Gin is a colourless spirit distilled from grain and flavoured with juniper berries. It derives its name, in fact, from the French word genievre, meaning juniper berry, first corrupted into Dutch as jenever and then into English as geneva or gin.
Gin has had a chequered history. It was invented in the mid-seventeenth century by a professor of the medical faculty at Leiden University in Holland and was at first used medically for its diuretic value.
It was probably introduced into England by soldiers who had come across it in the Netherlands – it was served to Dutch soldiers before they went to battle – and its popularity spread rapidly. It was distilled widely, both legally and illegally and became, by the mid-eighteenth century, the true drink of the masses – about 20 million gallons were consumed annually. Its indiscriminate production and generally low quality resulted in widespread addiction and disease and gin became known at one point as ‘Mother’s Ruin’.
It is only really in the last fifty years that it has recovered from this reputation and become an acceptable and classless drink.
There are two main types of gin – Dutch gin and English or American gin. Dutch gin has a clean, malty aroma and is usually drunk neat and slightly chilled. English or American gin is subdivided into two main categories: Dry or London gin and Old
Tom or Plymouth gin – the former is always dry and the latter slightly sweetened. English or American gin is rarely drunk straight. It is usually combined with a mineral water or a soft drink (such as tonic water or orange juice), or used as a base for cocktails – Tom Collins has a gin base, as does Singapore Sling.