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July 2007 - The Gin Rickey (and some gin notes and history)

Notes on Gin 

Gin was very popular at the turn of the century, and on through the thirties and forties.  It subsequently declined in popularity in North America, likely due to the strong mass-marketing of cheap US-made vodka in the 1950s.  This saw the decline of the traditional gin martini, the gimlet, and the gin rickey – replaced by vodka-laced substitutes.   

Fortunately, a recent revival of gin is occurring, and gin is being recognized by bartenders as a spirit that deserves revisiting.  Gin has a clear and undisputed advantage over vodka – where vodka is distilled to be virtually tasteless, gin’s botanical flavours stand out and add character to a cocktail.   Okay, so they add flavours to vodka after-the-fact (with out re-distialltion), and you can have raspberry or strawberry flavoured vodka drinks.  But they are no match to a good quality gin. The word gin is derived from the Dutch word “genever”, meaning juniper.

Gin is also extremely low in congeners, the compounds thought to produce hangovers!

Distillation of Gin

From various sources on the internet, the following is a summary of how gin is made.  Where the gin making process begins is essentially where the vodka process ends – as grain spirit.  Genever is made primarily from "malt wine" (a mixture of malted barley, wheat, corn, and rye), which produces a spirit similar to raw malt whisky.

From here, botanicals are added (seeds, spices, fruits, roots and herbs).  Botanicals can be added in the still, where they are left to soak into the base spirit.  The spirit is then re-distilled and cut with water to a drinkable strength. These are typically the low-quality or mass-market gins.   Alternatively, the base spirits are boiled. The vapours pass through a chamber where they encounter the botanicals.  As the steam is cooled back to liquid in a condenser, it becomes a top-quality gin with complex flavours unique to the botanicals used, and hence unique to the brand.

Juniper berries are the typical botanical additive. Others include angelica, coriander, lemon peel, orange peel, licorice root  and in the case of Hendrick’s Gin, cucumber and rose petals.  Bombay Sapphire is made with ten botanicals: almond, lemon peel, licorice, juniper berries, orris root, angelica, coriander, cassia, cubeb, and grains of paradise.


The creation of gin is attributed to scientist Dr. Franciscus de la Boë in the university town of Leiden, who created a juniper and spice-flavored medicinal spirit that he promoted as a diuretic. Samuel Pepys wrote in 1660 of curing a case of "colic" with a dose of "strong water made with juniper".

Genever became popular in the UK in 1689 when William III, the Dutch-born King of England, banned imports of French spirits to his country during the Nine Years War. With brandy forbidden, genever caught on and distillers in England were producing a rough version of the Dutch spirit that was perhaps the first British gin.  At the time, it was thought the drink of the poor, and was blamed for various social and medical problems in the time. 

Today’s Gin

Modern gin was born in the 18th century with the invention of the column (or continuous) still. This device gave gin makers more control over the distilling process than primitive pot stills.

Over the next century, gin made its way across the ocean and around the world. British sailors drank Plymouth gin undiluted, unchilled, and laced with bitters, and called the concoction Pink Gin (Epicurious). In tropical British colonies, gin was used to mask the bitter flavour of quinine, a protection against malaria, which was dissolved in carbonated water to form tonic water. This was the origin of today's popular gin and tonic combination, even though quinine is no longer used against malaria (Wikipedia).  In the United States, where cocktail culture was being invented in the early to mid 19th century, Dutch gins, darker and sweeter than their British counterparts, were being mixed with sugar syrup and lemon juice and served as the Improved Holland Gin cocktail (Epicurious).

What to drink when

According to Wikipedia, there are 72 different types of gin available today.  Some new gins, such as No. 209, made by Napa's Edge Hill Winery, excel at the classic style, while others, such as Hendrick's, explore new botanicals. Because each gin has a different flavor profile and alcohol content, a well-stoked bar should contain several different bottles for different occasions.  Like whisky, each gin is different to our taste buds, and like a good whisky, different flavours suit different moods of the drinker. “Something classic such as Tanqueray for gin and tonics. Perhaps a higher-alcohol juniper powerhouse like Junipero from San Francisco. Or even Old Raj, which is made in Scotland, for sipping, because gin has joined whiskey as a spirit that deserves to be savored all by itself.” (Epicurious)


A rickey is best described as a cross between a collins and a sour. Other liquors may be substituted for the gin in this classic recipe.  Warning – they are a little addictive and are very refreshing!

1 ice cube

1/2 lime or 1/4 lemon

1 1/2 ounces gin

Chilled club soda

Using an 8-oz highball glass, add ice cube, lime or lemon juice (squeezed) and add the shell/slice to the glass.  Add the gin and top up with the soda water.

Jackie, 2007

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