In the past few years, a gin wave has washed over the cocktail lovers of the world and it has now hit Icelandic shores. Gin is one of the few drinks that is rarely drunk any other way than in a good cocktail and the classic Gin & Tonic, Martini Dry and Tom Collins are now back in style. Never before have there been more cocktail bars in Iceland and Icelandic gin of high quality is now on the cocktail menus of most of these. Small craft distilleries have appeared and it’s safe to say they’ve proven that clean Icelandic water, craft and passion are the ingredients needed to make great gin.
Few people know that gin is an old drink that was made with juniper and used for medicinal purposes in The Netherlands and Belgium in the 17th Century. British soldiers who had come over to The Netherlands to fight in the colonial war with France named the drink “Courage”, as they used to drink it to prepare for battle. Originally, the name of the drink was “Genever”, which is juniper in French, but the English shortened it to “Gin”, brought it back to England and made it their own.
There are many types of gin but to be able to use the name gin, juniper must be the characterizing flavor. Gin’s distinctive feature is also the complicated blend of herbs, flowers and citrus fruits that make the taste so versatile, soft and well suited for cocktails.
Two methods prevail in gin production and it’s good to know the difference to be able to figure out what suits your taste. There is the so-called “cold-compound” method, otherwise known as the “bathtub” method, where spirit and flavoring are mixed and allowed to stand for a few days, then filtered and diluted with water. Then there are the “distilled” and “London Dry” methods that are used to make high quality gin. Here, the gin is distilled once or a few times and the herbal flavors are added during distillery, or afterwards. The “London Dry” method is subject to very strict rules where you cannot add any flavoring after distillation, nor use sugar or coloring.
The quality of a gin also depends on the quantity that is made each time – the smaller the quantity, the more control the brewer has over the quality. Small breweries often number the bottles to indicate the distillation the liquid derives from and in the correct tapping order.
In the last few years, rule-breaking gin offsprings have popped up, where juniper is not the ruling flavor but is instead balanced with other flavors in order to appeal to a wider audience. This new type of gin is sometimes called “The New Western Dry Gin” and most of them are distilled. Recently “Old Tom”, a British recipe from the 18th century was brought back to life. Old Tom is made according to the “compound” method and is a little sweeter than London Dry, with less juniper and often aged in casks. The perception is that this resembles the old Genever taste, but only Genever produced in The Netherlands can say Genever on it’s bottles.
Hopefully this goes some way to explain the origins of this fun drink that has charmed the world with it’s powerful taste. Next time you go to a bar, order Icelandic gin and let the bartender give your tastebuds a nice surprise.
Text: Guðbjörg Gissuardóttir
Photographer: Jón Árnason