Gin: A Historical Spirit Finally Getting Its Due

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If you’ve had one gin, you’ve had them all, right? — Wrong.

Wait, you mean all gin doesn’t taste like you just bit into a pine tree? And it’s not something I just mix with “juice” or tonic?

No and no.


I have always had an affinity for gin, as the classic Gin and Tonic is my dad’s favorite drink, but we can do better by gin than just continuing with the same old drinks.

Gin deserves more than this. It’s a historical spirit.

It’s a spirit that has been around since the 17th Century. Wars were won with what was known as “Dutch Courage.” It was used as medicine. It caused a legitimate riot in England in the 17th Century when it became too expensive.

It gave birth to the Dry Martini for crying out loud.

I’m not knocking the G&T at all. I love them. They are a quintessential drink in the summer.

But, again, we can do better, and craft distillers across the country have finally recognized what gin can bring to the table.

Whether they are aging them in oak barrels or pumping them full of whole-leaf hops, gin has had a recent resurgence with new and exciting flavors.

What is Gin?

There is no strict definition of gin other than it must have a distinct juniper berry flavor. Gin is a neutral grain spirit base with a mix of botanicals that vary from distiller to distiller.

Gin also comes in four different styles.

London Dry Gin is the classic style that is familiar to most.

Dutch Genever is sometimes credited as the first type of gin and actually uses a malted grain mash similar to whiskey.

Old Tom uses sugar in a redistillation process, which makes it a sweeter version of the typical London Dry.

Compound Gin is what most of the people in London consumed during the 17th century. They would simply add flavors to a neutral spirit rather than distilling them with the flavors already infused.

A little booze history

As I said, the history of gin dates back to the 17th century when it was primarily distilled as a medicinal drink. It was used to cure gallstones, gout, and various other ailments.

Juniper berries were added later to make it more palatable.

British soldiers were given gin during the Thirty Years War, and it was known as “Dutch Courage.” They liked the drink so much that they brought it back and began distilling it in large quantities at home.

When King William III was on the throne, he actually enacted a law that in its simplest terms let pretty much anyone distill their own spirits legally. All they had to do was post a notice on their door and wait 10 days.

After that, as you can imagine, so many people started distilling their own gin that, well, people were pretty much drunk 24/7. Shocker, right?

This influx of gin led to the 50 Pound Act. Now, you could only distill once you paid for a license that was, you guessed it, 50 pounds. A considerable sum of money during that time.

While this meant legally very few people could make gin, the locals continued to make their own and gin production actually rose by 50 percent during that time.

People. Love. Gin.

It didn’t last long until a new tax was drawn up that was reasonable and fair. This led to higher quality gin production and a stable product.

After that gin was used to help cure malaria, it helped revolutionized the cocktail industry with the rise of the Martini, and, of course, Snoop Dogg was sipping on it with some juice.

Now, after that brief history lesson, let’s take a look at the current evolution of gin from regional and local distillers.

Tattered Flag Brewery and Still Works Pennsylvania Gin & Susquehanna Gin

Tattered Flag has two gin options that highlight different flavors.

tattered flag gin

With the Pennsylvania Gin, you get more a traditional London-style gin. It’s dry and heavy on the botanicals. A portion of the juniper berries they use are picked by hand in a local forest, and they donate proceeds from every bottle to the Pennsylvania Parks and Forest Foundation. 

Chinook hops are used in the botanicals for a slight piney flavor and an addition of lavender gives the spirit a sweet floral finish.

tattered flag gin

Their Susquehanna Gin focuses more on citrus notes as they use orange peel and Cascade hops while steeping the botanicals. The flavor is rounded out with additions of heather and rose hips.

Tattered Flag plans on doing a barrel-rested version of their Pennsylvania Gin in the near future.

Both Tattered Flag Gins would work great in a classic Tom Collins. If you want a bit more citrus, go with the Susquehanna Gin.

Social Still Barrel Gin

social still gin

Social Stil’s Barrel Gin drinks more like a bourbon than a traditional gin. Aging the spirit in barrels decreases the botanical notes but injects notes of caramel, coffee, and oak.

Negronis, a classic gin cocktail, are usually made with Campari, Sweet Vermouth, and gin. Well, the Boss altered the recipe slightly it by adding the Barrel Gin to make it more like a Boulevardier, which is a Negroni that uses Bourbon.

It was delicious.

Try it for yourself! Just add equal parts Campari, Sweet Vermouth and Social Still’s Barrel Gin with a lemon twist for a bit of acidity and zest.

Dogfish Head Mellowdious Gin

dogfish head gin

If you can barrel age a stout, you can barrel age a gin. That’s just what Dogfish Head did. 

You still get all the crisp botanical flavors from the spirit but with softer edges due to the barrel-rest. There’s also some hints of caramel, vanilla and a bit of smokiness as well.

Pour an ounce or so in your favorite rocks glass with a little bit of ice to experience the full flavor.

Pine, citrus, and herbaceous are all common terms used to describe certain breeds of hops. Those are also flavors that are found in many gins so it would make sense to combine the two.

Dogfish’s Whole Leaf Gin uses whole leaf Cascade hops for a punch of pine and citrus with a little sweetness from the grain build.

Perfect for a new twist on a G&T.

Eight Oaks Craft Distillers

Eight Oaks is unique in that they are a farm distillery. This means that all the grain that goes into distilling the spirit has been grown on their farms.

Eight Oaks Farm Distillery opens at Broad Street Market

Their American Gin has a lot of the botanical notes that you would expect, but it also finishes with a zesty citrus flavor that is very refreshing.

As they say, “It’s not your grandmother’s gin.”

Now that you are armed with perhaps some new knowledge, go out and look for a new kind of gin and have some fun with it.

This by no means is an exhaustive list. There are many local and regional distilleries distilling great gin. Other gin options include Bluecoat American Dry Gin (Philadelphia), Thistle Finch Market Alley Gin (Lancaster), and Wigle Ginever (Pittsburgh).

What is your favorite gin drink?

James Werner
Author: James Werner

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