It’s not only the Queen Mum, Winston Churchill and Snoop Dogg who have shared a love for this juniper-flavored spirit. Nowadays, you’ll find gin all over Germany, in the nation’s living rooms and trendiest bars. Gin has become one of the most popular and fashionable tipples. Taking a closer look at the drink’s history reveals that gin has a long and colorful history. Juniper, one of gin’s main ingredients, is actually a medicinal plant and was once used to treat a wide range of ailments, including gastrointestinal diseases. So, it’s no surprise that it’s a doctor who is today considered to be at least partly responsible for giving gin its name. According to the oldest sources, the Dutch doctor François de la Boie is said to have distilled a juniper spirit called Genever. However, because juniper-based spirits had been used for medicinal purposes for centuries, it is impossible to say precisely who invented the original precursor of modern gin. In any case, the medicinal spirit quickly became popular as a stimulant and gained favor among the Dutch nobility, who developed a taste for this noble spirit. English soldiers stationed in the Netherlands then brought genever back with them to Britain, where it was given the name gin.
The war on gin
In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, it was quite easy and cheap to make gin. In England, the drink’s rise in popularity was also helped by the fact that it was tax-free and people were allowed to burn it. No wonder, then, that gin consumption quickly took on unhealthy proportions during a period that became known as the Gin Craze. Gin was even cheaper than beer and annual consumption is said to have risen to 90 liters per capita.
The English government had no choice but to limit the consumption of gin, and introduced the so-called Gin Act in 1736 to restrict the production of gin to licensed distilleries. Nevertheless, cheap 'common gin' was still widely available, albeit under a different name. It was only years later, and with the help of another law, that the government finally succeeded in curbing alcohol abuse. The Gin Act 1751 clearly regulated the quality of gin and prices rose so that not everyone could afford to drink the spirit anymore.
Until the early 19th century, people only ever drank gin pure. It was in tropical British colonies such as India, where malaria was a persistent problem, that the gin and tonic was born. During their long sea voyages, British soldiers mixed gin with drinks containing quinine, which was used to prevent and treat malaria.
With or without a slice of cucumber? That’s the question!
“You’re better off with a non-cucumber garnish”, says Philipp Danz, owner of the Gin Chilla Bar in Berlin (www.gin-chilla-bar.de). Cucumber actually masks the fine aromas of gin. Just a few years ago, gin and tonic was roundly dismissed as a drink for old people, largely because of its bitter taste, which people tried to hide by adding a slice of cucumber. Hendrick’s Gin, which is traditionally served with cucumber and fresh pepper, also contributed to the cucumber trend.
Philipp Danz offers roughly 500 varieties of gin in his bar, which he has been running since 2014. He also regularly hosts gin tastings. It was his own passion for the spirit that led him to specialize in gin. Does he drink anything other than gin? “Water! I haven’t drunk anything else for nine years, not wine, beer, sparkling wine or anything else. Sometimes it’s difficult, especially when I am out for the evening, but, if in doubt, I stay alcohol-free,” says Danz. He doesn’t have a favorite gin, preferring to vary his gins depending on the time of year and his state of health. “If you have a bit of a sore throat, for example, it’s great to have something to do with eucalyptus.”
Strawberry gin for everyone!
For gin beginners, Philipp Danz has a very simple system. In his bar, he has a wall where different flavors are listed. The bar’s guests can choose a flavor and Danz will recommend a gin to match. He even has the right flavors for people who have never tried gin before: “Just tell me your favorite type of ice cream and I’ll show you the right gin to go with it!” Incidentally, Danz confirms that there are no noticeable differences in men’s and women’s tastes when it comes to gin. “Men like strawberry gins just as much as women,” says Danz.
And what are the alternatives to gin and tonic? “You can always try gin in its pure form, although it is difficult to tell one neat gin from another, so you won’t really appreciate the lemon, lime or lemongrass notes.” It’s the mixers, i.e. the tonic water, soda water or ginger ale, that actually allow the different aromas to develop. It’s also very important to use a lot of ice, because the more ice you use, the longer the drink will stay naturally cold. One of the advantages of gin is that it doesn’t really dilute. By the way, it’s best not to use a straw. “If you use a straw, you are simply too far away from the gin as a source of taste and smell. As a result, your gin might be good, but it won’t be able to express itself fully,” says Danz. So, if you have a bar at home, you should always make sure you have lots and lots of ice ready, although you don’t need to worry so much about the shape of the glasses you use for your gin-based drinks.
What about the gin hangover?
If you drink too much gin, there’s not much you can do to completely avoid a hangover. But you should definitely watch the sugar content of your tonic water, advises Danz: “The sugar content in tonic water is relatively high, even though you can’t taste it. Typical tonic waters contain about 9 grams of sugar per 100 milliliters. In comparison, Coca Cola contains about 10.4 grams. You can’t actually taste the sugar because of the quinine and citric acid, but you need the sugar to stop the tonic water from becoming too bitter/sour.” In all things gin, tonic water plays an absolutely key role. According to Danz, finding the right balance between gin and tonic is very subjective: “You’re probably best to approach it gradually. Start with a 50:50 ratio, try it and decide for yourself. You just need to bear in mind that, at a certain point, the taste of the tonic water will dominate the taste of the gin.”
According to Danz, the fact that gin is so easy to produce has been a major factor in the hype around gin. Basically, all you need to make gin is juniper berries. It doesn’t even take very long to distil. In fact, Danz has collaborated with a master distiller to develop his own gin: “Like Berlin.”
Nowadays, you’ll be hard pressed to find a German region where gin is not being produced. Germany’s gin distillers are getting creative, using a wide range of bases and botanicals (aromatic ingredients, such as citrus peel or lavender) to add signature flavors to their gins.
Here are just a few German gins:
There’s even a map of German gins available online here: https://www.gintlemen.com/deutschlandkarte/
Probably the most unusual gin is the one with unicorn tears. Yes, that’s right: the unicorn trend has even made into the world of gin. The gin features edible silver flakes, which are said to represent tears. Unfortunately, the taste of the “Unicorn Tears Gin Liqueur” from England did not go down quite so well with experts.
Gin in cocktails
The classic: Gin Fizz
Pour the gin, lemon juice and sugar syrup into a cocktail shaker and fill up with ice cubes. Shake well and then strain into a tall glass filled with more ice and top up with soda water. Garnish with a slice of lemon.
The perfect autumn cocktail: Blackberry gin
Blackberry season is in full swing in autumn, making it the perfect time for this recipe.
In a cocktail shaker, muddle the blackberries until they break up and release their juice. Fill the shaker with gin. Pour the remaining ingredients into a glass and stir. Garnish with a blackberry.
Bars with a great selection of gins