This blog will suggest that non-alcoholic gin is a welcome and valid addition to the gin category.
A Brief History of Gin
Gin is a distilled alcoholic drink, predominantly flavoured with juniper berries with a minimum abv of 37.5%. First known reference was in a 13th century Flemish manuscript, which refers to a spirit called genever (Dutch for juniper).
Gin was first taken as a medicine to treat ailments such as gout and dyspepsia. It gained further popularity during the Thirty Years war, when British soldiers fighting on Dutch land were bolstered with “Dutch Courage”. From the latter half of the 17th century gin was widely consumed in England, mainly amongst the lower classes, when it was considered safer to drink than water.
The Gin Craze
By 1720 it was estimated a quarter of households in London made and consumed their own gin. It became known as ‘The Gin Craze’. The government passed numerous legislative acts in an attempt to curb what was becoming a dangerous and damaging addiction.
Of the many changes in the law, the most notable was The Gin Act 1751. It forced distillers to sell only to licenced retailers. It also put a ban on any Still that had a capacity of less than 1,800 litres. Together these factors put small-scale distilleries out of business.
As a result gin production developed into a more high-quality business. Many respectable, larger firms were established; Gordons started in 1769 and Plymouth Gin in 1793. It also became a more sophisticated balance of delicate flavours, associated with high end cocktails and mixed drinks. These include Pimm’s Cup, the Tom Collins, the White Lady and the Martini are some of the most well known.
Amongst these is the classic Gin and Tonic. It originated from soldiers and colonials living in countries prone to malaria infections. Consumed to mask the unpleasant bitter flavour of the anti-malarial quinine.
Types of Gin
The Five Main Types of Gin
- London Dry, typically very dry, heavily juniper flavoured, light and aromatic. Brands include, Tanqueray and Bombay Sapphire. (Does not have to be made in London)
- Plymouth Gin is less dry and must be made in Plymouth. Earthier flavour with softer juniper notes.
- Genever or Dutch Gin is very different. Made from a base of malt grains which are darker with the flavour very similar to a botanical whiskey. Most common brand is Bols Genever.
- Old Tom Gin is a sweeter cousin to London Dry. Can be difficult to find, Haymans are a brand who make it.
- New American or International Style is an umbrella term used to refer to all of the new styles of gin that use the same base distilling process but are predominantly infused with flavours other than juniper berries. Hendricks is one example.
After a few years out of the limelight gin again bounced back early in the 21stcentury. Sipsmith and other small distillers lobbied the government. Eventually they won licences to distil gin in batches of only 300 litres. A new ‘gin craze’ began, resulting in sales of gin in the UK reaching £2 Billion in 2018.
Non-alcoholic gin – Oxymoron or valid addition
Craft distilleries sprang up all over the country, making small batch gins. They used a varied array of botanicals and other ingredients. Flavoured gins and the sweeter, lower abv Liqueur gins grew in popularity. Some unusual gins were introduced, to include salted caramel, crème egg, cherry blossom and lychee. Pink gins, marmalade gins and even ‘Collagins’ (infused with collagen the anti-ageing beauty product) came flooding onto the market.
So why not a non-alcoholic gin, an obvious addition surely, to an already diverse category? Some may argue that the term non-alcoholic gin is an oxymoron, as by strict definition gin is alcoholic. However many alcoholic gins on the market, are below the stipulated abv. Others clearly have never been anywhere near a juniper berry.
The Rise of the Mindful Drinking Movement
The global consumption of alcohol peaked in the 2000’s and has been declining ever since. The UK has seen an 18% fall in the past decade. Due mainly to the growing interest in wellness, with many people choosing healthier lifestyles. There is also an on-going push back against the booze-fuelled professional networking culture. Social media sharing all our misdemeanours with the world has also played a part.
Sugary soft drinks were also falling out of favour, fostering a growing need for something healthier and more sophisticated. A drink that had parity in taste and presentation as that of its alcoholic counterpart. Thus a whole new category was born. Ben Branson led the way in 2014 with Seedlip and was believed to be first to coin the phrase non-alcoholic spirit.
The interest in non-alcoholic spirits is clearly growing. In 2018/19 sales grew by 418% and many more producers entered the market.
Evolution not Revolution
Referring to some of these spirits as non-alcoholic gins helps people to relate to them in a way they find familiar. Using recognisable flavours and traditional extraction techniques supports this. Enlisting skilled mixologists to present non-alcoholic drinks and cocktails with a real sense of theatre adds to their authenticity and means they can be enjoyed at any occasion where alcoholic drinks are served.
Some may look at this as a revolution, but to others it is an evolution. A natural progression, fitting for today’s awareness of the harmful effects of alcohol and interest in health and well-being.
Gin is one of the broadest categories of spirits, represented by products of various origins, styles, and flavour profiles. It can therefore be concluded that non-alcoholic gin is a welcome and valid addition to the category, fulfilling the imbiber’s increasing demand for choice and innovation.