Created | Updated Jan 28, 2002
Gin is a colourless alcoholic beverage made from the fermentation and distillation of unmalted grain. In this it is similar to vodka, the main difference being that while vodka is generally left neutral in flavour, gin is flavoured by infusing the spirit with certain berries and spices. Afterwards, it is then re-distilled with the resultant mixture in order to restore the clear colouration. The precise types of flavouring material used vary from brand to brand, but the dominant one is always juniper berries. If juniper berries are not used, the result is simply flavoured vodka and not gin at all.
Two main types of gin which are available are London gin and Plymouth gin. London gin is the most common, a typical supermarket brand being about 37.5% ABV1. Plymouth gin is typically about 5% stronger and more delicately flavoured, but is less commonly available. Both varieties are also made for export, in which case they may be up to 50% alcohol.
'Raw' gin may be flavoured further by infusing fruit in it after the second distillation, to produce fruit gins; the most common and freely available of these is sloe gin2, which is flavoured with the berries of the sloe tree.
Methods of Serving Gin
Gin is rarely served neat. It is generally mixed with other things. Below are discussed some of the more popular methods.
The Gin and Tonic
The most popular method of serving gin, the gin and tonic, or G&T for short, had its origins in India during the days of the Raj. The ruling English found the bitter taste of the quinine powder they took to prevent malaria unpalatable, so they dissolved it in gin to take away the taste.
In later years, the quinine was not taken as a powder, but in the form of Indian tonic water, which is basically slightly sweetened soda water containing about 0.1% quinine3. Even though this new version was less bitter, the temptation to put gin in it was too strong to resist, and so the gin and tonic was born.
Today's modern 'standard' G&T, served in most pubs, contains about 25ml gin and 150ml tonic. Most connoisseurs consider this to be too weak, however, and generally buy a 'double' (ie, containing 50ml of gin). The standard method of serving G&T is in a straight-sided glass, with an ice cube and a slice of lemon. A dash of Angostura bitters may also be added to produce so-called pink gin.
Other Gin-based Drinks
Gin is used as an ingredient in a number of cocktails, the most famous of which is the Martini. There are a number of variations of this, but the standard dry martini consists of two parts gin to one part dry vermouth4, served with an olive in the sloping-sided stemmed glass commonly called a Martini glass. Contrary to what a certain James Bond would have you believe, a martini should be stirred, not shaken.
The other famous gin-based cocktail is the gin sling. The original sling was little more than slightly diluted gin and lemon juice, but this version has faded away in the face of the more advanced Singapore sling, which contains cherry brandy and an assortment of fruit juices, as well as gin.
Lastly, for the sake of completeness, there is Pimm's, or more fully Pimm's No. 1 cup5, which is a popular gin-based summer drink served at garden parties. Unlike the drinks previously mentioned, this cannot be made but must instead be bought, the full recipe being known only to six people.