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Lauren Tamaki
Lauren Tamaki

A Brief History of Gin—and 12 Kinds You Should Try

Lauren Tamaki
Lauren Tamaki

Today is International Gin and Tonic Day! Why not celebrate with one (or two, or three...) G&Ts made with these delicious gins?

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

FEW AMERICAN

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

RIVER ROSE

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

DEATH'S DOOR

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?

Portions of this article originally appeared last year.

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History
84 Years Ago Today: Goodbye Prohibition!
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
Keystone/Getty Images

It was 84 years ago today that the Twenty-First Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, repealing the earlier Amendment that declared the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcohol illegal in the United States. Prohibition was over! Booze that had been illegal for 13 years was suddenly legal again, and our long national nightmare was finally over.


A giant barrel of beer, part of a demonstration against prohibition in America.
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Prohibition of alcohol was not a popular doctrine. It turned formerly law-abiding citizens into criminals. It overwhelmed police with enforcement duties and gave rise to organized crime. In cities like Milwaukee and St. Louis, the dismantling of breweries left thousands of people unemployed.


Photograph courtesy of the Boston Public Library

Homemade alcohol was often dangerous and some people died from drinking it. Some turned to Sterno or industrial alcohol, which was dangerous and sometimes poisoned by the government to discourage drinking. State and federal governments were spending a lot of money on enforcement, while missing out on taxes from alcohol.


New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach (right) watches agents pour liquor into sewer following a raid during the height of Prohibition.

The midterm elections of 1930 saw the majority in Congress switch from Republican to Democratic, signaling a shift in public opinion about Prohibition as well as concerns about the depressed economy. Franklin Roosevelt, who urged repeal, was elected president in 1932. The Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution was proposed by Congress in February of 1933, the sole purpose of which was to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment establishing Prohibition.


American men guarding their private beer brewing hide-out, during Prohibition.
Keystone/Getty Images

With passage of the Constitutional Amendment to repeal Prohibition a foregone conclusion, a huge number of businessmen lined up at the Board of Health offices in New York in April of 1933 to apply for liquor licenses to be issued as soon as the repeal was ratified.

The Amendment was ratified by the states by the mechanism of special state ratifying conventions instead of state legislatures. Many states ratified the repeal as soon as conventions could be organized. The ratifications by the required two-thirds of the states was achieved on December 5, 1933, when conventions in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Utah agreed to repeal Prohibition through the Amendment.


Workmen unloading crates of beer stacked at a New York brewery shortly after the repeal of Prohibition.
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A brewery warehouse in New York stacked crates past the ceiling to satisfy a thirsty nation after the repeal of Prohibition.


Keystone/Getty Images

Liquor wouldn't officially be legal until December 15th, but Americans celebrated openly anyway, and in most places, law enforcement officials let them.

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Courtesy New District
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Food
Say ‘Cheers’ to the Holidays With This 24-Bottle Wine Advent Calendar
Courtesy New District
Courtesy New District

This year, eschew your one-tiny-chocolate-a-day Advent calendar and count down to Christmas the boozy way. An article on the Georgia Straight tipped us off to New District’s annual wine Advent calendars, featuring 24 full-size bottles.

Each bottle of red, white, or sparkling wine is hand-picked by the company’s wine director, with selections from nine different countries. Should you be super picky, you can even order yourself a custom calendar, though that will likely add to the already-high price point. The basic 24-bottle order costs $999 (in Canadian dollars), and if you want to upgrade from cardboard boxes to pine, that will run you $100 more.

If you can’t quite handle 24 bottles (or $999), the company is introducing a 12-bottle version this year, too. For $500, you get 12 reds, whites, rosés, and sparkling wines from various unnamed “elite wine regions.”

With both products, each bottle is numbered, so you know exactly what you should be drinking every day if you really want to be a stickler for the Advent schedule. Whether you opt for 12 or 24 bottles, the price works out to about $42 per bottle, which is somewhere in between the “I buy all my wines based on what’s on sale at Trader Joe’s” level and “I am a master sommelier” status.

If you want to drink yourself through the holiday season, act now. To make sure you receive your shipment before December 1, you’ll need to order by November 20. Get it here.

[h/t the Georgia Straight]

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