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The earliest records of gin production date back to 17th-century Holland,
where a medicinal drink called ‘genever’ (the Dutch word for ‘juniper’) was developed by Franciscus Sylvius using grain spirit flavoured with juniper berries. The first Brits to discover genever
were soldiers, who drank it to fortify themselves for battle – hence the term ‘Dutch courage’.
The drink found a new audience in England when Dutch-born William of Orange became King William III in 1689 and encouraged the distillation of English spirits, while also raising import duty on French spirits. Cheap to produce, gin’s popularity became epidemic with the lower classes until a series of government regulations paved the way for high-quality producers – forerunners of the big brands we know today.
Gin was first exported from Britain to the US in 1850, where it became part of cocktail culture. Although the Americans made their own gin, imported versions were seen as higher quality – especially during the Prohibition era of the 1920s, when cheap ‘bathtub gin’ could cause death from alcohol poisoning.
Gin is made by distilling grain (usually corn) to produce a 96% abv spirit. This is then distilled again, along with a range of natural botanicals including juniper berries (which will always be the main ingredient), cardamom, liquorice, carraway seeds, coriander seeds, orange and lemon peel, and cassia bark. Which botanicals are used and their exact proportions is a secret formula, closely guarded, which gives each different brand its distinctive flavour.
Square Meal recommends: Beefeater 24, Bombay Sapphire, Right Gin, Tanqueray No. Ten,