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Lauren Tamaki

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

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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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science
Why Adding Water to Your Whiskey Makes It Taste Better
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Don’t ever let people tease you for watering down your whiskey. If they’re true aficionados, they’ll know that adding a splash of water or a few cubes of ice to your drink will actually enhance its natural flavors. But how can something as flavorless as water make a barrel-aged scotch or bourbon taste even better? Chemists think they’ve found the answer.

As The Verge reports, researchers from the Linnæus University Centre for Biomaterials Chemistry in Sweden analyzed the molecular composition of whiskey in the presence of water. We already know that the molecule guaiacol is largely responsible for whiskey’s smoky taste and aroma. Guaiacol bonds to alcohol molecules, which means that in straight whiskey that guaiacol flavor will be fairly evenly distributed throughout the cask. Alcohol is repelled by water, and guaiacol partially so. That means when a splash of water is added to the beverage the alcohol gets pushed to the surface, dragging the guaiacol along with it. Concentrated at the top of the glass, the whiskey’s distinctive taste and scent is in the perfect position to be noticed by the drinker.

According to the team’s experiments, which they laid out in the journal Scientific Reports [PDF], whiskey that’s been diluted down to 40 percent to 45 percent alcohol content will start to show more guaiacol sloshing near the surface. Most commercial whiskey is already diluted before it's bottled, so the drink you order in a bar should fall within this range to begin with. Adding additional water or ice will boost the flavor-enhancing effect even further.

As for just how much water to add, the paper doesn’t specify. Whiskey lovers will just have to conduct some experiments of their own to see which ratios suit their palate.

[h/t NPR]

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Big Questions
If Beer and Bread Use Almost the Exact Same Ingredients, Why Isn't Bread Alcoholic?
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If beer and bread use almost the exact same ingredients (minus hops) why isn't bread alcoholic?

Josh Velson:

All yeast breads contain some amount of alcohol. Have you ever smelled a rising loaf of bread or, better yet, smelled the air underneath dough that has been covered while rising? It smells really boozy. And that sweet smell that fresh-baked bread has under the yeast and nutty Maillard reaction notes? Alcohol.

However, during the baking process, most of the alcohol in the dough evaporates into the atmosphere. This is basically the same thing that happens to much of the water in the dough as well. And it’s long been known that bread contains residual alcohol—up to 1.9 percent of it. In the 1920s, the American Chemical Society even had a set of experimenters report on it.

Anecdotally, I’ve also accidentally made really boozy bread by letting a white bread dough rise for too long. The end result was that not enough of the alcohol boiled off, and the darned thing tasted like alcohol. You can also taste alcohol in the doughy bits of underbaked white bread, which I categorically do not recommend you try making.

Putting on my industrial biochemistry hat here, many [people] claim that alcohol is only the product of a “starvation process” on yeast once they run out of oxygen. That’s wrong.

The most common brewers and bread yeasts, of the Saccharomyces genus (and some of the Brettanomyces genus, also used to produce beer), will produce alcohol in both a beer wort
and in bread dough immediately, regardless of aeration. This is actually a surprising result, as it runs counter to what is most efficient for the cell (and, incidentally, the simplistic version of yeast biology that is often taught to home brewers). The expectation would be that the cell would perform aerobic respiration (full conversion of sugar and oxygen to carbon dioxide and water) until oxygen runs out, and only then revert to alcoholic fermentation, which runs without oxygen but produces less energy.

Instead, if a Saccharomyces yeast finds itself in a high-sugar environment, regardless of the presence of air it will start producing ethanol, shunting sugar into the anaerobic respiration pathway while still running the aerobic process in parallel. This phenomenon is known as the Crabtree effect, and is speculated to be an adaptation to suppress competing organisms
in the high-sugar environment because ethanol has antiseptic properties that yeasts are tolerant to but competitors are not. It’s a quirk of Saccharomyces biology that you basically only learn about if you spent a long time doing way too much yeast cell culture … like me.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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