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Everything you ever wanted to know about gin but didn’t dare ask

Yes, we too have given in to the gin craze, and the program for Terra Madre Salone del Gusto includes a whole host of events dedicated to mixed drinks. Gin, more than any other spirit, lends itself to cocktails, so we decided to do a little research to get a better understanding of why.

It's gin o'clock yet?
A brief history of gin

It’s highly likely that the precursor to gin was a tonic made from Italian juniper berries. In the 14th century, the berry that gives gin its distinctive aroma was used as a treatment for stomachache and against the Black Death. As the epidemic spread throughout Europe, juniper-based elixirs followed it as far as Flanders, where, in 1572, Franciscus Sylvius of Leiden recorded the first eau de vie de genièvre. Three years later, Lucas Bols founded his first distillery and, shortly after, genever was born. Excellent trade links with England helped genever grow in popularity in the United Kingdom, which became the main market for Dutch distillers. The British nicknamed the drink Dutch courage and started to produce their own version, first calling it by the Flemish word genever, which was then shortened to gen, finally becoming gin. Gin, however, remained a Dutch specialty until William of Orange came to the throne in 1689. Until then, England was practically teetotal and if any flavored spirit was drunk, it was certainly anise-based. William encouraged gin production, partly to drive growth in the agricultural sector by growing grain, and partly to make up for the lack of cognac… indeed, one of his first moves was to declare war against France.

And so by 1720, 90% of British spirits were distilled in London and could be sold to everyone, including children. This equated to 12 million liters of coarse spirits (which were then flavored at home) in a city of 600,000 people. All in all, this meant that every man, woman and child drank more than half a liter per week. Quite a recorGin_are you happy?d! In short, the early part of the 18th century was an excellent example of how not to control alcohol consumption. As you can imagine, the situation got much worse and was only resolved in 1751 when, on the initiative of George II, the British Parliament tried to put an end to the mass hysteria with the Gin Act. This law essentially doubled the cost of the spirit by imposing an annual license fee of 50 pounds, thus forcing artisanal distilleries, which could not afford this exorbitant fee, to close, and outlawed home-based gin production. The act was highly unpopular, provoking a great deal of unrest and riots. Within a few years, however, the act achieved its desired effect: levels of alcoholism soon started to fall. By 1803, 90% of production was controlled by just a handful of distillers: Booth, Burnett, Gordon and Tanqueray. These gin giants invented a new style, the now ubiquitous dry gin. But gin’s transformation from a working class vice to respectable drinking pasttime of the middle class was only complete with the introduction of the Coffey still, which greatly improved the quality of the spirit. This was accompanied by the introduction of an increasingly wide range of botanicals, and London Dry Gin became the national spirit. Exports also boomed, especially to the US, where bartenders quickly realized how versatile this clear and light spirit was, making it perfect for the new cocktail craze. And the rest is history… By the 1960s, gin was the undisputed king of cocktail ingredients, before eventually being supplanted by vodka, though we are now witnessing a bonafide gin revival. Here’s what you’ll be drinking in Turin.


This cocktail, which was invented before the Prohibition era and was one of the drinks that gave birth to cocktail culture, also has a great story. It is certainly the cocktail, above all others, that demonstrates a bartender’s prowess, such is the skill required to combine and balance the ingredients. It was invented in New York by Richard Hugo Ensslin, head bartender at the Wallick House Hotel, or so the story goes (it’s always difficult to establish the veracity of such legends). He was certainly the first to put the recipe down in print, in his book Recipes for Mixed Drinks, published in 1916/17 in two separate editions. The same cocktail was then found in the Savoy Cocktail Book of 1930, but with one ingredient missing, Crème de violette, which makes the delicate balance between gin, maraschino and lemon juice even more complex. Ask your bartender for one.

Gin and tonic

Like the spirit used in it, this cocktail also started life as a cure for ailments. In 1747, the surgeon of the Royal Navy, James Lind, had discovered that vitamin C deficiency was responsible for a terrible disease among sailors: scurvy. As a result of his research, it became compulsory to carry vitamin C-rich limes on British warships, leading to sailors being given the derogatory nickname of limeys. Meanwhile, the German chemist Johann Jacob Schweppe had started to produce soda for medicinal purposes in his shop in Bristol, England, adding carbon dioxide to quinine-based tonic water, which was used in Europe to treat malaria. As the British colonized India, first with the East India Company and then with the Royal Navy, they took supplies of British gin and tonic with them, mixing them together to make the tonic more palatable. Lime was prescribed by the doctor, and so the gin and tonic was born.


Of the cocktails you’ll try in Turin, this is one of the most recently invented. It was invented at Fred’s Club in Soho, London, in 1984 by Dick Bradsell, one of the most famous bartenders of the 1980s, a true innovator whose ideas revolutionized mixology. He was perhaps the first superstar bartender. The bramble was an instant classic and crowned “King of cocktails” by The Observer newspaper. The ingredients? Gin, sugar syrup, lemon juice and crème de mûre.

Martini Cocktail

There at least as many legends Martini_Ginsurrounding the martini as there are variants. None of which, by the way, is exactly the same as the modern recipe. Some attribute its invention to Jerry Thomas, author of the first cocktail recipe book (published in 1862). His book contains a drink called the Martinez, which consists of: a wineglass (110 ml) of red vermouth, a pony (30 ml) of Old Tom gin, two dashes of maraschino and a dash of Boker’s bitters. All the ingredients are mixed in a cocktail glass and garnished with a slice of lemon. There are other legends associated with the martini, and though there’s not enough space to recount them all, we’d like to tell you one of the most recent and believable (according to our British source, not us). In 1911, the head bartender at the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York, Martini di Arma di Taggia, combined London dry gin, Noilly Prat vermouth and orange bitters. He then chilled the drink and poured it into a chilled glass. Knickerbocker regulars then started to order variations on the drink and eventually, the olive was added.

When food meets gin: an exciting adventure in food pairing

Gin Act

Dave Broom, Distilling Knowledge, a professional guide to spirits and liqueurs, Wine and Spirit, Education Trust, London 2006


Photo Credits
First and second photos:
Gin tonic:


Michela Marchi


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