Raise a Glass to Churchill: An Ode to Gin
Jon Rich breaks down the history of gin for In The Midfield. Read on for your gin cocktail 101.
Legend has it that Winston Churchill loved gin martinis, but had a peculiar preference with the vermouth. Churchill was famously quoted as saying that when making the drink, one should not actually add any vermouth. Instead, he said, “glance at the vermouth bottle briefly while pouring the juniper distillate freely”. Always the statesman, Churchill apparently also said that the only way to make a proper martini was to pour a glass full of ice-cold gin and bow in the direction of France. I can’t think of any U.S. President who was that cool or loved gin that much. Maybe that was the secret to his extraordinary oratory skills. Or, maybe it was his accent. Either way, if gin was Winston Churchill’s poison of choice, it’s most certainly good enough for us commoners.
Gin, my friends, is a spirit, primarily derived from wheat, to which botanicals are added during the distillation process. These include herbs and spices like coriander, nutmeg, orange peel, angelica, elderflower, cinnamon and of course, juniper. Indeed, the word gin is a derivative of “juniper” from several different languages.
Although we tend to think of gin as a British spirit, it was actually first distilled by the Dutch in the 16th Century. Gin didn’t become British until the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th Century, when British soldiers, who were stationed in the Netherlands, took a liking to what they called Dutch Courage, which was really Dutch gin that warmed their tired bones and numbed their fear so that they could more easily go into battle. Soon thereafter, the British took such a liking to Dutch Courage that they brought it back to the U.K. Nowadays, a gin and tonic is “the” quintessential British cocktail. In fact, perhaps the most popular style of gin is the London dry variety.
Gin comes in a few different styles, mostly characterized by slight variations in the subtle, herbal flavoring. London dry gin is, unsurprisingly, the “driest” – think cleanest, less sweet and less herbaceous, e.g. Tanqueray, Beefeater and Bombay Sapphire. Happily, many newer, American craft distilleries are producing some delicious London dry style gins. Although there are many here in New York, my favorite is Greenhook Ginsmiths from Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
The major difference between American dry gin and London dry gin is that the juniper we grow here is much more pungent than British juniper, so naturally that flavor tends to be more pronounced.
Other popular types of gin include Plymouth, from England, which is sweeter than London dry international options that add flavors like cucumber and rose, e.g. Hendricks from Scotland. And, then there is Old Tom Gin, a sweet gin, and the traditional foundation of a Tom Collins - gin, lemon, soda and sugar. Okay, everybody good? Let’s make some gin cocktails next week.
Jon Rich is In the Midfield's Men's Lifestyle Editor. He is also a practicing attorney in NYC.
Picture Credit: Greenhook Ginsmith, Astor Wines