Types of Gin  Botanicals  History  Sloe Gin

What is Gin?

At a base level, Gin is clear un-aged rectified ethyl alcohol, re-distilled alcohol redistilled with botanicals – a collection of herbs, spices, flora & berries, the most common of which is Juniper berries. The name “Gin” is derived from the Dutch Jenever & the French Genievre, their words for Juniper.

The base spirit of gin is distilled in a continuous still or Coffey still. Rather than pass the spirit several times through different stills as with single malt whisky, the Coffey still allows the spirit to be redistilled until it becomes almost flavourless. For Gin it is drawn off at around 95%

The Gin Shoppe

Engraving by George Cruikshank

Gin on the shelf in The Spirit Shop


Types of Gin

There are three main classifications of Gin: London Gin, Distilled Gin & Gin

London Gin:

…does not have to come from London, but must be made from high quality alcohol, usually 100% grain spirit, which is then re-distilled in a traditional pot still with only natural flavourings.

Traditionally, copper stills are charged with neutral grain spirit and the botanicals are added according to the producer’s recipe. The mixture is then left to steep in the still for 24 hours allowing a good extraction of the essential volatile oils. If time is of an essence another method is to distil with much higher levels of botanicals and additional base spirit is added after distillation,

The only things that can be added after distillation are more base spirit, water & sweetener at less than 0.5g per litre. London Gin cannot be coloured,

Brand examples of London Gin are: Gordon’s, Beefeater, Whitely Neill & Tanquerary.

Distilled Gin:

…made in a traditional still as with London Gin, it can also be redistilled in a traditional gin with only natural flavourings. The difference comes after distillation as ingredients such as natural and artificial flavourings and colour can be added.

Hendricks Gin is an example of Distilled Gin


Also known as cold-compounded Gin, is made from any type of ethyl alcohol and does not have to be grain whisky, often molasses spirit (Rum Base) is used. It is not usually redistilled; rather the flavourings simply stirred in and pretty much anything can be added.


The herbs, roots, seeds, exotic berries, spices and barks that are known as the botanicals in gin have their roots in the spice trade of the two great seafaring nations England & Holland. Many a sea battle ensued as the two nations fought for control of these routes. Jenever in Holland & Gin in England emerged as these “botanicals” were used to flavour a base spirit.

Virtually all gins incorporate the flavours of juniper, coriander & angelica, with added citrus such as orange or lemon peel. Classically a gin will contain a minimum of four botanicals and a maximum of twelve. In reality there are well over a hundred that can be added. The Botanist, distilled at the Bruichladdich whisky distillery is infused with 31 botanicals of which 22 are native to the isle of Islay.

Common botanicals include: Juniper berries, Angelica root or seed, almond, Coriander, cardamom, cassia bark, cinnamon bark, ginger, licorice, citrus peel & orris root.

Junioer Berries (Juniperus communis)



Engraving by William Hogarth "Gin Lane"

Gin Lane by William Hogarth













History of Gin

Surplus grain was commonly distilled into spirits all over Europe and by 1492 in Holland “brandewijn” or “burnt wine” was being distilled from rye in large quantities. It was strong, fiery and not particularly pleasant and Juniper was added in an attempt to try to make it taste better. Jenever – a medicinal juniper distillate was born.

During the 30 years’ war (1618-1648), English mercenaries were given Jenever to calm then before battle – the term “Dutch Courage” was born. Returning to England the soldiers of fortune took their Dutch Jenever with them.

In 1688, William of Orange, a protestant Dutch man ascended the throne of England and promptly declared war on France. The resultant ban in 1690 of the importation of French wine & brandy and a change in legislation, led to a boom industry of, (mainly legal), home distilling, within 50 years production of spirits in London had leapt from 500,000 gallons a year to 20 million – excluding illicit distilling.

Penny gin was possibly the first alchopop or RTD. One part Gin to two parts water it was sold all over London in ¼ pints for the price of a penny.

The ensuing years were known as gin madness. Poverty and depression led many into alcoholism, crime and theft. Carved into the stone arch bottom left of the picture is the slogan: “Drunk for a penny, dead drunk for tuppence, straw for free.”

There were some terrifying statistics: in 1751 nine thousand children died in London from alcohol poisoning and there was the sad story of Judith Dufour who took her two year old daughter out from the workhouse for the day, murdered her and sold her clothes for money to buy gin. Hospitals were packed with patients with alcohol related illnesses. Concern about the effects on pregnancy possibly led to the famous term: “mother’s ruin”. Gradually over the years legislation was introduced that tamed the “gin madness”

Old Tom & Holland gin were heavy, sweetened gins wifely drunk throughout the 18th & early 19th centuries. By the 1850’s a clearer, lighter unsweetened gin had taken over and London dry Gin was born. It was a far better spirit for use in the new invention: the cocktail.

Sloe Gin

Sloe gin is essentially a gin based liqueur made by infusing gin with pierced Sloe berries mixed with sugar. (Sloe berries are the fruit of the Blackthorn tree, Prunus spinosa, which is not common in New Zealand but can be bought from garden centres).

If you choose to buy a commercial sloe gin – look for a reputable brand, as many of the cheaper ones use a cheap neutral grain spirit as a base rather than real Gin.

.Sloe Gin


Attribution: Malcolm Murdoch


Sloe Berries

 Attribution: Stephanie Watson