What Bartenders Should Know about Gin

The gin and tonic is one that most bartenders know. Gin is basically a distilled grain spirit flavored with extracts from different plants, mainly the juniper berry. The Dutch were the first to make gin and have been doing so since the late 1500s.

A little history

Gin was invented by Franciscus de la Boe, also known as Dr. Sylvius. Why? Who knows but Mrs. Sylvius? Dr. Sylvius was a professor of medicine and a physician at Holland's University of Leyden. He used a juniper berry elixir known as genievere — French for “juniper.” He thought that juniper berries could assist in the treatment of kidney and bladder ailments.

British soldiers sampled his elixir when returning from the wars in the Netherlands and nicknamed it Dutch courage. When they brought the recipe back to England, they changed the name to gen and later to gin, which soon became the national drink of England.

Types of gin

Although gin has been produced and consumed for centuries, the methods for making the quality gin that you drink today have been around only since the turn of the 20th century. Gin comes in many types; the most popular include the following:

  • London dry gin (English) is distilled from a grain mixture that contains more barley than corn. It's distilled at a high proof and then redistilled with juniper berries.

  • Dutch gin or Holland gin contains barley, malt, corn, and rye. It's distilled at a lower proof and then redistilled with juniper berries in another still at low proof. Dutch gins are usually slightly sweet.

  • Flavored gin is a new product. It's basically gin to which natural flavorings (lime, lemon, orange, and so on) have been added. The flavoring always appears on the bottle.

Storing and serving suggestions

Gin appears in many cocktails, so choosing the right gin (that is, your favorite) can really affect your enjoyment of a given drink. Never, ever use cheap, nonpremium gin when making a drink. The results will be a disaster. Cheap gin tastes like disinfectant. Good gin has an herby, spicy, organic flavor, so stick to the premium brands.

When you're at a bar, don't order a Gin & Tonic because you'll end up with some cheap, awful bar (or well) gin. The well is the easiest-to-reach place behind the bar and usually contains the most widely used — and cheapest — bottles of alcohol.

If you don't request a brand by name, the bartender will reach for whatever is in the well. Order a Tanqueray & Tonic or a Sapphire & Tonic, and you'll get a decent drink. The same goes for gin Martinis: Always specify what brand of gin you want.

Store an unopened bottle of gin in a cool, dry place out of direct light. After you open a bottle, it should last about two years.

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