Updated: Dec 14, 2020
Home crafting has been popular for many years but as a rule been restricted to scrapbooking, knitwear and artesian bread-making. The last few years have seen an increase in home beer brewing and backyard alcohol botanical blending. Many kits for do-it-yourself alcohol are on the market and are great for gift giving. I have had loads of fun with the Ultimate Gin Maker's Kit by Sandy Leaf. They offer some great kits, from bubble tea to cheese and chilis.
With little else to do, I've recently learned how to make bathtub gin. I'm calling it 'bathtub gin' because evoking Prohibition is much more badass then measuring out perfectly packaged botanicals into a glass jar from a lovely kit my sister bought me for a recent birthday. I am sticking with my bath tub myth.
Within the five-volume encyclopaedia of herbal medicine published by Pedantius Dioscorides in 70 AD, is a recipe for a juniper berry wine infusion meant to be good for the chest. Hence the first evidence of gin production. The Romans dabbled a bit, but it wasn't until the Dutch got involved that drinking gin for health and for other obvious reasons really took off.
It all started with the 80 Years War. In 1568, The Dutch issued a decree of independence from Spain. England had royal connections with the Dutch, and sent troops in support of them. The English soldiers were given a concoction of spiced wine and juniper berries known as genever to help with pre-battle nerves. This is the origin of the term 'Dutch Courage'. Genever, over time was shortened to gen, then Anglicised to gin.
In 1689 William 111, AKA William the Orange ascended the throne of England and was also the sovereign prince of Holland. He implemented a trade war with France, taxing imports of cognac and wine in efforts to break the French economy. He also imposed The Corn Laws in England which gave tax breaks on spirit production, resulting in a distillery free for all. This led to "the gin craze', when buying gin was cheaper than buying a pint of beer.
Society folk tippled gin gently, while the lower classes imbibed with gusto. Half of London's pubs were gin joints. In cold weather, shops popped right out of the frozen Thames selling gingerbread and hot gin in what was known as the Frost Fairs. Totally unregulated, gin makers began to use turpentine, saw dust and sulphuric acid in their brews. When people started dropping dead from drinking gin, Parliament decided to do something about it.
Gin was over-taxed, expensively licensed, and dangerous to drink. Consumption fell on hard times. It wasn't until 1830, when Irishman Aeneaus Coffey introduced a still that purified the spirits and made them non-lethal that gin drinking came back into fashion. Just in time for cocktails and the Roaring 20's!
Quinine, a compound derived from the bark of the Cinchona tree, was used to treat soldiers during bouts of malaria during British expansionism into Africa and South East Asia. Add quinine to carbonated water and you get Indian tonic water. Add some gin to that and voila!, you have a G&T: refreshing and healthy too!
Gin drinking made it through the Jazz Age, American Prohibition, and a worldwide depression. It thrived during the two world wars, the second of which gin distilleries were targeted by the Germans as actively as was the navy.
Today, with cocktails at the height of popularity, gin distilleries are popping up everywhere. UK talk show host Graham Norton has his own brand, as does actor Ryan Reynolds. Debuting for the holidays this year, Queen Elizabeth 11 has brought her own special blend to market. Sandringham Gin is a blend of sharon fruit (persimmon), myrtle, and citrus botanicals all harvested on the Queen's Sandringham Estate. It is said that the Queen has a Gin & Dubbonet every day. I'll drink to that!
-Ryan Reynolds' Aviator Gin, Sandringham Estate Gin, Graham Norton's Irish Gin
Making your own gin is fairly easy. But keep safe while making your own alcohol; there is always the risk of blindness, or at the least, extremely stupid behaviour. My gin-making kit gave me two options: make my own base alcohol in my distillery or use an inexpensive vodka as my base.
I don't own my own still (hint-Christmas is coming), so I opted for a quick run to Tesco for some cheap vodka.
To this vodka. I added the required measurement of juniper berries and then let it infuse for 7 days. I then added the rose and hibiscus mix to make pink gin.
The instructions explained that colour is more vibrant after distillation, and without that, the colour would be a bit yellow. This is was. Appearances be damned, it tasted like gin. I had a lovely cocktail last night and still posses the sense of sight this morning. Quite a success! I have also made a Christmas infusion with citrus and cocoa nibs and as I am the only gin drinker in the house, I say I am pretty set for the holiday season!
Now, I just need to learn how to make vodka out of left-over potatoes.
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