10 things you probably didn't know about gin

Should gin be served with tonic water, or just water?
Should gin be served with tonic water, or just water? Photo: Shutterstock

Gin! Essential for a Negroni, refreshing with tonic water and life-affirming in a cold Martini. But, you probably knew all that. With World Gin Day upon us on Saturday, June 9, here are 10 gin facts and yarns you might be less familiar with.

Dry your eyes, mate

"How many tears in bottle of gin?" asked Paul Kelly in the 1989 song Careless. If the Aussie rock legend had bothered to take himself down to the library he would know that one teardrop is around 0.05ml so an empty 700ml gin bottle can hold about 140,000 tears. Unless Kelly wanted to know how many tears are used to make gin, in which case the answer is zero. At its most basic level, gin is an unaged spirit predominantly flavoured with juniper and enhanced with any number of spices, seeds, roots, citrus peels and other botanicals. PK should know this.

Gin is predominantly flavoured with juniper berries.
Gin is predominantly flavoured with juniper berries. Photo: Ryan Noreiks

Manilla martini madness

The Philippines consumes more gin than any other country, after the spirit became popular during the Spanish colonial era. Ginebra San Miguel distillery, founded in 1834, remains The Philippines' number one producer and uses a base spirit made from sugar cane. One of the most popular Filipino drinks is the Gin Pom – gin, water and powdered pomelo juice.

Sweating it out

Melbourne Gin Company's native botanicals.
Melbourne Gin Company's native botanicals. Photo: Albert Comper

Teetotal American politician and almost-president William Jennings Bryan was known to always smell like booze even though he never touched the stuff. According to Presidential Campaigns by Paul F. Boller, Bryan was a sweaty bird on the campaign trail and would often douse his body and clothes in gin to mask an embarrassing body odour. Unsurprisingly, this made Byron smell like "a wrecked distillery".

Gin at the gallows

Before Cliff Richard and royal weddings, public executions were England's favourite form of entertainment, and hot gin with gingerbread was a popular execution-viewing snack combo in the 1700s. Essentially popcorn and Coke for the witch-burning generation.

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Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Serious Boozing

Sir Winston Churchill and Alfred Hitchcock had more in common than jowl size – they also shared a similar preference for martinis. That is, keep vermouth out of it. Churchill claimed the only way to make a martini was "with ice-cold gin and a bow in the direction of France" while Hitch's martini recipe calls for "five parts gin and a quick glance at a bottle of vermouth".

Nobody does it better

Keen to drink the world's best martini? According to many booze writers, London's Dukes Hotel is the place to do it. Martinis are mixed tableside on a 100-year-old rosewood trolley, and there's a two-Martini limit due to the Hitchcockian amount of gin in each cocktail. Whether that limit applied to James Bond creator Ian Fleming when he would routinely get sloshed at Dukes is unknown. What is known is that you're looking at $35 per martini for the privilege.

All that glitters

The recipe for Gordon's gin has remained unchanged since 1769. This means that you can taste the same gin as Australian settlers did in the 1850s, when they imported Gordon's into Melbourne and paid for it in gold dust. (Four Pillars was still some years away from opening, and gin was hard to come by.)

Very, very shaken, definitely not stirred

If you want to annoy a bartender on a busy night, best order a Ramos Gin Fizz. The New Orleans-born cocktail calls for at least six minutes of shaking to properly emulsify (purists insist that 12 minutes is the magic amount of time), but not before one needs to assemble Old Tom gin, lemon juice, lime juice, egg whites, cream, sugar syrup, club soda and orange blossom water. At the New Orleans Mardi Gras in 1915, Fizz inventor Henry Charles Ramos employed 35 shaker blokes to keep up with demand for his creamy, fluffy and floral creation.

G&W FTW

To get the most out of your $120 bottle of artisan gin and its 48 hand-foraged botanicals, you might care to mix it with water instead of tonic. As delicious as a great tonic water can be, a half-and-half mix of gin and water will dilute the spirit in a way that properly wakes up the pine-needle aromas of juniper and its potential batch-mates angelica root, coriander seed, cassia, orange peel and who knows what else.

Here's what British author Kingsley Amis had to say on the subject in Everyday Drinking: "Most gin in this country is drunk with tonic and ice and lemon… I find this a rather unworthy, mawkish drink, best left to women, youngsters and whisky distillers…

"One large gin and tonic is acceptable as a thirst quencher. For further, serious drinking I recommend gin and water – and ice and lemon. Gin is a real and interesting drink, carefully prepared with those botanicals and all, and it deserves to be sampled with its flavour unimpaired."

Sippin' on gin and Dubonnet

The favourite drink of Queen Elizabeth II is supposedly gin with Dubonnet, a quinine-starring drink invented in 1846 to protect the French Foreign Legion from malaria in north Africa. The palace recipe is reportedly 30 per cent gin and 70 per cent Dubonnet, with an ice cube and lemon slice. Happy birthday for the long weekend, your majesty.