In this comprehensive gin 101 guide, we will cover the spirit’s captivating history and how it’s made, then finish with my top brand recommendations for your home bar. By the time you’ve finished reading, you’ll have a whole new appreciation for Madam Geneva.
A clear, distilled spirit with a uniquely refreshing flavor profile, gin is a staple liquor in any bar. If the only times you’ve ever had gin were the bottom-shelf gin and tonics you used to order in college, then you’re seriously missing out. Infused with bright botanical flavors, gin makes a wonderful addition to a wide variety of cocktails and is also fantastic on its own. In my humble opinion, no home bar is complete without it.
What is gin?
Gin is a clear spirit made by distilling fermented grains with aromatics like juniper, flowers, and fruits. I like to think of gin as vodka’s classy botanical cousin, because the two are fairly similar and tend to be interchangeable in many popular cocktails. Some of the most well-known gin cocktails include the martini, French gimlet, negroni, Tom Collins, and gin and tonic. Gin has been given many nicknames over the years, such as Madam Geneva, Mother’s Ruin, and Dutch Courage.
The history of gin
The gin we know today can be traced back to 16th century Holland. Back then, it existed as a medicine made of a malted barley spirit that was often re-distilled with healthy aromatics like juniper berries to make it more palatable. During the Dutch War of Independence, British troops discovered gin and lovingly named it “Dutch courage.” The soldiers were so fond of the spirit that they brought it back to England with them when the war was over.
During this time, the British government allowed the unlicensed production of gin, which would lead up to a period of time in the early to mid-18th century that was dubbed the gin craze. This was a time when London experienced, quite literally, a craze involving extended public drunkenness that led to violence and social devastation. You can’t make this stuff up! After this dark time in London’s past, gin was given a new nickname: “Mother’s ruin.”
How gin is made
Gin is made by distilling fermented grains with juniper berries and other aromatic botanicals. Orange peel, lemon peel, licorice root, cardamom, and coriander are all botanicals that are commonly used in gin. Juniper is a must in order for a bottle to truly call itself gin, as this is what gives the spirit its signature piney taste.
Botanicals can be infused into gin in one of two ways. They can either be boiled in the base alcohol directly or suspended above the alcohol to allow the vapor to infuse their aromas and flavors. While gin and vodka are known to be similar in that they are both clear, distilled spirits made from grains, the infusion process is what makes gin unique.
Unlike vodka that generally gets any flavoring it may have from artificial sugars and syrups added post-distillation, gin is infused with natural ingredients and re-distilled with them to inject a subtle sweetness that lingers on the tongue.
Best gin brands for your home bar
Whether you’re balling on a budget or looking to splurge, I guarantee there’s a gin out there that you will thoroughly enjoy. Listed below are my top recommendations for the best gin brands for your home bar.
- Bombay Sapphire. In this day and age, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of Bombay Sapphire or seen its signature blue bottle. This popular brand hand selects each botanical and then vapor infuses them into the gin during the distillation process. The smooth and complex taste of Bombay Sapphire is created by combining 10 aromatic botanicals, including juniper berries, lemon peel, almonds, coriander, licorice, and cubeb berries.
- Tanqueray. This London Dry gin has used the same recipe since 1830 and is one of the world’s top selling gins. It’s simple in flavor, with predominant notes of juniper berries and a finish of angelica root and coriander. This gin works great for cocktails, as the dryness is perfectly balanced by sweet and refreshing ingredients like fruit, aromatics, and tonic.
- Hendrick’s. This brand prides itself on being delightfully unusual. The gin is infused with rose and cucumber, along with nine other carefully selected botanicals that contribute to the uniquely balanced flavor and silky smooth feel. This is one of those truly enjoyable gins that you could drink straight if you wanted to.
- Plymouth. Balanced by hand-picked botanicals like juniper berries, cardamom, orange peel, lemon peel, and orris root, Plymouth gin is both rich and refreshing. It has a nose of fresh juniper and coriander, a creamy and mildly sweet palate, and a long, elegant finish.
- Stonecutter Spirits Single Barrel. This award-winning gin was specifically designed to complement the warm toasted caramel notes of Kentucky bourbon barrels. With fine botanicals like cardamom, juniper berries, orange peel, licorice root, and rose petals, this elegantly smooth gin is extremely sippable, even on its own.
- Wölffer Estate Pink Gin. This unique gin is made with the estate’s signature rosé as the base. Red grape skin extract is added to the spirit during the distillation process, giving it its stunning pink hue. Honestly, I’d recommend this gin based solely on how beautiful the bottle looks on a home bar, but it’s a huge plus that it happens to taste wonderful as well. (You can find this gin at TotalWine.com
I hope you found this Gin 101 guide useful. Check out my other guides, to vodka, whiskey, and tequila, and rum. Leave me a comment if you have questions or feedback about this post or to let me know your favorite tequila brand!