Which type of hard alcohol is made by distilling grain alcohol with juniper berries?

And the answer: gin.  
Photo credit: George Cruikshank.

The addition of juniper berries is the signature infusion that separates gin from other grain alcohols. Gin is usually made with a base of wheat or barley and then distilled with juniper and other fragrant spices, giving it its distinct aroma and taste. Its origins can be traced back to the 11th century in Europe, where it began as a medicinal liquor made by monks and alchemists.

Gin might have gained its popularity in England, but the more modern form of the liquor actually has origins in Holland. Genever, a malted spirit that is essentially light whisky with juniper, is the juniper distillate of the Netherlands that for all intents and purposes is the precursor to gin. The English discovered genever while fighting the Dutch War of Independence in the 17th century, and brought the spirit back with them. About 150 years later, the London-style gin we’re familiar with was born. Interestingly, early on in the history of gin, the liquor was considered to be a medicine, and was given in the attempt to help circulation and other ailments. In fact, during the Dutch Independence War, it was even given to soldiers and referred to as “Dutch Courage.”

Even more interesting: many of the gin cocktails we know and love today grew out of an attempt to mitigate health and safety risks of the time period. During the 19th century, the British began moving to India, and subsequently, the popularity of Gin & Tonics spiked. In efforts to avoid malaria, the demand for “Indian Tonic Water” grew. In effect, gin was added to the tonic water to mask the bitterness. Another cocktail that grew out of health concerns was the Gimlet, which was created when the Royal Navy mixed gin with lime juice to prevent scurvy.

Did you know?

This month is Ginuary! Quite the opposite of dry January, Ginuary enthusiasts take the month to celebrate the juniper liquor in all its forms. Learn more about the history of gin and gin cocktails here.

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