History of Gin
Gin has had an extremely checquered past, from its medicinal uses in the 1600s to rioting in the 1700s. Phrases such as ‘dutch courage’ and ‘mothers ruin’ have their roots in gin. We’ve put together some fun facts about our beloved spirit’s history.
In the beginning…
In the 11th century, Italian monks were distilling spirits with juniper berries. Don’t be fooled, this virtually toxic spirit wouldn’t have tasted like the gin we know and love today, but a rough distillation of grain mixed with juniper. The drink was also used as a (less than successful!) remedy during the Black Death. By the mid 17th century, many Dutch and Flemish distilleries opened, who used the spirit to treat a wide range of medical conditions (again, unsuccessfully, we imagine!). During the Thirty Years War, English troops were encouraged to drink the spirit for its calming effects, which is where the term ‘Dutch courage’ came from!
Gin arrives in England!
In 1689, King William of Orange (great name, great fruit…) made a series of statutes encouraging the production of English spirits. He was also the ruler of the Dutch republic, so brought with him, a huge popularity of gin drinking. Anyone could now distill, by simply posting a public notice and waiting ten days… dangerous. The Government also imposed heavy duty on imported spirits, so the ‘Gin Craze’ was born. Gin was also cheap to buy, so became popular amoung the poor. In London, of the 15,000 drinking establishments, over half were gin shops! (Goals..)
Things got a bit out of hand…
Mothers were thought to be neglecting their children to drink gin instead and the term ‘mothers ruin’ became a popular name for the spirit. This was heightened by the fact beer and wine were both sold in pint sizes, so naturally, gin was too!
As consumption rose, the Government attempted to curb the enthusiasm by introducing the Gin Act 1736, which made gin production prohibitively expensive. This pushed the industry underground, and riots broke out!
Hogarth’s etching of ‘beer street and gin lane’ encouraged the public to believe that drinking beer was far better than drinking gin and the Gin Craze began to die down.
Gin & Tonic to Save the Day!
In tropical British colonies, malaria outbreaks led to the use of quinine as a remedy, which came from the bark of the chinchona or ‘fever’ tree. However, quinine had a notoriously bitter taste, so gin was used to mask the taste. And thus, the gin and tonic was born!
The Gin Palace opens
The first Gin Palaces appeared by 1830, to compete with beerhouses’ ‘home from home’ philosophy. They were large and lavishly furnished. By 1850, there were over 5000 Gin Palaces in London.
The British Navy’s Gin Ration
In 1860, the British Navy were paid part of their wage in gin. These meticulous sailors did not want to be short changed, so they’d soak gunpowder in their gin and light it to establish ‘proof’ that the gin was ‘Navy-strength’.
By the 1920s, reforms had begun to take effect, making gin production more refined. The ‘Cocktail-Age’ meant that gin triumphed, and led the the creation of the ever popular ‘Martini’, a drink which continues to be at the core of gin drinking today. ‘Cocktail parties’ became very fashionable thanks to American hostesses crossing the Atlantic to bring us something to do in the free time between teatime and dinner.
By 1951, The Bartender’s Guild had over 7000 cocktails on file and by 1953, Ian Flemming introduces the World to the Vesper Martini in his James Bond novel, Casino Royale.
Fast forward 50 years…
Cocktail culture continued to become more and more popular and distilleries opened all over the UK. Today, we have over 300 distilleries in the UK alone as well as distilleries opening up all over the World. Gin has never been so popular; in 2017, 47 million bottles were sold and UK gin sales value has doubled over the last six years and there’s no sign of this stopping anytime soon.
So, gin may have had a shady and checquered past, but is still the Nation’s favourite spirit!