G & T - the most British of drinks
Gin’s popularity is on the up and the number of UK distilleries has doubled in the past six years.
In homage, here are some of the most surprising and lesser-known gin facts.
- The name “gin” derives from anglicising the Dutch word jenever, meaning “juniper”.
- The oldest working distillery in the world is in Plymouth. The building began life in 1430 as a monastery. Plymouth Gin has been made there since 1793.
- The quantity of vermouth to be added to gin for a martini is hotly debated. Noël Coward memorably summed up the minimal approach: “A perfect martini should be made by filling a glass with gin then waving it in the general direction of Italy.”
- The biggest gin-consuming country in the world is the Philippines. It has more than a third of global gin sales, courtesy of the 22 million cases of the local Ginebra San Miguel sold annually. The brand is little-known outside the country.
- The term “Dutch courage” arose in the 17th century when English soldiers fighting in the Thirty Years’ War saw their Dutch counterparts downing jenever to help them face battle.
- More classic cocktails are made with gin than any other spirit. Examples include Negroni, Gin Fizz, Martinez, Tom Collins, White Lady, Alexander, French 75, Singapore Sling, Vesper and Gimlet – and, of course, the classic martini.
- Alongside juniper, every gin uses its own mix of natural botanicals for flavour. Some gins use just three – but the Scottish gin brand Botanist uses 31.
- The gin-loving writer Dorothy Parker once wrote: “I like to have a martini / Two at the very most / After three I'm under the table / After four I'm under my host.”
- Extra-strong gins are sometimes referred to as “Navy strength”. This refers to Royal Navy days when officers tested their ship's gin to make sure it had not been diluted – by pouring it on to gunpowder. If the gunpowder failed to light, the gin was diluted. But if it did still spark up, the gin was the proper strong stuff – today, designated as 57% ABV (alcohol by volume). Regular gins come in from as low as 37.5% ABV.
- In 18th-century Britain, the dominant gin style was not the London dry of today but a sweeter form popularly known as Old Tom. The name reputedly arose when the Government tried to stem the copious flow of gin by imposing heavy taxes and licensing restrictions on its sale. Crafty gin-selling publicans hung plaques shaped like a black cat (“Old Tom”) to alert customers that if they put money into a slot under the sign, a bartender would dispense a shot of gin through a tube.
- Gin has a long association with promoting health. The first mention of a juniper-based health “tonic” dates back to 1269. Royal Navy officers first mixed gin with lime cordial (creating the Gimlet cocktail) to prevent scurvy, while the anti-malarial qualities of the quinine in tonic made G&T a “medicinal” tropical snifter.
- Despite gin now being considered a quintessentially English spirit, some of the finest examples in the world are made in Scotland, France, Spain and the US.