Gin 101 with Ed Korry

Gin 101 - Edward KorryGin - Juniper Berries - Coriander SeedsWhile gin lost its preeminence over vodka three decades ago, it has undergone a slight resurgence in the last few years, especially in the ultra-premium and premium brands category.

This can be explained in part by the renaissance of classic cocktails as gin played a key role in recipes dating from the mid 1850’s to Prohibition. Of course, nothing symbolizes cocktails better than a martini, which can only be considered truly authentic if made with gin.

The origins of gin are tied to Dr. Sylvius, a professor of medicine at Holland’s University of Leyden, during the mid to late 17th century. Aware of the diuretic properties of juniper berries, he redistilled alcohol with the berries to capture their healing oil and efficiently distribute it as medicine for those suffering from kidney ailments. His new creation was named using the French term “Genièvre,” which was then called “Genever” by the Dutch. When English soldiers were fighting alongside their Dutch counterparts in the late 17th century, they witnessed the Dutch fortifying themselves with this spirit prior to going into battle. Thus the phrase: “Dutch courage.” They shortened the term “genever” to “gin.”

Gin’s popularity gained prominence when William, Prince of Orange (of the Netherlands), ascended the English throne. Shortly thereafter, taxes on domestically-produced spirits were reduced while those of imported French wines were raised considerably. This eventually led to the “gin craze” where redistilling poorly-made spirits could hide sometimes lethal congeners. This mass-produced spirit caused significant health issues, including death, among urban poor.

The invention of the Coffey Still allowed for the efficient production of clean spirits, which could be redistilled with juniper berries, resulting in a much higher quality beverage.

With the growth of the British Empire, gin became the mixer for quinine, a very bitter substance that was the most effective antidote to malaria. Hence, the birth and ubiquity of the “gin and tonic.”

Gin 1010- Ed Korry - Gin Distiller

This pot still is used to make Bluecoat American Dry Gin and is custom made of pure, hand-hammered copper, and is the only one of its design and size in the world. Batch distilling, using a pot still, is the traditional method of distillation. By taking advantage of modern technologies, Bluecoat has been able to marry this traditional method to cutting edge design. Their proprietary lye arm design allows for the greatest possible separation of alcohols, enabling the Master Distiller to create an ultra smooth spirit. The proprietary boil ball design aids in additional reflux, furthering the ability to separate the alcohol “fractions.”

Gin is a compounded spirit category, similar to a liqueur, and is most often made by redistilling the spirit over a gin head, or perforated basket holding the botanicals. The alcoholic vapors travel through the basket, capturing the botanical aromas. Gins can also be made by macerating the botanicals while undergoing re-distillation. Gins today are even made from a neutral spirit base such as from sugar beets or potatoes. American and EU laws recognize that gin can also be made by compounding gin with the extracts of botanicals. These are usually made by making a gin concentrate, which is then blended with high-proof neutral spirits.

Not all gins are the same. There are four major categories: London Dry, Plymouth gin, Old Tom gin, and Genever or Hollands gin. Of these, London Dry gin is the most dominant and from this, many companies create their own house brands using various botanicals other than juniper berries, to compete with their competitors. London Dry gin can be produced anywhere.

The second and third categories of gin, Plymouth gin and Old Tom gin, each are made by a single producer. Plymouth Gin is made by Coates & Co. and is widely used by professional mixologists for classic cocktails. It is full-bodied with a very aromatic fruit and berry profile.

Old Tom Gin is produced by Hayman’s and is lightly sweetened by the addition of simple syrup to the gin. It is the foundation of most gin-based recipes dating from Jerry Thomas to Prohibition. It has only recently been reintroduced to the U.S. and proves to be another valuable tool in a mixologist’s repertoire.

The fourth category of gin is Genever or Hollands gin, sometimes referred to as Schiedam, after the town where it is produced. It is distilled from malted grains to a lower proof than other gins and has a less predominant juniper aroma due to its malty notes. It may not be cold compounded. There are different styles of Genever, the first being oude (old), which does not require aging, and jonge (young), which is a lighter style. Korenwyn is made from no less than 51% malt spirit and aged in 700-liter or smaller barrels.

It is a wonderful time to be a professional mixologist/bartender with the rebirth of the classics and the explosion of new interpretations for  today’s increasingly sophisticated consumers.