Five facts about gin to celebrate a spirited revival

Why gin is suddenly so popular again

Australia's cocktail renaissance has spirits up for gin. Produced by Tim Martin

Gin is back, and more popular than ever. That's what a recent Roy Morgan study has found, with results showing that gin is quickly rivalling vodka as the most popular white spirit consumed in Australia. Since 2010, the juniper-based spirit has increased in popularity by a huge proportion (up 135 per cent) while vodka consumption has dropped slightly. 

"It's totally exciting to see people fall in love with gin," world-renowned mixologist Charlotte Voisey tells Executive Style from behind the bar of Sydney's speakeasy-esque The Barber Shop. "Because I just think it's been misunderstood for so long." 

More than 17,000 Australians were polled between April 2014 and March 2015 as part of the research, which asked what alcoholic beverages people had been drinking in the previous four weeks. The results found 220,000 more people drank gin in 2015 than in 2010, with popularity increasing for all ages.

Gin up

In an almost chicken-and-egg scenario - or cocktail-and-base - Voisey says the resurgence of gin has been prompted by a revitalisation of the cocktail trade, which in turn has lifted the entire alcoholic drinks category. 

"Cocktail culture as a whole has had a real renaissance. The last five years or so, major cities worldwide have seen an improvement in cocktail bars and in cocktails because bartenders get it again. Gin, just like it was in the late 1800s, is the hero once more," Voisey says.

"I think with gin - it's no longer a trend now. Gin is back in its rightful place at the top of the kingdom of spirits - it is the spirit of the cocktail. Hopefully we won't get to a saturation point and there's a backlash, kind of what happened with vodka. But I don't think the popularity of gin will wane at all."

To celebrate gin's revival, here are five facts you may not know about the popular tipple.

Ori-gins

The name 'gin' might have started in England - and some of the most famous gin brands are from the UK - but the spirit actually originated in the Netherlands. Gin started as an adaptation of the Dutch drink 'genever' - a malted spirit redistilled with the inclusion of juniper berries and other botanicals.

During the Thirty Years War in the 17th century, whilst the English were fighting in Holland they saw Dutch soldiers drinking genever to boost morale before heading into battle. Not only was the term "Dutch courage" born but the English took the idea with them, and after another 150 years they had their own, purer version of the drink that they subsequently named 'gin'.  

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What's g-in a name

The spirit hasn't always been a much loved staple. While genever had the 'Dutch courage' moniker, gin had a much more sinister nickname - 'Mother's Ruin'. The dark sobriquet dates back to a period known as the 'gin craze' when consumption of the white liquor was extremely high in the UK.

The British government at the time had allowed unlicensed gin production to flourish - whilst heavily taxing imported spirits - making gin more affordable and increasing its appeal exponentially. Its rise in popularity was linked to higher mortality rates in London as well as increasing crime, social unrest and - of course - alcoholism.

In 1750 when the government tried to impose taxes and legislation to control production, the situation became so bad that riots broke out and the nickname 'Mother's Ruin' was established. 

That's the tonic!

Did you know that gin can be used for medicinal purposes? Dutch physician Fransiscus Sylvius used genever as a medicine during the 16th century because it was believed to improve circulation and cure other ailments. Since then, gin has had a varied history of medicinal use.

It's been used to help fight the threat of death on the high seas. The Royal Navy used to mix gin with lime juice to prevent scurvy in a concoction that would become known as the Gimlet.

And when the Brits began moving to India after the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, the demand for "Indian tonic water" reached new heights, as tonic water contained quinine, which provided significant anti-malarial properties. However the tonic water was so extremely bitter that it was usually mixed with gin to blunt the taste, and as legend has it, that is how the humble gin and tonic was born. 

Bartenders know best

Gin is among the most popular and versatile of spirits. Ever since the art of making cocktails gained recognition, gin has been a favourite among bartenders. In fact, there are more classic cocktails mixed with gin than with any other spirit. 

This love for using gin as a base for cocktails stems from its lightness, which allows the added flavours to come through while it maintains its own character in the form of the botanicals it's made from. According to David Embury, the author of the seminal cocktail book The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (first published in 1948), gin will "blend satisfactorily with all manner of other flavours". 

It's all about flavour

The taste of gin can vary widely. The definition states that the dominant flavour and aroma must be that of the juniper berry but with the hundreds of new variants on the market today - many of which are produced by small craft gin distillers - it seems the definition is now subjective.

What isn't subjective is the fact that gin distillers often don't make their own alcohol. Gin usually starts with a neutral spirit, a commodity that distillers buy in bulk. Then, through the flavour infusing process, they introduce the juniper berries and other botanicals to create a unique recipe.

Vodka is made with nothing more than unflavoured alcohol and water, but with gin there can be huge diversity in taste. Citrus, nuts and spices are all common ingredients that find their way into gin recipes. 

Watch the video above to find out why gin has become popular again.