Gin Origins and History
Very few people realise that from 980 onwards Benedictine Monks in Italy were distilling alcohol. Historical records can trace back this distilling activity in Umbria. The various spirits which they produced where distilled purely for medicinal purposes. The first part of the spirit or distillate was subsequently mixed with a number of Umbrian high mountain botanicals coming from the area of Norcia and spices, roots and olive leaves were collected from the lower hills and plains surrounding the old town of Perugia. These flavourings were then allowed to macerate in the spirit for at least a month after which the spirit was re-distilled in small but simply made Pot Stills. The Benedictine Monks used this restorative potion for treating wounds. Eventually they also discover a lower strength formula for drinking which was highly effective against diseases such as kidney and bladder ailments. One of the many botanicals used in their mixture was the famous Juniper, which grows in abundance in Umbria and throughout Italy. Elixirs based solely on Juniper berries only came to market many centuries later as a potential healer when the black death went across Europe. In its wake came Genever which as we know was made from Juniper berries.
Juniper “elixirs” are traced as far back as the 14th century. It is Professor Franciscus de la Boe Sylvius, a professor at the University of Leyden in 17th century Holland, who is credited to have stumbled upon a mixture of juniper essence and malt spirit that would forever change the world of distilled beverages.
In 1689, William of Orange, a Dutchman, ascended the English throne in 1689 and quickly created an Act for encouraging consumption of Malted Corn and for the better, preventing sales of French and other foreign Brandy was also put into law which, of course, put a quick stop to the importation of French Brandy and thus greatly encouraging distillation on the home front. All of sudden, Gin became undeniably affordable and very easy to find. Gin consumption was further encouraged a few years later when a Royal Degree eliminated the exclusive right of distilleries to make Gin, allowing any man, woman the opportunity to do so. With milk and water generally considered unsafe to drink and beer prohibitively expensive due to taxation, the population quickly turned to Gin for satiation. From there, it wasn’t long before a severe epidemic of alcoholism was rocking the British Countryside. However, with sickness, death, and general moral degradation growing out of control, it finally became clear to the authorities that they had a national disaster on their hands and officials began enacting a series of laws, namely the Gin Act of 1736 which banned sales of Gin in small amounts and the Tippling Act of 1750 that re-privatized gin production, to slowly return order, and relative safety, to the kingdom.
Gin of that time was not the crisp and clean product we know Gin today. It wasn’t until the 1830’s with the introduction of the Continuous Distillation Process that Gin evolved into a refined beverage. This new and improved way of producing high quality neutral spirit created the perfect “blank canvas” for which to showcase the bright flavour of Juniper, Coriander, Cardamom, and the other botanicals common to what had become known as London Dry Gin. This newly refined spirit was very popular with British Royal Navy Officers, who can be credited with sharing Gin with the rest of the world, not to mention a growing contingent of the English upper class who constructed lavish “Gin Palaces” from which to indulge in their two favourite pastimes. Sipping, socializing and being merry.
Today Oliver Twist uses a blend of spirits produced from a Carter-Head Still which was produced over 70 years ago and there are only a few still remaining in the world today. The final phase of production is by pot still distillation using an old still originally built over 150 years ago. Age is of no essence as they remain even today in pristine condition. The benefit to the final product is that double distillation using different methods of distillation produce strikingly different styles and impart to Oliver Twist a flavour which is unique with a lushest of satin finish.
Today in the highly competitive international market place Gin consumption is growing year on year. It is important therefore to distinguish different types of Gin so that one better understands the quality of the brand they are drinking. At the very top of the qualitative scale you will find Oliver Twist. This is a London Distilled Dry Gin which means it is actually produced within the City of London. This in itself is not easy and does have additional production costs due to location. However, using the elements of London, purified water, the atmosphere, and the skilled labour of London, imparts something different and not easily quantifiable. London Dry Gin instead is basically a formula and can be produced outside London. However, the quality can vary substantially from producer to producer and country to country. Just Gin is again at the lowest end of manufacturing and one must carefully study the label to better understand the content. Gin is also produced in other countries outside of England and in Spain they would tend to call their Gin with words such as Ginepro, Gin Ingles or Gin Londres which provide a geographical style to their Gin.
Gin is a noble spirit which is made entirely from 100% neutral spirit. This spirit can be made from many elements such as molasses or grain. Ideally the spirit should not be a blend so that it may confer flavour clarity for the botanicals which also form part of the production process. Normally a leading botanical element is juniper which for many Gins tend to dominate the collection of other botanicals. Yet, while Juniper could find itself in the lead role, it often plays the supporting cast for other botanicals that offers the greatest differences in gin flavour profiles. Gin, at its introductory basic level, is much like complex Vodka, a neutral spirit with added flavourings, and much of the same production rules apply to both products. By law in England neutral spirit is produced off site and is then flavoured through distillation by one of the two methods listed below, diluted with pure water, and bottled.
Compounded Gin represents the cheapest route to produce Gin and is normally found in most countries outside the UK, Holland and the USA, produced primarily by bottlers without distillation capabilities. The neutral spirit is simply flavoured with the oils and extracts of Juniper and a variety of other botanicals.
Distilled Gin instead is made by redistillation process of neutral spirit with the addition of an infusion of botanicals through one of the following methods:
Maceration – The world’s finest Gins today and the up and coming Oliver Twist London Distilled Dry Gin, are made by steeping botanicals in pure neutral spirit for a proprietary time period. Once the flavours have properly bonded, the spirit is then redistilled to meld the flavours into the final product. This usually occurs in steel stills to impart little outside flavour and highlight the characteristics of the botanical infusion.
Vapor Infusion – A method, used by Oliver Twist, Bombay Sapphire and in the final stages of the production of Hendricks Gin, in which dried botanicals are carefully packed into a small perforated basket through which heated alcoholic vapours are passed through.
We believe best one should follow tradition and keep to a London Distilled Dry Gin as this in itself provides reassurance on origin, strictness on quality control to exacting production standards, but ultimately the City of London which is the natural home of Oliver Twist and London Distilled Dry Gin.