Gin Punch | Brief history of Gin
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Brief history of Gin

Origins of gin are from the Netherlands (or possibly Italy) in the 17th C. Its base was initially formulated as a medicine of white spirit and juniper berries which was called Genever. It was said to be a treatment for stomach ailments, gall stones and gout.

 

This ‘medicine’ evolved during the ‘30 Years War’ (1618-1648) as a ‘pick me up’ and as we were allies of the Dutch against the French and Spanish our English soldiers soon developed a taste for this drink before battle, leading to the term ‘Dutch Courage’.

 

The English soldiers brought this Genever back with them to London and the word was trimmed down in slang to ‘Gin’.

 

The Dutch connection continued as William of Orange (William 3rd) became king and banned French Brandy, put levies on other European imports and encouraged local distillation.

 

Any man, woman or child could now distil gin and the popularity grew to epidemic proportions with London alone said to consume half a million gallons by 1690.

 

This problem continued as gin was cheaper than beer (due to tax) and safer than water!

By 1720 London was on its knee’s (metaphorically & literally) as the poor were swept away by the ‘gin madness’ as it was called. Statistics suggest that by the end of that decade the average Londoner was drinking 14 gallons a year which meant the city’s annual consumption was 11 million gallons!

 

Drastic measures were in need so the Gin Act of 1736 was employed which introduced a £50 annual licence (£7000 today). Duty was also increased which lead to public outcry and the ‘Gin Riots’.

 

Gin was pushed underground where poisonous cheap alternatives were awash on the streets.

 

The ‘Gin Act’ was dumped and other various controls were unsuccessfully used until the Tippling Act of 1751 was seen as the way forward. In this act distillers could only sell to ‘licensed’ retailers. The famous depiction of William Hogarth’s ‘Gin Lane’ was first viewed at this time to accentuate the need for this new law.

 

By the 1830’s London was booming and rich now took ownership of gin. Part of this wealth was sunk into the new craze for the ‘Gin Palace’. Utilising the new availability of gas lights these palaces grew in popularity and by the middle of the 19th century there were at least 5000 in London alone.

 

The 20th century saw ‘prohibition’ in America lead to the birth of the ‘speakeasy’ – underground drinking establishments controlled by gangsters and bootleggers. This in turn, lead to cheap, rough alcohol being produced which had to be flavoured to be consumed. But every cloud has a silver lining and a new fashion for ‘cocktails’ to disguise the taste of the base spirit came to light.

 

In the 21st Century gin has been refined beyond expectations and in 2016 UK Gin broke the £1bn sales mark in the on-and-off trade (pub & retail) for the first time ever.