Gin is flavored vodka. The most common method of production of gin is to distill botanicals, such as juniper, coriander, citrus peel, cinnamon, almond or licorice, with neutral grain alcohol. Making gin is like flavoring vodka, except that the botanical ingredients are always natural. It's a common misconception that gin tastes like vodka.
While spirits are similar, the ingredients and distillation processes are different. Gin is a little more complicated in its production, as Brian O'Rourke, a culinary journalist, rightly said: “Gin is the Disneyland of liquor. There is a rich history of the creation, modification and exploitation of gin. Gin is a neutral liquor like vodka, which has been flavored with a variety of botanical ingredients and then redistilled.
A gin produced mainly in the Netherlands from a low-grade distilled malt liquor, which is redistilled with juniper and other botanical ingredients, resulting in a heavier body than dry gins produced in the United States and England. The United Kingdom adopted gin wholeheartedly (a little too much) and it became known as “the mother's ruin” because of the amount of gin consumed by every person in the country. In the 1600s, British soldiers fighting in Holland during the 30 years of war were given gin to lift their spirits, known as “Dutch Courage in Battle”. The government defines gin as a liquid “produced by distilling or mixing liquors with juniper berries and other aromatic compounds or extracts.
They brought the concept of gin to the United Kingdom, but it took about 150 years to create what is known as “London Gin”. On the other hand, gin has been created to be mixed with other beverages, since botanical ingredients come to life in cocktails and beverages and add complexity to the drink. The world of spirits is much more complex than you imagine, and everything you thought you knew about malt whiskey and why you like that gin could be very wrong. Gin comes from the English word genever, which is related to the French word genièvre and the Dutch word jenever, however, they all derive from the word Juniperus, the Latin word that means juniper.
There is a considerable amount of creativity in making gin because, apart from juniper, the botanical ingredients depend on the distiller. The effervescence of citrus fruits, the bittersweet of the tonic or the complexities of various fruit juices or liquors highlight the botanical ingredients and the depth of flavor of gin. It's easy to think that gin is essentially a flavored vodka, but there are several complexities that set them apart. Modern gins tend to be fragrant and floral with a minimal juniper flavor, while London Dry Gin is at the other end of the spectrum with a juniper flavor profile.
Gin is (and should be by definition) a grain-based liqueur (usually wheat or barley) distilled with juniper. The Wine and Spirits Education Trust offers courses on wine, wine service, liquor and sake, and you can attend even if you're a gin snob enthusiast like me. Both gin and vodka can be made with just about anything, but some common bases include corn, wheat, rye, potatoes, grapes, and sorghum.