I found that I quaffed a variety of gins, all in the name of research obviously and that is probably the first point, that there are now so many different gins on offer.
I also learned a number of interesting facts. (Feel free to liberally scatter these into polite conversation to make yourself look clever and informed rather than just a gin soak.)
My first proper research was at a local pub where they were holding a gin night. Harry Yates from Burleigh Gin Distillery came to give a talk and while everyone else was sipping the different gins and munching the posh crisps I was scribbling down notes.
The history of gin is a little sketchy, most likely due in no small part to its consumption, but here’s what I learned:
- It was originally called Genever or Jenever
- Genever is referenced as far back as the 1500’s
- It was invented as a medicine
- There are a number of locations that claim to be where genever was first produced, most notably, Belgium and The Netherlands, however, it may well have been discovered by Italian monks as far back as the 11th century
- It traveled across Europe as medicine and was given to ward off The Plague making it widespread
- It was first sold as a drink in the Netherlands
- When William of Orange invaded Britain in 1688 he stopped the import of French favourites wine and brandy and instead imported gin from Holland
- It is associated with the Dutch who used to drink it before going into battle this is where the phrase ‘Dutch courage’ comes from
- The classic gin and tonic came about as gin was added to medicinal tonic water which was taken in India as an anti malaria treatment and the gin took the edge off the bitterness.
I went to a gin festival held in the stunning surroundings of the old Coventry Cathedral. Possibly an odd choice for such an event but quite lovely. Here there was an unbelievable array of gins to try which was quite overwhelming. The large number of people in attendance shows just how popular it has become. I got to chat to a number of the companies with displays at the event and learned more interesting facts:
- Gin is actually juniper flavoured vodka - who knew?
- Most of the juniper used is picked wild. Almost none is cultivated
- British sailors used to receive a daily rum ration but officers got a daily gin ration
- The country with the highest gin consumption is the Philippines
- London Dry Gin doesn’t refer to its place of origin. This is a style standard introduced to improve the general quality of gin production
- The Gin Act of 1751 banned any still that had a capacity of less than 1,800 litres
- In 2009 Sipsmith won a two-year legal battle with HMRC for the right to produce gin in small quantities rather than on an industrial scale.
It is this last fact that has led to the recent upsurge in small distillery gin production in the UK which has heralded the boom in the industry and oodles of choice for us the consumer. Flavoured gins are particularly popular ranging from rhubarb to tomato. Gin is a key ingredient in many cocktails but I still think you can’t beat a good old gin and tonic. So grab yourself your drink of choice, curl up and see how my research informed my latest novel Coming Home to Ottercombe Bay.