Gin has historically been associated with the U.K., likely due to the spirit’s immense popularity among British drinkers. In 2021 alone, gin sales within the nation surged to approximately $1.6 billion, and the spirit is beginning to grow in popularity here in the United States too, especially at the ultra-premium price point. Despite gin’s growing prominence stateside, and its existing success across the pond, a number of myths continue to follow in the spirit’s wake. To set the record straight, we debunked seven of the most common gin myths.
The Myth: Shaking gin bruises the spirit.
One of the most pervasive rumors surrounding gin is that it should never be shaken in cocktails as the harsh motion may result in “bruised” gin. The term refers to the idea that gin’s delicate herbal notes are lost when shaking up cocktails, resulting in a bland drink that lacks gin’s signature characteristics.
This myth is most likely rooted in the fact that gins from decades past were not made with the quality and care of modern-day products. This led to some questionably made — and questionably tasting — spirits, which only deteriorated in quality after being shaken into a cocktail. Furthermore, not only was the gin bartenders used low-quality, but cocktail ingredients and ice were not as well made as they are now, further diminishing the final profile of the drink. A better way to describe what could potentially happen when you shake gin is over-dilution, as more water and aeration from the process can make the spirit’s subtle flavors harder to detect.
The Myth: Gin is the same thing as juniper-flavored vodka.
If gin were the same thing as flavored vodka, it wouldn’t be called gin, it would be called vodka. Despite the fact that both gin and vodka follow similar distillation methods, a number of regulations put forward by the U.S. government (as well as many other nations) separate the two spirits.
In the United States, to be legally called gin the distillate must “derive its main characteristic flavor from juniper berries and be distilled at not less than 80 proof,” or 40 percent ABV. Vodka, on the other hand, is defined as a “neutral spirit which may be treated with up to two grams per liter of sugar and up to one gram per liter of citric acid.” As gin is clearly defined by its juniper character, as well as the aromas and flavors of countless other botanicals, it is simply not a vodka. Additionally, while gin is generally thought of as a “juniper-flavored spirit,” a number of producers — especially those outside the United States and United Kingdom — have taken to distilling gin with a greater focus on other botanicals, like mandarin peels, flowers, and tea leaves.
The Myth: The spirit originated in England.
Despite the fact that gin is ubiquitous in England — there’s even a category named after the country’s capital — most drinks historians believe the spirit did not originate there. Instead, gin represents an evolution of genever, a spirit invented by the Dutch in the 16th century.
Genever, which gets its name from the Dutch translation of juniper, is a malt-based spirit made first by distilling the grain on its own, and then re-distilling the resulting spirit with juniper berries. The two distillates are then blended together to complete the production process. When genever arrived in English hands in Holland during the 80 Years War and the 30 Years War in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Brits fell in love with the spirit and took to mimicking the style once they returned home. Rather than sticking true to the original recipe, the English eliminated the malt distillate, instead choosing to distill from grain thanks to the Distilling Act of 1690, which encouraged the production of grain-based spirits.
While the English did not invent the spirit entirely, they did invent the name gin, likely leading to the nation’s strong association with the spirit. Simon Ford, co-founder of The 86 Co. — who created Fords Gin — has a theory surrounding how the British came to coin the term, which he shared with VinePair in 2018. Ford points out that the first written use of the word “gin” comes from Bernard Mandeville’s 18th century book entitled “The Fable of the Bees, or Private Vices, Publick Benefits,” where it is stated that the “infamous liquor,” genever “is now, by frequent use … shrunk into a Monosyllable, intoxicating Gin.” In Ford’s opinion? “The British were too drunk to pronounce genever so they abbreviated the word to ‘gen’ which eventually gets anglicized to the word that we use today.
The Myth: London Dry Gin must be produced in London, England.
Despite the fact that London Dry Gin is very obviously named after England’s capital, the category can legally be made anywhere in the world. The name London Dry simply relates to the style of gin within the bottle, rather than referring to where the spirit was distilled. Some gins must be made in certain geographical regions, however, including Plymouth gins that must be made in the city of the same name on the south coast of England.
The Myth: Gin should only be garnished with citrus fruits like lemon or lime.
Americans exposed to gin for the first time are likely to be met with a lime wedge as a garnish, while those across the pond are most likely to see the spirit garnished with a lemon when they order a Gin & Tonic. While it is true that lemon and lime juices pair delightfully with juniper, there is no hard and fast rule dictating that these two citrus fruits are the only garnishes for gin drinks.
Given the spirit’s range of profiles, and its nuance and subtleties, the choice of garnish should reflect the character of the gin being mixed. Appropriate garnishes for the spirit include cucumber, fruits like apples and strawberries, herbs like rosemary and mint, along with many more.
The Myth: Drinking gin will make you a weepy drunk.
While drinking spirits with higher ABVs may make one more emotional than if they had chosen wine or beer, there is no basis for the belief that gin will make you sadder than if you had consumed any other spirit. In reality, gin making you feel sad has nothing to do with the gin itself, and instead has to do with the spirit’s high alcohol content. Any spirit consumed in either large quantities or in a short period of time will disrupt an individual’s emotional balance — due to alcohol being a sedative and depressant — and make the drinker feel like a weepy drunk, regardless of whether it tastes like juniper or not.
The Myth: Drinking Gin and Tonics will protect you from malaria.
Back in the 1700s, this myth may have been true, but unfortunately for modern drinkers, it is now a myth. In the 18th century, George Cleghorn, a Scottish doctor, discovered that quinine — which was drunk in sparkling water and later branded as Tonic Water in 1858 — could be used to treat malaria. As such, British soldiers stationed in India took to drinking the beverage as a cure for the tropical disease. However, as tonic water has a flavor that can be less than desired when drunk on its own, the soldiers added the favorite spirit of their nation, resulting in the Gin & Tonic. Today’s drinkers would be better fighting off the disease using medication, however, as the dose of quinine present in tonic water has been reduced, from 200 to 300 milligrams in the 1700s, to just 83 milligrams today. According to Forbes via the Travel Doctor, an individual would need to consume 67 liters of tonic water to ward off malaria — not exactly an ideal course of treatment.