around nine litres, so that only rich Englishmen could afford gin. In addition, distilleries had to pay a special annual levy of 50 pounds, which only a few distillers could afford. The "Fifty Pounds Gin" is a brand that is still available today. The name is a reminder of the special levy currently imposed on distilleries.

Despite all the requirements, the "Gin Act" did not have the desired effect. The measures largely came to nothing, because the composition of the gin was defined by law. It was possible to circumvent the laws through minor deviations in the recipe. It is estimated that in the mid-18th century, both adults and children drank more than 0.5 litres of gin per day. Tighter rules were the result: licences became cheaper, but the gin could no longer be sold to end customers and state controls were extended. The measures showed success - the population-wide drunkenness could be curbed. Gin was no longer a cheap hooch, but developed into a strictly controlled noble distillate.

How is gin made, what are "botanicals" and what types of gin are there?

Gin is distilled from grain or molasses. It gets its characteristic taste from the addition of spices, above all juniper and coriander. About 120 different ingredients, so-called botanicals, are used for gin production, depending on the producer. Berries, barks, seeds, herbs - there are almost no limits to a gin distiller's imagination. The exact composition remains his closely guarded secret.

Flavouring takes place either during or after distillation. In one process, the alcohol vapours are passed over the spices; in the other, the additives float in the raw alcohol and are distilled together with it. This process is known in the trade as maceration. If the spirit is bottled directly after maceration, it is called "compound gin". This is the cheapest variant, which is not held in high esteem by experts. If the maceration is followed by a further distillation run, the so-called "distilled gin" is produced, with which four classic types are distinguished: the dry dry gin as well as the dry London Dry Gin, the sweeter variants Old Tom and Plymouth Gin as well as the Dutch Genever and the Sloe Gin. Strictly speaking, the latter do not count as classic gins. The Dutch genever recipe differs fundamentally from that of the gin, the sloe gin is a sloe liqueur.

The different varieties are distinguished by the following taste characteristics:

- DRY GIN is dry and juniper-driven.

- NEW WESTERN DRY GIN is a modern interpretation of dry gin, with juniper taking a back seat to other flavours.

- LONDON DRY GIN is not a designation of origin, but a recipe that is dry and strongly (juniper-accented) flavoured.

- PLYMOUTH GIN indicates the origin. This gin is slightly sweetened.

- OLD TOM GIN is a slightly sweetened variant that is particularly suitable for mixing cocktails. According to tradition, the name derives from the "tomcat" statues that were installed on the stonework of some pubs after the passing of the Gin Act in the 18th century. Passers-by put a penny in the tomcat's mouth. The innkeeper then poured a tankard of gin into a pipe that ended at the tomcat's feet, allowing passers-by to secretly consume gin.

- GENEVER is a sweet-aromatic gin distilled mainly in the Netherlands.