Bottoms Up: gin

What is London dry gin made of? A quick survey of students at the College will tell you it’s some combination of wheat, nectar and semen. I myself was convinced it was made out of sweat squeezed from the remarkably overdressed Euro-guardsmen so prominently featured on the well-known Beefeater brand of gin. I mean, we all know London is cold, wet and overrun by gangs of hooligans, but really … long socks, long coat, hat, gloves AND the frilly collar? But I digress …

In reality, gin’s distinct “flavor” comes mostly from juniper berries. Wonder what they look like? Think blueberries that grow on Christmas-tree-looking branches. Prickly when fresh, like razors when dry (remind you of any drinks?). In fact, the juniper is not a true berry but rather a cone with modified scales. Yum. Several citrus elements, like lemon and bitter orange are added to make this beast a little more palatable. Still too tough goin’ down the ole pipe? Well, to suit your fancy tastes, distillers also add anise, angelica root, orris root, licorice root, cinnamon, cubeb, savory, lime, grapefruit, dragon eye, saffron, baobab, frankincense, coriander, nutmeg and cassia bark. Unfortunately, gins permit no additive other than water, meaning no sugar enters the mix.

A Dutch doctor by the name of Franciscus Sylvius invented this wonderful elixir and used it to treat kidney problems, lumbago, stomach problems, gallstones and gout. It wasn’t until the Glorious Revolution that gin came to London and the mix grew to include the best flavoring yet: turpentine.

This addition, of course, sparked the “Gin Craze” of the early 1700s. Think your roommate is an alcoholic? Well by 1940 the Brits were making six times more gin than beer. In fact, gin has been credited with a slew of deaths that finally capped London’s dangerously overblown population growth … Thanks? (At this point we might also mention that sulfuric acid also entered the common gin mix during the 18th century.)

But enough of gin’s turbulent and bloody history, let’s get the juice. No, not Joose, you sad lot of alco-drenaline-holics. I’m talking about gin and juice. More properly known as gin and tonic, the most popular and, in this writer’s view, only way to drink gin. This drink originates in the tropical British colonies, where the taste of gin was an effective mask of quinine, taken for its anti-malarial properties. Quinine was dissolved in carbonated water, forming tonic water. Gin is also used in a number of other … somewhat less masculine mixed drinks, including: martinis, the Gin Fizz, the Last Word, Satan’s Whiskers and many more.

By now all the real drinkers have stopped reading, and not because they’re not interested; no, I’m afraid that years of alcoholism has eroded their attention spans to the point where they resemble chronic Crank watchers. It is finally time for the most anticipated part of “Bottoms Up:” the taste test. First on the list is the always popular (always cheap) Gordon’s London dry gin. A quick note: Despite the fact that it hurts my very soul to take shots of a spirit clearly meant to be spiced with quinine, I have agreed to do so in the hopes of relaying the pure taste qualities of each selection – you owe me. So – Gordon’s. Immediately, I feel like I have taken a quick sip of North Adams Regional Hospital – antiseptic, germ-killing and some sort of nail polish in the blue-purple hue. Oddly enough, all this savor comes your way with only 40 percent alcohol on the label. Unlike many grain alcohols, gin becomes more alcoholic as the price goes up. Gordon’s was developed by a Scot in 1769. Shockingly, the recipe has not seen a single improvement since that fateful day (you think I’m kidding … Wikipedia it and share my tears). You’ll notice that the recipe for Gordon’s is “known to only 11 people in the world and has been kept a secret for 250 years.” Then again, how hard is it to keep secret a recipe to something you can easily get with a jar, a hammer and a skunk.

Moving right along, we have Beefeater London dry gin. Little known fact, the Yeoman Guardsman featured on the bottle is not actually a beefeater, but rather a Yeoman of the Guard. Want the distinction explained? Really? Tough. The first thing one notices as the Beef hits the back of the throat is a significantly stronger burn. That burn, of course, comes from the larger alcohol percentage: Beefeater boasts 47 percent. Breaking down the layers, we notice the extra hint of almond that distinguishes this spirit from its brothers. You can tell its quality from the eight-hour distillation period.
Tanqueray Gin was first distilled in 1830 and was produced at the same distillery until World War II, when it was damaged by Nazi bombing. Tanqueray now comes to us from Scotland. If you’ll look closely at the bottle, you’ll see the words “by appointment to Her Majesty the Queen” and a nice silver seal. What does this all mean? This writer has no idea; why not consider it a homework assignment? Let’s drink. The highest alcohol content of our gins, Tanqueray comes at us with a 47.3-percent bite. This spirit is slightly peppery with stronger citrus (probably due to large lemon peel content), flavorings that most distillers play with. Even subtler layers reveal … well, they reveal that one writer has had a quantity of gin worth celebrating, so go out, grab some gin and have one on me (metaphorically, of course.)