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Ten things you never knew about gin

by Nicholas Coldicott

1. Gin derives its name from jenever, the Dutch word for juniper.

2. Gin’s invention is usually attributed to a Dutch chemist working in the 1650s who distilled grain and infused it with juniper as a remedy for kidney and stomach ailments. However, English diarist Samuel Pepys wrote as early as 1633 that he was advised to treat his abdominal pain with “strong water made of juniper.”

3. London Dry gin is just a style — it doesn’t have to come from London, but Plymouth gin must be produced in Plymouth, England.

4. “Dutch courage” as slang for alcohol is thought to have originated when British troops fighting in the Dutch Revolt (1568-1648) against the Spanish Empire saw their allies downing shots of juniper-berry (pictured bottom right) infused spirits before heading into battle.

5. The burst capillaries of an alcoholic’s nose are known colloquially as “gin blossoms.”

6. According to legend, Winston Churchill made his martinis by pouring a glass of Plymouth gin, then glancing at a bottle of vermouth from the other side of the room. A drink of pure gin with garnish is now known as a Churchill Martini.

7. The Philippines is the world’s biggest gin market, followed by the United States and Spain.

8. The current queen of England has espoused a love of gin, but the English Monarchy first championed the drink in the 17th century after Dutch protestant William of Orange pinched the English throne from his Catholic uncle, James II. The new King William III fiddled with import duties to make brandy (produced by French Catholics) prohibitively expensive and gin (a Dutch Protestant product) cheap enough to become the nation’s most popular drink.

9. Within 50 years of King Bill making gin Britain’s favorite liquid, the drink nicknamed “mother’s ruin” was considered so corrosive to English society that Parliament hiked taxes on it with the Gin Acts of 1729 and 1736. An outraged populace rioted, forcing the government to lower the tariffs.

10. Old Tom gin was a sweetened version popular in 18th-century England. Pub landlords had black, cat-shaped wooden panels on their walls. Customers would place a penny in the cat’s mouth and put their lips to a tube between the cat’s paws. The bartender would then pour a shot of gin through the tube.