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I Gave Up Drinking Gin When I Was 12 - Part 1

A selection of popular imported gin brands at Terry Robards Wines & Spirits

It's true....I gave up drinking gin when I was 12 - but before I get into that story let's take a look at the origin of gin. The word gin is a shortened form of the French word genièvre and the Dutch word jenever - both of which are derived from the Latin word juniperus.

Juniper is a shrub that is related to the pine tree and it grows wild throughout the world. Juniper berries are a dusty blue color and are formed like compact little

pinecones that are loaded with essential oils. The berries are slightly sweet and fragrant, with a musty scent reminiscent of pine and citrus. These characteristics are what gives Gin its distinctive flavor.

The aromatic juniper berry is formed like a tiny pinecone.

Juniper has been used since ancient times in herbal remedies. As a liquid medicine it can be traced back to the 11th century when Benedictine monks in Salerno, Italy combined juniper berries (the plants grew in abundance around the monastery) with wine, then distilled the mixture in a crude swan shaped still. It yielded a powerfully strong alcoholic elixir that was used to treat all sorts of ailments.

Over time this medicine made its way from southern Italy, to France, Belgium and the Netherlands. By the 1600s, the Dutch were distilling their own juniper and wine potion which they called Genever. They exported it to England where it was embraced as an ingredient to make alcoholic drinks.

It didn't take long before the Brits developed their own version of juniper laced liquor. They shortened the name Genever to Gin, and by the late 1700s, the first distilled spirit was commercially produced in London - It was called Old Tom.

This early label describes Old Tom as a cordial ( very sweet liqueur) and the graphics indicates the gin is barrel aged.

Some say the name came from an old distillery worker named Tom, while others believe it was derived from the Tom Cat - which was often portrayed on tavern signs.

Furthermore, Old Tom wasn't made with wine, but rather with grain, since the English were adept at making beer and ale. The flavoring was a concoction of juniper berries, licorice, angelica root and coriander. Since distillation was still in its infancy, the alcohol was very strong and harsh. To counteract its fiery nature they added lots of beet sugar to the mix.

The first dry gin was developed in London in 1769 by a man named Alexander Gordon.

Alexander Gordon built a distillery in London to make the first dry (the opposite of sweet) gin in 1769. He called it Gordon's Special Dry London Gin. Gordon's was strong stuff - heavy on the juniper and citrus - and it gained the reputation for being the "ginniest" of gins. Gordon's is still the best selling, least expensive gin in the world and the secret recipe is closely guarded to this day.

Tanqueray gin appeared more than 50 years after the introduction of Gorden's Dry London. It was smooth and refined with subtle flavors of juniper and citrus .

In 1830 , brothers Charles and Edward Tanqueray went into business distilling a more refined version of dry gin - and it made quite a splash. While Gordon's had a reputation for being the strongest of gins, Tanqueray was the opposite - more subtle and smooth. This was due to advances in distillation techniques.

Competition was stiff in the late Victorian era as gin mills were popping up all over the place. So in order for their businesses to survive the cheap competition, Alexander Gordon and Charles Tanqueray agreed to merge their companies in 1898. The venture guaranteed success for both men and the Tanqueray - Gordon Company became the world's largest distiller of London dry gin. ( Many people pronounce the name incorrectly as "tanger-ay " with a G instead of the Q. The correct pronunciation, however, is "tan-cur- ay")

The Iconic Summer Drink - Gin & Tonic

The origin of Gin & Tonic with lime - the most popular of alcoholic summer drinks - has a fascinating history. It all starts with quinine - a bitter substance derived from the bark of the Cinchona (sin-cho-na) tree. When mixed with water, quinine powder made a bitter tonic that was an effective cure for malaria.

Now it just so happened that during the 1840s, the British government was colonizing parts of India, and along with the colonists came dry gin. It was also at this time that malaria, a deadly disease carried by mosquitos, was rampant. So in order to combat the fatal illness - quinine water had to be consumed regularly. Since quinine tonic was bitterly distasteful, the Brits remedied the solution by mixing it with a bit of gin, sugar and lime juice.

When powdered quinine was mixed with water it created a bitter tonic that effectively killed the deadly mosquito borne parasite that caused malaria.

In 1858 an enterprising man by the name of Erasmus Bond concocted a palatable recipe for quinine tonic and began to bottle it commercially - and with great success. A little over a decade later Schweppes jumped on the bandwagon and began to make their own version. With a stroke of marketing genius they labeled it Indian Quinine Tonic - specifically targeting the large British population living in India.

Erasmus Bond Traditional Tonic is still available today. Flavored with a combination of botanicals including licorice and elderflower with citrus fruits, and just a touch of bitter quinine. It is described as timeless, with a subtle balance of bitterness and zesty lemon.

Schweppes is still producing their iconic Indian Tonic which was developed in 1870. They marketed it to the large British population living in India as a cure for malaria.

If you are interested in gins, come in and browse the selection at our store - at last count there were 5,498 different gin distilleries worldwide.

Modern-day gins are creatively crafted with a wide variety of floral, herbal and spice botanicals, as well as fruit and vegetable extracts. For example Gunpowder Gin from Ireland gets its name and unique flavor from dried gun powder tea. Gin Mare, made near Barcelona, Spain is distilled with olives, rosemary, thyme and basil. Hendrick's, from Scotland, has a distinctive flavor of juniper, rose and cucumber.

There are currently 1006 gin distilleries in America with 36 of them located in NY state.

The gin brands pictured above are all distilled in NY state. These are not mass produced on a large scale, but rather crafted in small batches. Each distillery uses an array of distinctive botanicals that set them apart from one another. We are proud to have personal connections with several of these artisanal gin distillers and equally proud to carry their products in our store.

The bottle shown on the far left - Blue Line Gin - is locally crafted by Lake Placid Spirits . The water is sourced from the lake and it is flavored with the essence of juniper and pine. The label features the boundary outline, also called The Blue Line, of the Adirondack State Park.

Black Button Distillery of Rochester, NY crafts four different gins; Citrus Forward, Loganberry, American Dry and Lilac. The Lilac is much celebrated because of the city's Annual Lilac Festival. (Rochester's Highland Park has over 1,200 Lilac bushes). The gin is only made when the blooms can be harvested - as a result there is limited availability and it sells out quickly.

The liquor shown here is all needed for Tim's specialty cocktail - the Barr Hill Last Word.

Award winning Barr Hill Gin from Caledonia Spirits in Montpelier, VT makes a delicious artisanal gin flavored with juniper and raw honey that is gathered from bee hives in their own Nature Conservancy protected fields. Barr Hill also makes a sweeter barrel aged gin called Tom Cat. Tim Robinson, general manager of Terry Robards Wines & Spirits, is a mixologist with a flare for creating delicious cocktails. Here is one of his original recipes:

Barr Hill Last Word - created by Tim Robinson

1 oz. of Barr Hill Gin - either original honey or Tom Cat barrel aged

1 oz. of Maraschino Liqueur - Luxardo, Lazzaroni or other brand

1 oz. of Green Chartreuse

Juice of 1 fresh lime

Amaro or Luxardo Cherry

Directions: Combine all the ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker.

Shake vigorously.

Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a cherry.

Stay tuned for part 2 of - I GAVE UP DRINKING GIN WHEN I WAS 12!



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