Gin hasn’t been gin for all that long. Here’s where it came from, how it was made and why Australian gin isn’t just unique but the best in the world (IMHO).
Have you ever heard of jenever? Maybe Genever? No? Well, that’s ok. It’s not that common anymore.
But back in 12th Century Holland it was all the rage.
Back then it didn’t taste much like what we think of as gin now, but jenever would eventually evolve to become the delicious juniper-driven spirit that so many countries across the globe treasure.
What was jenever and does it still exist?
Simply put, jenever was a spirit made very similarly to whisky.
Distillers would make a ‘beer’ with malted grain that they would then triple distil then blend with a juniper spirit and then age in barrels.
The whole process is very complex and there are many rules that make jenever jenever - from the ABV to the percentage of malt wine to where it’s crafted.
This could be one of the reasons why jenever never really survived as a staple in bars. But that’s not to say it’s an extinct spirit.
Schedam - a town in the Netherlands close to Rotterdam and said to be the birthplace of jenever - still has a couple of distilleries that make jenever in its traditional form.
At its peak, there were around 400 jenever distilleries in Schedam alone - about one distillery per 70 residents. And although the number of Schedam distilleries has plummeted to just two, we’re happy to say you can still find this noble spirit today.
There are other places in north-western Europe like regions of Belgium and France that also make jenever.
Why did gin take over?
When the English were fighting the Spanish in the 1600s, their soldiers based in the Netherlands and Flinders discovered jenever.
They took it back to England, where it caught the attention of the king. He wanted more, and the recipe was tweaked and sped up. Distillers, providing they had access to a base spirit, could distill their own botanicals and create gin almost immediately.
No need for malting, fermenting, triple distilling, blending or barrel ageing.
The relative immediacy, ease of manufacture - not to mention royal approval and the proliferation from the most wide-spread empire in history - meant gin was in.
Jenever can also be a bit polarising.
Flavours range from quite fresh and light - similar gin - to deep, rich funkiness or sourness that’s nothing like gin… or anything else for that matter. It’s an acquired taste.
What’s so special about Australian gin?
There may be a chance - albeit slender - that we’re bias, but Aussie gin is the best in the world.
The flavours, elegance, daring and innovation going on with our gin is fascinating and just so exciting. Every day there’s something new happening in the Australian gin industry.
Apart from that, the way that Australian gin distillers are using native botanicals means there are flavours in our gins you’ll find nowhere else on earth.
Lemon myrtle, wattleseed, pepper berries, quandong, native truffles, strawberry gum, finger limes, kakadu plums, saltbush, boobiala berry… the myriad list of botanicals going into gin made here is tantalising and astonishing.
Every time we hear of a new gin or a new botanical from an Aussie distiller, we rub our hands together like kids watching a confectioner open a new lolly jar.
So dip your hand in and try a gin that’s unique to Australia, new to the world, but one which follows a long hallowed history a thousand years old.