The history of Gin
Before becoming the liquor that characterizes legendary cocktails, the first testimonies of a liqueur flavored with juniper go back to a few decades after 1000AD as an evolution of long-known fermentation and distillation techniques.
It is certain that, around the middle of the 1100s, Scuola Medica Salernitana in the south of Italy produced a liquor flavored with juniper berries, to which healing and digestive properties were attributed.
The production of juniper flavored liquors with healing purposes progressed through the following centuries of the Middle Ages and is then tied to Dutch and British historical events.
There is a testimony from 1552 about an “aqua juniperi” (from “juniperus”, Latin for juniper) produced in Holland with therapeutic purposes.
For centuries Gin kept being produced with grain alcohol flavored with juniper berries, made more palatable with a mix of plant extracts and sold in pharmacists’ shops.
The interest in Gin increased during the 1600s, as little English distilleries started producing it on a larger scale, meeting consumers’ interest.
During the 1700s, in a city as large and overpopulated as London, Gin imposed itself to the poorest population as a more hygienic alternative to water: many retail stores opened for business and Gin started to become an uncontrolled social plague.
With new laws permitting the sale of Gin only with a legal authorization, Gin consumption decreased and contextually its quality was enhanced.
In the first half of the 1800s, with the invention of steam column distillation, Gin production further rose in quality thanks to London Dry Style, and its consummation spread to the higher classes.
After the years of prohibition in the 20s, Gin consumption came back to the USA and all the world for the rest of the century.
These past few years, Gin has had another revival generating a continuous search for quality and new blends among purists and mixology enthusiasts.
Gin and Dutch courage
The history of Gin can also be found on the European battlefields of the 1600s: it seems that the English, once returned from their military campaigns, described Dutch soldiers as very brave and animated by “Dutch courage”, thanks to the Gin they drank from the flasks they kept on their belts.
This term is still used for the courage we get from alcohol… to do something we’d never do sober!
From medicine to refreshing drink: how the Gin and Tonic was born
Gin has also had a role in curing malaria, the fatally widespread disease in many areas of the British colonial empire, which was treated with quinine, extracted from the bark of an Andean plant with an exceptionally bitter taste.
As carbonated water was invented, around 1860 a tonic, quinine flavored water was commercialized and recommended to travelers going to the British colonies.
The step from a healing beverage to a very popular drink was very short in the following years: the “Gin and Tonic” quickly became a symbol of British colonialism, gaining foot in the homeland as well.