Although gin is often considered a quintessentially English drink, you may be surprised to find that the first gin was made in Holland. Originally created as a medicinal tonic, the spirit made its way into the hearts of the common folk and the nobility and eventually became the basis for one of the most enduring cocktails of all time: the martini.


There are three types of gin: London dry gin or British dry; Genever, Holland gin or Dutch gin; and German or Steinhager gin.


Tasting gin

Historically the base of the dry martini, gin is now being incorporated into racier drinks. Of these new gins, I like Citadelle, a smooth, French import with layers of spicy floral flavours; Damrak, a Bols-made product from Holland; and, best of all, Tanqueray No. 10, the perfect martini gin. Among the standbys there are Beefeater, Gilbey’s, Booth’s, Boodles, Bombay Sapphire, and the elegant Plymouth, made with smooth, soft water. Mix these gins into your favourite cocktail or pour them over ice and let your taste buds seek out myriad flavours of licorice, pepper, lemon peel, the sweet violet whisper or orris root, and the tang of juniper.


What to look for while tasting

Since all gins are made from differing recipes, you’ll want to pay close attention to the flavours. There is a dizzying array of flavours and botanicals used to make gin -- lemon, rose petals, cucumber, orange -- the list is endless. Ultimately there is one flavour that should come through above the rest: juniper.


Appearance: Hold the gin glass up to the light and look at the liquid’s colour. Natural ingredients will impart colour as well as flavour, so there may be hints of various hues. A completely clear spirit tends to be artificially flavoured.


Nose: A simple sniff of gin can tell you whether it is even worth taking a sip. Good gin should reveal at least some juniper in the nose, and will smell soft and subtle under the high-proof alcohol. High-quality natural ingredients will create pleasant aromas. A strong chemical or overly astringent odour is a clue that you are dealing with a low-end gin, which will also smell of perfumes, artificial flavourings and other chemical extracts. Swirl the drink to release the flavours and nose the gin again.


Taste: Gently sip the drink and let it roll around the mouth before swallowing. First pay attention to the warmth of the alcohol. As you get used to it, you’ll start to note an array of flavours from the botanicals. Let the gin rest on your palate while exhaling through your nose. The result of the spirit should be smooth and creamy on the tongue with a long, soft taste. Then swallow and note the aftertaste.


The first sip should be a soothing, pleasant, warm sensation, with a definite, but not overpowering, floral taste of juniper. Next taste for dryness. Oiliness or slickness is an indication that the gin is likely flavoured with extracts.


Great gins finish clean and fresh. The juniper shouldn’t linger too long, and by the time you are ready for your next sip, the remnants of the last sip should be a memory.

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