Gin: A fascinating and unexpected history!

The earliest written confirmation of gin production was in Holland during the 17th century. Originally regarded as a medicine, gin could be found in pharmacists and was widely used to alleviate stomach ache, gout and gallstones. Both adding to the medicinal nature of the drink, and making it more appealing, the Dutch gradually added juniper berries, which also had healing properties of their own. The word gin originates from the Dutch ‘jenever’, meaning juniper.

Some believe that the British were already drinking ‘jenever’ whilst fighting in Antwerp against the Spanish in 1585, during the Eighty Years’ War. The beverage was said to provide the soldiers with a calming effect before battle. It is believed that the term ‘Dutch Courage’ originates from this.

By García-Miña Perez (CC BY 2.0)

Gin became much more popular in England when Dutch-born William of Orange ascended the English throne in 1688 and the British Government granted permission for gin production without a license, simultaneously imposing heavy taxes on foreign imported spirits. As a result, a ‘Gin Craze’ period began in Britain due to its low price and wide availability, especially amongst the working classes.

However, the drink was held responsible for a wide variety of social issues; in 1734, a woman called Judith Dufour collected her two-year-old son from the workhouse, strangled him, dumped his body in a ditch and sold the child’s new clothes to buy gin! This was one of many terrible incidents, and gin was widely blamed for crime, prostitution, madness, higher death rates and falling birth rates. It is estimated that the average Londoner drank a shocking 53 litres per year during this time!

In England, in the 18th century, the Gin Act taxed retail sales and rendered it illegal to sell gin without a £50 annual licence. As a result, many underground distilleries were established in residential houses and gin was often flavoured with turpentine in addition to the original juniper. Another common variation was to distil the gin with sulphuric acid, resulting in a sweeter spirit, yet possibly with even more intoxicating and sometimes even poisoning effects.

Thankfully, a change in the economy eventually helped overturn the Gin Craze. A series of bad harvests forced grain prices to rise and landowners became less dependent on income from gin production. This also forced food prices up whilst wages decreased, so that the poor were unable to afford liquor. By 1757, the Gin Craze had just about been brought to an end.

In British colonies across the world, gin was also used to mask the bitter taste of quinine, an effective anti-malarial treatment. Quinine was dissolved in fizzy water to form tonic; hence the legendary gin and tonic was born, although tonic water today only contains a trace of quinine.

Gin and tonic is generally garnished with a slice of lime, although lemon has also become more popular as of recent years, along with orange, apple and cucumber. Suggested ratios (according to taste) are 1:1, 1:2, 1:3, and 2:3.

Here are a few of our favourites to enjoy outside as the weather gets warmer:

Beefeater Gin: This gin contains nine different botanicals: juniper, angelica root, angelica seeds, coriander seeds, liquorice, almonds, orris root, seville oranges, and lemon peel. Some garnish a Beefeater gin and tonic with a slice of orange, to complement the Seville oranges in its botanicals.

Tanqueray London Dry Gin: A British gin made with four distillations in a copper still. This is one of the most awarded gins in the world, being awarded the gold medal at the International Spirits Challenge 2012. We recommend using a lime wedge for this gin.

Caorunn Gin: An artisanal gin made in small batches at the Balmenach distillery in Scotland, traditional Celtic ingredients and pure grain alcohol are used instead of the usual molasses. To highlight this gin’s refreshing flavour, we recommend serving it with a slice of red apple.

Mombasa Gin: An English gin which dates back to the 19th century. It is obtained from a quadruple distillation of neutral alcohol and a selection of botanicals: juniper, orange, lemon, liquorice, cinnamon, cassia, nutmeg, angelica, clove and cumin.


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