A Brief History of Gin—and 12 Kinds You Should Try
Looking for an Independence Day tipple that says "No hard feelings about that revolution business" to our British chums? Grab the star of the colonial British medicine cabinet!
No matter how sick you get, your doctor probably won’t prescribe a glass of gin. But that wasn’t always the case. During the Renaissance, the juniper-flavored spirit was thought to “cure” everything from gout to the Black Death. (It didn’t, but guzzling gin beat fighting the plague sober.)
During the late 17th century, British gin stopped being an ineffective medicine and became a cheap way to get blotto. Nicknamed “mother’s ruin,” gin was responsible for putting a good portion of the population of London in a permanent stupor. After a few decades of this decay, gin’s reputation became similar to heroin’s today.
Strangely, after centuries of dubious medical claims, gin restored its honor thanks to its therapeutic value. As the British Empire expanded into tropical areas, malaria became an epidemic. Quinine, derived from the bark of the cinchona tree, combated the disease, but it had a critical weakness: Its overwhelming bitterness made it tough to stomach.
Luckily, chemists perfected a carbonated tonic that made the quinine more palatable. Colonists soon realized that a slug of gin could liven up this concoction, and gin and tonic became everyone’s favorite medical cocktail. As these travelers returned home, they brought their new drink with them, and Londoners once again embraced gin as something other than the tool of the devil.
You could hardly blame them. Herbal, clean, and refreshing, gin is the perfect pour for a summer night. So for your health’s sake, why not toss back a gin and tonic?
After extensive testing, the mental_floss staff has narrowed down its top 12 picks to cure what ails you:
TANQUERAY NO. TEN
Bright orange flavors boast lots of complexity. Each sip is engaging, like a great novel that pours at 94.6 proof. $37
BERKSHIRE MOUNTAIN GREYLOCK
Tons of juniper and pine are backed by explosions of citrus juice. Snoop would be proud.$29
NOLET’S SILVER DRY
A floral, evergreen scent gives way to a rich note of raspberry and licorice. The clean flavor makes the perfect gin rickey. $49
Toasted grain aromas reminiscent of a white whiskey dovetail with a subtle butteriness to make a sublime mixer. $39
ST. GEORGE DRY RYE
With big hints of cinnamon and nutmeg, this is gin’s aggressive answer to your grandma’s Christmas cake. $35
BOMBAY SAPPHIRE EAST
Thai lemongrass and Vietnamese peppercorns give this old favorite a far cleaner, more delicious Asian flair than our failed experiment with a pad thai infusion did. $23
DRY FLY WASHINGTON DRY
This tangy, fruity offering packs just enough spice that it practically begs to be used in a jazzed up Tom Collins. $30
BLUECOAT AMERICAN DRY
Really stick it to King George III by cracking open this citrus-heavy Philadelphia-distilled treat. $30
Iowa isn't a noted gin hotbed, but after tasting the local rose and cucumbers used in this one, we're thinking maybe it should be. $28
CAORUNN SMALL BATCH
This Scottish gin packs such huge, delicious floral flavors that you might think someone slipped a tulip into your martini as a delightful prank. $24
TREATY OAK WATERLOO
We were all kind of hoping that a Texas-made gin would taste like barbecue. Instead, we got something even better: a crisp, clean gin with lots of lavender. $23
The Wisconsin brains behind this one traded traditional gin's heavy juniper flavor for spicier licorice tones, and it paid off in a big way. $26
As hard as we tried to track down every worthy gin, we're sure we missed a few great ones. What's your favorite bolt for a martini or a gin and tonic?