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Why We Say Cheers

Why We Say Cheers

Traditional rules of etiquette have, for the most part, been retired. It’s difficult to imagine anyone other than my grandmother caring which fork I use, how I fold a napkin, whether or not I excuse myself from the table after dinner. But when it comes to drinking, there are certain rites and rituals that never faded out of style. Raise a glass. Share a toast. Clink. Maintain eye contact. Say cheers, and do it with feeling.

These are the things we do and have done for centuries, millenia, forever. But why? What is their cultural significance?

While the ritual of clinking glasses has evolved to become a means of connection among friends, it started, like most things do, as an act of self-preservation. The custom of touching glasses arose from concerns about poisoning, as clinking coupes and steins together jubilantly would cause each drink to slosh and spill over into the others’. Over time, as fears of contaminated cocktails waned, the ritual took on a new meaning.

According to the International Handbook of Alcohol and Culture, toasting “is probably a secular vestige of ancient sacrificial libations in which a sacred liquid was offered to the gods: blood or wine in exchange for a wish, a prayer summarized in the words 'long life!' or 'to your health!'"

So the next time you’re at a wedding and some drunken groomsmen stumbles up to the microphone to toast to the bride and groom, think of it this way: it’s not about how your cousin Steve was a total legend in college as much as it is a sacrificial libation to the gods.

Saying “cheers,” similarly, holds a deeper meaning. The phrase originates from the old French word chiere meaning “face” or “head.” By the 18th century, it was used as a way to express happiness and encouragement. Today, the phrase is entirely symbolic, a practice of camaraderie that is so routine it’s almost second nature. As the round of drinks hits the table, it’s expected before taking your first sip that you raise your glass, lock eyes, and clink clink clink.

It’s a tradition that transcends language and culture. Salute in Italian, skol in Danish, sante in French, cheers in English all mean roughly the same thing: I’m happy to be here, in this moment, with you. And even when our meeting places are digitized and we can’t share a drink IRL, these small acts of communion remain.

Cheers to that.

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Dirty or With a Twist: Why We Put Olives In Martinis

Dirty or With a Twist: Why We Put Olives In Martinis

When you think of martinis, chances are you think of olives. With the exception of the lemon twist, olives are the quintessential garnish for the booziest of classic gin cocktails. And varieties abound. Manzanillas and Spanish Queens are the standard fare, though I’m personally partial to the neon green Castelvetrano variety with its mild sweetness and buttery texture.

But when it comes to martinis, perhaps the more interesting question isn’t “how,” but “why?”

Why, dear reader, do we put olives in our martinis? Who was the first salt-crazed scoundrel to splash some OJ (olive juice, baby) into a glass of gin and take a swig? How – and again,
why – does it somehow work?

We don’t add olives to our martinis for the aesthetics alone, though the glimmering green orbs do invite a sense of reverie when bobbing up and down in a vermouth-washed coupe.

Rather, the savory olives act as a pleasant foil for the bright botanicals in our gin and vodka and help settle the drink’s intense booziness. They add a certain je ne sais quoi, a briny oceanic bite of salinity that mixes and melds nicely with botanicals like lemon, angelica, ginger, cardamom, and yes, juniper. And of course: they offer a built-in snack, too.

While the dirty martini has become a standard iteration, the OG martini skewed more sweet than savory. Cherries, among other fruits, were added to the drink alongside syrups and bitters, and often with a heavy pour of sweet vermouth.

These days, the modern martini is served very, very dry, but that wasn’t the norm at their advent. In the 19th century, martinis were served either upside down with more vermouth than gin, or as a 50/50 with equal parts of both. Sometimes absinthe got in the mix, other times not. But gin and dry vermouth – the major players in the martinis we stir, sip, and love today – were often an afterthought. Olives had not yet made their way to the party.

That all changed at the turn of the 20th century, when James Bond sipped a shaken, not stirred martini on screen and FDR brought the dirty tini to the masses. At a dinner party, President Franklin D. Roosevelt infamously shook up a dirty martini for martini aficionado Winston Churchill, who later described FDR as “an enthusiastic but sloppy mixer.” Later, in 1943, FDR insisted on shaking up his signature drink for none other than Joseph Stalin, who remarked that “it was cold on the stomach,” but not unpleasant. And with two out of two less than rave reviews, one by a Soviet dictator, the dirty martini entered into the popular imagination.

Unlike FDR, there are a lot of bartenders and at-home mixologists these days getting the martini right. From
EVOO washed vespers to versions spiked with pickled veggie juice, there’s a martini out there for the dirtiest among us.

And if you made it to the end of this article while having an aversion to olives? Bravo to you. Here’s a
50/50 for your troubles.

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Ode to Olfaction

Ode to Olfaction

Freshly squeezed Florida oranges. A cedar closet. Gasoline. The whiff of your grandmother’s perfume, musked with age. Sweat mixed with cut grass. Sauce on the stove. Leather. The candy sweetness of waffle cones in an ice cream shop. A scent you can’t place but can feel coursing through you like a lightning bolt of recognition. A summer storm.

Smell – the good, the bad, the cloying, the intoxicating – is intrinsically linked to memory. It’s a romantic notion with scientific implications, as the reason we hold on so tightly to scent-fueled moments is simply because of our brain’s anatomy.

Scent starts out simple. Odor molecules travel up and through the nostrils, binding to receptors in the nose and transmitting a signal through the olfactory system. From here, things get more complicated. The main olfactory bulb transmits pulses to both mitral and tufted cells, which help determine odor concentration based on the time certain neuron clusters fire. These cells work hard to differentiate between similar scents, such as a lemon versus a grapefruit, and hold onto that data for future recognition. The amygdala, a part of the limbic system responsible for processing memory and emotion, also processes pheromone and allomone signals. These include everything from bodily excretions (sexy) to the smell of flowers.

So when I say smell is tied to memory, I’m not being corny; it’s a cold hard fact, backed and approved by cold hard science. And our olfactory impressions begin early.

In the womb, smell is the only fully developed sense a fetus has. In fact, it continues to be the most developed sense in a child until the tender age of 10, when sight takes over. It’s the reason so many of our childhood memories are linked to scent.

Even as the vision of my grandmother fades, I can still vividly remember the soap she used, how her clothes always smelled like mothballs, the way fresh garden basil seemed to linger in her kitchen.

Taste, similarly, takes on a heightened nostalgia. If you’ve ever been instructed to pinch your nose when glugging down a dose of cough syrup, you know that without smell, taste is a rather empty sense. When you eat, food molecules make their way back to the nasal epithelium, meaning the majority of spices and flavors we savor are actually being processed through our sense of smell, not taste. Is there any wonder why then, for so many of us, our sense of home is so tightly tied to the foods we ate and the scents we smelled?

Because smell is processed by the amygdala, smell and emotion are stored as one memory. A positive association with the smell of gasoline as a child translates into a lifelong love of the scent. A close encounter with a bonfire means you likely won’t be keen to smoky scents later in life.

Proustian memory, a concept that comes from Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, speaks to this very phenomenon – with just a quick whiff or taste, we can instantaneously be transported back to another moment in time. It’s a powerful kind of time travel, and one that unwittingly guides our days.

A stranger’s cologne on a too-crowded subway car, sharp with vetiver and pine, can make us yearn for a grandfatherly kind of love. Thick steam swirling out of a Taiwanese restaurant can transport you to childhood days spent dawdling around while your dad worked the line, the hot spatter of fryer oil perfuming his clothes. Far less pleasant smells – menthol cigarettes, New York sewers, the chemical clean of pool chlorine – can have a similarly transformative effect.

This superpower is one we can wield intentionally, too.

When I was a kid, my mom applied lotion to my back every night. In dim purple light, she would put a dollop on my spine, the cold cream at once startling and then like home. It smelled like lavender, vanilla, her. And so now, on nights when I can’t sleep, I reach for the bottle. It lives on my nightstand, for ease in time travel. I can’t reach my own back, so instead I rub it in slow circles at the base of my neck until my stress has melted entirely and I am 10 years old again, sitting at the foot end of my mother’s bed.

That’s the power scent has; to transcend space and time and land us in a moment that feels like an embrace. It’s perhaps the simplest, most time-effective way to make our day-to-day lives feel a little more beautiful, our in-between moments a little more sacred. A ritual, if you will.

And the best part? It’s only a spray away.

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A Storied History of the Post-Work Drink

A Storied History of the Post-Work Drink

Since the advent of alcohol, imbibing has gone hand-in-hand with unwinding. We mark the end of a day with a twist of a cap, the pour of a drink, the clink of ice in a glass. Happy hour, in particular, has become a designated time for us to meet up with friends and colleagues over drinks and half-priced appetizers and forget about the meetings, the deadlines, the banality of the workday. It wasn’t always like that though.

The term “happy hour” comes from American Naval slang dating back to World War I. In its conception, it referred to an allotted time on the ship when sailors could let loose, so to speak, competing in boxing matches and other foolhardy pursuits. Alcohol was not yet intrinsically linked to happy hour–the term instead referred, quite literally, to the one hour a day sailors got to kick back and make happy.

During Prohibition, the phrase was picked up to describe the underground speakeasy gatherings that often took place. Opinions differ on how the term became introduced into mainstream vernacular–some say it was a Saturday Evening Post article from 1959 that mentioned happy hour in regards to military life, while others cite a 1961 Providence Journal article referencing Newport policemen “deprived of their happy hour at the cocktail bar.” Regardless of how the expression rose in popularity, it was quickly co-opted by the service industry in the ’70s and ’80s as a way to draw in customers before the daily dinner rush.

The idea stuck, and now nearly 50 years later you can stroll into any chain restaurant on a Wednesday and order a $1 Mai Tai, so long as you show up before 6 pm. It’s a uniquely American sensation, the notion of getting drunker for less. But happy hour, despite its popularity among deal-loving Westerners, is not a universal phenomenon. In some places, offering discounted drinks is even prohibited by law.

“Colleagues are drinking as a means to understand and connect with each other. They’re searching for a deeper truth that is harder to come by within the confines of a cubicle, and the ritual of after-work nomikai gives them the time and space to do that.”

Imbibing in a post-work drink is not just about snagging a deal, though. In Japan, drinking is deeply ingrained in corporate culture, a way of breaking down barriers between bosses and employees outside of the daily 9 to 5. Nomikai, which loosely translates in English to “gathering to drink,” is a recreational aspect of work, but to say it is entirely optional would be to write off the intense pressures present in many Japanese workplaces. This attitude is slowly changing, thanks in large part to a drunk driving law that was stiffened in Japan in 2007 to prohibit driving with a blood-alcohol level above 0%. The advent of non-alcoholic beer and spirits shortly followed. But the desire to indulge in a post-work drink speaks to a larger social yearning that doesn’t seem to be fading, even as non-alcoholic options replace the standard boozy fare.

The term nommunication, a combination of the Japanese word nomu, meaning drink, and the English word communication, describes the phenomenon best–colleagues are drinking as a means to understand and connect with each other. They’re searching for a deeper truth that is harder to come by within the confines of a cubicle, and the ritual of after-work nomikai gives them the time and space to do that.

Drinking after work is not narrowly defined by a trip to the bar, however. At-home cocktail culture has been on the rise for quite some time now, with stylized bar carts becoming a fixture in living and dining rooms across the world. The uptick of craft distilleries and breweries has ignited a passion for drinking–and drinking well. It’s not just “cracking open a cold one” after a long day at the office–consumers are sipping natural wines, shaking up premium cocktails, and enjoying low-alc and even non-alcoholic spirits and aperitifs at the end of the workday.

For many, the intent to get drunk has escaped the equation and instead has been replaced with a desire to slow down and delight in the pleasure of drinking. At the end of the day, people crave that ritual, whether as a means to human connection or simply to feel connected to themselves. And despite a rather storied and sometimes complicated past, the tradition of the post-work drink is rooted in that connection.

Written by Nicole Carullo

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A Witchy Winter Solstice

A Witchy Winter Solstice

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we’re just a couple weeks away from the Winter Solstice. While the Solstice is commonly understood to be the shortest day of the year, it’s actually a singular moment in which one of Earth’s poles has its maximum tilt away from the sun. In Pagan tradition, that moment is commemorated with a twelve-day long celebration called Yule that begins on December 21st and continues on through the lengthening of days.

Many Christmas traditions, like decorating an evergreen tree, hanging mistletoe, and burning a Yule log, originally stem from Yule customs. And like with Christmas, food historically played a large role in Yule celebration, as the Winter Solstice signified the last big feast before deep winter began and famine set in. Most wine and beer was ready for drinking at this time and cattle were slaughtered so they wouldn’t have to be fed through the scarcer months, leading to a surplus of fresh meat. It was a time of excess followed by pronounced scarcity, and while the Winter Solstice is no longer the foreboder of harder days to come, it is still celebrated by many.

These days, many modern witches skip the Yule log and twelve-day feast and instead partake in other festivities on the 21st. Forms of celebration vary and include (but are of course not limited to) the following: burning rosemary or incense, adorning the home with sacred herbs, reading tarot cards, building an altar, and taking salt baths to release toxins. AMASS’s self-proclaimed “gin witch” and Chief Product Officer, Morgan McLachlan, personally celebrates the seasonal shift by attending the Winter Solstice Lantern Festival with her family in her hometown of Vancouver. The festival, a community-based, nondenominational celebration for all ages, is intended to “illuminate the darkest night of the year with lanterns, fire, singing, drumming, music, storytelling, and dancing.” There are light-based art installations and a self-guided meditation ceremony in which participants silently walk through a labyrinth of light in order to release old attachments and envision new possibilities. It’s a beautiful way to celebrate the lengthening of days to come, and gives members of the community a reason to come together and party during the darkest, coldest time of the year.

Since prehistory, the Winter Solstice has marked the symbolic death and rebirth of the sun, which is why for many it’s an apt time to reflect and start anew. When McLachlan is unable to make it home to Vancouver for the Solstice, she celebrates here in Los Angeles by hosting a “casual coven” party with her fellow witches in which they light candles and meditate, focusing on the theme of rebirth and new beginnings. Regardless of ritual, that is the governing principle of the Winter Solstice for most who celebrate–to let go of any darkness from the previous year and set intentions for the lengthening of days to come.

Written by Nicole Carullo

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Types of Vodka

Types of Vodka

We spend a lot of our time around spirits – drinking them, mixing them, reading about them, and discussing them in wonkish detail. And if we had a dollar for every time we sat next to a stranger who, upon learning we work with spirits, began a sentence with: “I’m just not a [insert misunderstood spirit here] person”? Believe us, reader, when we say we could pay our rent with that money.

This series is an antidote to all those false starts and bad first impressions. Because the best counter to a bad hangover is sticking to good alcohol in the first place.

This time we’re talking about vodka, a spirit most of us first encountered in someone else’s basement (likely paired with fruit punch). But to dismiss vodka as a drink best suited for frat parties would be to miss the point, as distillers like our very own Lasse Öznek are crafting vodka that is thoughtfully considered and imbued with fresh citrus and layered florals.

Vodka is often divided into two general categories: flavored and unflavored. But within these rather broad classifications are more nuanced distinctions, like its base, country of origin, and proof. Here we’ve laid out three of the most popular vodka brands (among Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials, respectively) in an earnest attempt to answer the long-debated question: what distinguishes one vodka from the next?

BOOMERS

First up: Ketel One. This brand has been kicking since 1691, when Nolet Distillery was first founded in the Netherlands. Since then, Ketel One has come stateside, where it’s found popularity among Boomers, a generation that seems to favor brands with a healthy dose of history (this is, after all, the same generation that once accused millennials of killing the diamond industry–we think it’s safe to say tradition is something they value). The vodka is distilled through a coal-fired copper pot still called Distilleerketel #1, a technique that removes impurities and gives the spirit a clean and crisp taste. Because Ketel One is distilled from wheat, it tastes lighter and smoother than other brands.

GEN X’ERS

Next: Belvedere. The drink of choice among Gen X’ers, this Polish vodka has a much stronger flavor profile than Ketel One. Because it’s distilled from rye (a commonly used grain in Polish vodka), Belvedere tastes bolder and denser than its wheat-based counterparts, in the same way that rye bread has a bit more bite than wheat. Since the flavor of the grain is so pronounced, the spirit is distilled four times to help mellow it a bit. 

MILLENNIALS

Last: Tito’s. Beloved among Millennials, Tito’s is a corn-based vodka, which means it has a slightly sweeter finish and a smooth mouthfeel. It’s distilled in Austin, Texas and, compared to historic brands like Ketel One and Belvedere, hasn’t been around all that long–the brand was founded in 1995, making it something of a teenager in the liquor world. However, what Tito’s lacks in history it makes up for in curb appeal–the brand’s no-nonsense approach and under-dog origin story makes it a clear favorite among the younger generation. 

WHAT’S NEXT

So, where does a newcomer like AMASS fit into this rather eclectic mix? Like Ketel One, AMASS is distilled from wheat, but that’s pretty much where the similarities between the two brands end. Unlike most vodkas, our vodka is distilled in the tradition of the Scandinavian liquor, Aquavit. Botanicals (like marigold, chamomile, and lemon zest) are distilled on an Aquavit still to create a subtle, floral flavor. It’s a technique that sets us apart, for sure, but one that still relies heavily upon age-old vodka-making tradition, because somewhere between convention and innovation is where we feel most at home.

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What Even Is Vodka?

What Even Is Vodka?

We spend a lot of our time around spirits – drinking them, mixing them, reading about them, and discussing them in wonkish detail. And if we had a dollar for every time we sat next to a stranger who, upon learning we work with spirits, began a sentence with: “I’m just not a [insert misunderstood spirit here] person”? Believe us, reader, when we say we could pay our rent with that money.

This series is an antidote to all those false starts and bad first impressions. Because the best counter to a bad hangover is sticking to good alcohol in the first place.

This time we’re talking about vodka, a spirit most of us first encountered in someone else’s basement (likely paired with fruit punch). But to dismiss vodka as a drink best suited for frat parties would be to miss the point, as distillers like our very own Lasse Öznek are crafting vodka that is thoughtfully considered and imbued with fresh citrus and layered florals. 

WHAT IS VODKA?

So what is vodka, exactly? Perhaps it’s best here to start with what it is not: vodka is not aged, for starters, which means it doesn’t take on any color. Unlike most other spirits, it is not particularly flavorful or fragrant. And despite popular misconceptions that vodka is made from potatoes, in reality, vodka can be made from a laundry list of ingredients–cereal grains, fruits, sugars, beets, and, yes, potatoes, can all serve as a base for the spirit.

But if vodka is “without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color,” as per US law, what distinguishes one bottle from the next? The answer lies in the distilling process. Most vodka is distilled a minimum of three times in order to filter out any impurities. The degree to which vodka is “flavorless,” or smooth and clean in taste, largely depends on how many rounds of distilling it underwent.

The albeit subtle flavor you’re left with after distilling depends on both the base and the additional flavors added to the spirit. In the early days of vodka when the spirit was predominantly used for medicinal purposes, producers would often add spices to mask any remaining impurities. Today though, any addition of flavors is much more about enhancing or embellishing the natural taste of the spirit than it is about covering anything up. We’ve moved long past treating vodka as a cure for the common cold, is what I’m saying.

Instead, modern-day distillers like AMASS’ own Lasse Öznek are challenging the conventions of vodka by carefully distilling beautiful botanicals like marigold petals, chamomile flowers, and lemon zest into the spirit. The ingredient list is short, but high impact, especially for a drink that was long supposed to taste like nothing.

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Types of Gin

Types of Gin

We spend a lot of our time around spirits – drinking them, mixing them, reading about them, and discussing them in wonkish detail. And if we had a dollar for every time we sat next to a stranger who, upon learning we work with spirits, began a sentence with: “I’m just not a [insert misunderstood spirit here] person”? Believe us, reader, when we say we could pay our rent with that money.

This series is an antidote to all those false starts and bad first impressions. Because the best counter to a bad hangover is sticking to good alcohol in the first place.

First up: gin. Most of us had an improper introduction to this beautiful botanical spirit – what we on the AMASS team fondly refer to as, ‘gin-cidents’. But if you’re not taking the time to appreciate all the exciting products coming out of gin’s recent renaissance, what are you doing, really?

Do you know what type of gin you’re drinking? If not, you’re in good company – many of us here at AMASS HQ couldn’t tell you the difference between a London Dry and a Dutch Genever when we first joined. And the answer that follows doesn’t exactly simplify it. Gins can be classified by a range of factors including, but not limited to: how they are distilled, what additives are included in the final product, concentration, geographical origins…  there are even categories based on original distillation vs. redistillation. For the purposes of this article, however, we are going to focus on four popular types: Dutch Genever, London Dry, Old Tom, and Modern.

DUTCH GENEVER

The first – and OG – style of gin is the Dutch Genever (also referred to as Dutch Gin or Holland Gin). And it seems that there are many ways to spell it: Jenever, genever, Geneva, Dutch gin… the list goes on. Rather than starting with a neutral grain spirit, a genever starts its life cycle much like whiskey, with a malted grain blend of malted barley, rye, and corn. This grain mix is mashed down and fermented to create the gin’s base. The soft yellow spirit is then macerated with botanicals – most importantly juniper, but also the occasional hit of fennel which increases the spirit’s darker tones. This particular process lends itself well to barrel-aging, as opposed to English gins, which undergo a very quick distillation process. The resulting spirit has many similar characteristics to vodka, albeit with more earthy and malty notes.

LONDON DRY GIN

This is the gin that probably is in your liquor cabinet. If you drink Hendrick’s or Beefeater, you’ve got a London Dry Gin in your glass. This style is the most familiar as “gin” and most widely available is a style called London Dry Gin. Curiously, a London Dry does not have to be made in London; instead it’s defined by getting its juniper flavor from neutral spirits (grain alcohol) re-distilled with botanicals. London Dry Gin must contain only natural ingredients and only a very small amount of sugar; no additional flavorings or colorings may be added after the distillation process.

OLD TOM

First created in England in the 18th century, Old Toms are characterized by sugar in the re-distillation process that makes this style of gin sweeter than a London Dry. Old Tom Gin is often referred to as the missing link between Dutch style Genever (or Jenever) and London Gin. Lighter and less intense than Genever, Old Tom gins are on the sweeter side and get their flavors from malts or added sugar. Old Tom Gin waned in popularity and production over the years, but the recent cocktail renaissance has led to its revival, as independent producers have delved into the history of gin and rediscovered its long-lost recipes. One of the most elusive gin styles, Old Tom is an excellent gin for whiskey drinkers who crave heavier undertones in their liquors.

MODERN GIN  (AKA WESTERN STYLE OR NEW WESTERN)

Modern Gin (also called New Western Style Gin) can be made anywhere in the world. It downplays the inclusion of juniper berries in favor of a variety of other botanicals including citrus peels, coriander and even rose, cucumber and lavender. This fresher, experiment-driven category appeals to drinkers who previously avoided the gin category because of juniper’s piney notes. Because of its wide variety of aromas and flavors, modern gin has been a popular option for modern craft cocktails and helped support the spirit’s recent revival.

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Early Gin History

Early Gin History

We spend a lot of our time around spirits – drinking them, mixing them, reading about them, and discussing them in wonkish detail. And if we had a dollar for every time we sat next to a stranger who, upon learning we work with spirits, began a sentence with: “I’m just not a [insert misunderstood spirit here] person”? Believe us, reader, when we say we could pay our rent with that money.

This series is an antidote to all those false starts and bad first impressions. Because the best counter to a bad hangover is sticking to good alcohol in the first place.

First up: gin. Most of us had an improper introduction to this beautiful botanical spirit – what we on the AMASS team fondly refer to as, ‘gin-cidents’. But if you’re not taking the time to appreciate all the exciting products coming out of gin’s recent renaissance, what are you doing, really?

FROM GENEVER TO GIN

Although ‘gin’ is said to have been invented around 1650 by Dr. Franciscus Sylvius in the Netherlands, this early iteration still would have been classified as genever (which literally translates to ‘juniper’) – not gin as we know it today. Gin has its origins in Dutch genever (also known as Holland Gin or Dutch Gin) which was originally created by distilling malt wine and adding herbs to make the harsh tasting beverage a little more palatable.

The date that genever was renamed to gin is unclear, but the first written reference of the actual word ‘gin’ was in 1714 in Bernard Mandeville’s The Fable of the Bees; in the book, ‘gin shops’ had already been proliferous and gin had become a part of the fabric of culture at the time. By the mid-17th century genever production was widespread in the Netherlands and Flanders.

Though the spirit originates in the Netherlands, its reputation today is that of a very proper English drink. Dutch Jenever became popular in England during the late 1700s, after Dutch king William of Orange took the English throne in 1688. The British government allowed gin to be distilled without a licence around that time, and as a result Gin became more popular than beer with over half of all the drinking shops in London serving mostly gin – leading to a Gin Craze so disastrous, it was referred to as ‘Mother’s Ruin.’

MOTHER’S RUIN

Once gin crossed the Channel into England, it quickly became the drink of choice for the very poor. The average person could not afford French wine or brandy, so gin became the poor man’s drink with some works receiving gin as part of their wages. Gin consumption (and often, overconsumption) rapidly increased; in London alone, there were more than 7,000 dram shops and 10 million gallons of gin were being distilled annually in the capital.

The government decided that the tax must be raised on gin but, as any casual student of history might predict, the tax had the opposite of its intended effect. The implementation of the tax put many reputable sellers out of business and cleared the way for bootleggers, who sold their wares under such fancy names as Cuckold’s Comfort, Ladies Delight and Knock Me Down. Overnight, gin sales went underground with dealers, pushers and runners selling their illegal hooch into a black market.

In 1736 a Gin Act was passed which forbade anyone to sell ‘distilled spirituous liquor’ without first taking out a licence costing £50. This in turn led to a surge in various social problems, to which the government responded by passing a series of Gin Acts which imposed higher taxes on producers and retailers. In the seven years following 1736, only three £50 licences were taken out but the black market continued to thrive.

The government was forced, once again, to confront the perpetual drunkenness and debauchery in the capital. The new Gin Act raised the duty on drink and forbade distillers, grocers, jails and workhouses from selling the popular spirit. The new act proved effective in curtailing gin sales and consumption fell dramatically through the rest of the eighteenth century.

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What Even Is Gin?

What Even Is Gin?

We spend a lot of our time around spirits – drinking them, mixing them, reading about them, and discussing them in wonkish detail. And if we had a dollar for every time we sat next to a stranger who, upon learning we work with spirits, began a sentence with: “I’m just not a [insert misunderstood spirit here] person”? Believe us, reader, when we say we could pay our rent with that money.

This series is an antidote to all those false starts and bad first impressions. Because the best counter to a bad hangover is sticking to good alcohol in the first place.

First up: gin. Most of us had an improper introduction to this beautiful botanical spirit – what we on the AMASS team fondly refer to as, ‘gin-cidents’. But if you’re not taking the time to appreciate all the exciting products coming out of gin’s recent renaissance, what are you doing, really?

WHAT IS GIN?

So what is gin? Who is she? At its most general, European law defines gin as: ‘…a juniper-flavored spirit drink produced by flavoring organoleptically suitable ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin with juniper berries.’ Here in the U.S., the government defines gin as, “a product obtained by original distillation from mash, or by re-distillation of distilled spirits, or by mixing neutral spirits, with or over juniper berries and other aromatics, or with or over extracts derived from infusions, percolations, or maceration of such materials, and includes mixtures of gin and neutral spirits. It shall derive its main characteristic flavor from juniper berries and be bottled at not less than 80° proof.” So yeah. It’s a lot.

Legal definitions aside, what all gins must have in common is the juniper berry. However, it’s important to note that there is no specific ratio or amount of juniper that is required by law. The definition merely states “predominant flavor of juniper,” which leaves plenty of room for other fun greens. Other common botanicals favored by distillers include coriander, citrus peels (bitter orange, lemon, grapefruit), angelica root and seed, licorice, orris root, nutmeg, and anise, to name a few. AMASS Gin, as you may already know, contains 29 botanicals that represent the city of Los Angeles from a structural (palate) and philosophical (sociocultural) argument.

In the simplest terms, gin is made by infusing a neutral spirit with a variety of botanicals (which must legally include juniper berries). The specific variety and proportion of these other botanicals is often what distinguishes gin brands and their flavors from one another. While gin typically has a higher proof than vodka, its complex flavor profile (which can be herbal, floral, citrus or a mix of them) make it an accommodating cocktail base.

If you forget anything we mention in this article, remember this: A spirit can only be called gin if it contains juniper.

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