History of gin

July 27, 2022

History of gin

Gin is an old, old spirit that has been drunk by a whole suite of different people around the world for what feels like an impossibly long time. That means that, of all the spirits around the world, it probably has the greatest story of them all.

Gin

From the extreme high that gin is experiencing now to the utter vilification that it has experienced in the past, gin has had an awful lot of twists and turns.

In this article, we're going to talk about a few key terms and interesting, important things. Then, we're going to tell you the whole history of gin, right from the start, all the way to the modern day with the inclusion of these wonderful alcoholic beverages into gin gift sets. Without further ado, strap in, and let's get started!

Juniper Berries

It wouldn't be right to talk about gin without giving a quick mention to the wonderful juniper berries from which tits flavor is derived. Juniper bushes are something that grows wild all across the world, and the berries themselves are simply the fruit of that wild plant. 

Interestingly, while juniper berries are the thing that gives the gin its flavor, they aren't really the thing from which the alcohol comes. Typically, gin is made from single-grain alcohol, something similar to vodka, and then it's flavored with the intense sharpness of juniper berries to bring something pleasant to the drinking experience.

The berries themselves have a complex flavor, with the flavor of the berry itself mostly coming from the flesh in the center of the berry. For this reason, the berries are typically crushed a little before use so that their inner flavors can be conveyed into the liquid or food that they're flavoring a little more easily.

Gin with berries

London Dry Gin

This is a slightly interesting gin since it doesn't actually have to come from London.

Rather, the name of the style, 'London dry gin' harks back to the days when it was made wholesale within the large city. Nowadays, though, gin is typically made all over the place, with this style being in reference to something specific.

This type of gin is a gin that is infused with botanical flavor through re-distillation. This means that, essentially, no flavors or colors can actually be added to the gin after the distillation process has already been completed.

London Dry Gin

The flavor

Generally, though not always, London dry is a style of gin that massively favors juniper flavor - it's rare to see a London dry with a principal flavor other than juniper.

Old Tom Gin

Old Tom gin is something that was really famous and popular in the 18th century, within England, specifically. It was widely loved until it fell off in popularity, being made less and less over time. It's currently experiencing a bit of a resurgence, though there are still some questions around about what it really is. We thought we'd step in and help to answer them!

Old Tom Gin is, essentially, a gin recipe that is a step between London Dry and Dutch Jenever, the original gin. For this reason, it's sometimes been called the missing link between the two.

Aside from being a specific type of gin, it's got some historical significance from when gin acts were passed to cut down on the amount of gin in London.

Mysterious cats

On the outside of some walls in London pubs, there would be black wooden cats to signify the sale of gin inside. A black cat has been called an Old Tom in British English, hence the name transferring.

When the gin scene was driven a little more underground, some pubs in England would have a small spout on an external wall, along with a coin slot and a small sign which showed a cat's paw. A coin would be put into the slot, and a shot of gin would be dispensed from inside the pub by the bartender. Again, the cat's paw was used to represent the gin itself, which has given credence to the name.

The birth of the gin and tonic

The gin and tonic is a legacy of the British empire, with British soldiers finding themselves beset upon by mosquitoes wherever they went around the world.

Tropical British colonies gin was a mixture of gin, sugar, and lime juice that was used to dampen the terrible taste of quinine, a medicine used to treat malaria at the time.

Over time, it was found that the lime juice was often spoiled, and the sugar could be expensive when being supplied to large ranks of soldiers. As a result, tonic water was created - a simple liquid comprised of water and quinine, not dissimilar from the carbonated mixer that we know and love today.

This tonic water, while not strong enough to treat malaria, had the effect of driving off mosquitoes due to the mild (to humans) scent of quinine within it. To a mosquito, that mild scent was much more intense.

The birth of an icon

While tonic water was used for medicinal purposes, soldiers were reticent to walk away from their daily ration of gin that had come as part of their previous anti-malaria rations. Hence, the combination of gin and tonic water was born. It's probably fair to say that no gin drinker has looked back since!

Gin

Where did gin originally come from?

This is a bit of a tricky question to answer since humans have a long and varied history of deriving alcohol from virtually everything that they can. However, gin production likely started as early as 1550.

Gin - kind of

In 1550, a dutch physician created and prescribed a juniper-based spirit that he said would cure all manner of different ailments. Franciscus Sylvius, the physician in question, may not have invented this spirit, however.

Jenever

Jenever is a very old name for dutch gin, and it's something that has been used in Holland for centuries since the 1200s. In 1266, a rough production method for jenever, which was used for medicinal purposes, was outlined in a book. This jenever was a type of distilled malt wine that was flavored with juniper berries and was likely very different from anything that we would recognize as gin today.

The flavored gins of the 2010s

The constant and ongoing trend of flavored gins has been a large part of drinking for quite a long time now. It is most noticeable in the UK, where gin was long considered something a little odd that, while drunk occasionally by people who liked it, was never really anyone's favorite.

However, small distilleries have been able to find a niche market by creating small batches of gin, far from the malt wine of jenever, and selling it to supermarkets and, sometimes, direct to consumers.

Gin

Pink gin

Gin sellers started off with a range of fairly fruit-heavy gins, with things like pink gin hampers taking a front seat in the ongoing trend. This gin is flavored with red berries, most typically raspberries and cranberries, and is mixed with berries, ice, and tonic, typically. Sometimes, it may be mixed with lemonade to create a sweeter, even fruitier drink.

Today, all sorts of gin can be found with different, almost novelty, flavors, and names. While pink gin is still sold, it's not uncommon to see gin distillers making drinks like gin liqueurs, which can be flavored in a number of ways since they're so sweet. For example, a distiller in the UK has recently started making a Turkish delight flavored gin - it tastes exactly like the classic confectionary, which is quite an accomplishment, thanks to the adoration for fancy gins at the moment.

Pink Gin

The long history of gin

Gin has a tremendously huge history, and it's mostly tied to two countries - the UK and the Netherlands. This is a big part of what makes the history of gin so varied, complex, and surprising because the history of those two countries is tremendously varied, complex, and surprising.

In the rest of this article, we're going to run you through a number of different elements of the history of gin, from the time it was first made and the original, pre-gin drinks that were enjoyed long ago to the modern era, where artisanal gins can be found in supermarkets around the world.

Gin

First things first

Juniper has grown wild throughout Europe for centuries, which means that as long as there have been humans there to attempt to make it into an alcoholic drink, they've been doing just that.

A long time ago, in a distillery far away

As far back as 70AD, there are records detailing juniper being used in different types of wine to treat chest ailments. While we have much better medication now, it's fascinating to think that the core ingredient of gin has been used for that long!

In 1055, some monks in Solerno, Italy wrote down a recipe for tonic wine that had been infused with juniper berries - they, of course, wrote it down as a tonic to be used in medical circumstances.

After those times, we come to the sixteenth century and the advent of jenever. It is also sometimes called 'genever' since that's the English form of the Dutch name.

Genever

Genever was created simply - with a malt wine mixed with crushed-up juniper berries that helped the overall liquid to taste better. The wine would be taken to soothe various different ailments. It's worth noting that this is, essentially, the same form that juniper was being used in during the year 70AD - berries crushed in wine.

The first time that the word 'gin' was used was in reference to genever, and it was one of the first examples of British people stealing European words for their own means - another example could be 'entreprenueur' or 'fiancee'.

The generally accepted theory is that British people were either too drunk (on genever) or lazy to pronounce the whole name. Eventually, it became known as 'gen' and then 'gin'.

The gin craze

There were a vast number of different factors that all led to the gin craze, and we're going to, slowly but surely, walk through all of them and find our way to the craze itself.

Politics from centuries ago

Gin

So, right at the start of the factors is William of Orange, a dutch king that installed himself on the throne and became William III of England. In an attempt to damage the French economy, he posed massive trade blockades against French brandy.

Knowing that having a lack of alcohol would upset his subjects, he encouraged distilling through the corn laws. These laws, essentially, provided tax breaks on the products of spirits. These breaks were so heavy-handed that, eventually, a pint of gin would cost less than a pint of beer, which is certainly saying something.

This led to a lot of heavy drinking being done by the poorest people in society since things were, to be perfectly honest, pretty grim. They drank to cope, and that means that they simply drank to excess.

Thus, the gin craze

This incredible period of extreme drinking is now known as the gin craze, where people would drink gin almost nonstop.

After five years of this heavy and semi-constant drinking, politicians realized that there was a problem with the gin craze. Because the business was booming so intensely, people were, essentially, just throwing anything into the bottles and calling it gin. A gin distillery could get away with throwing turpentine, sulphuric acid, or sawdust into their bottles with little to no downside for them.

A small step was made at this point, with the concept of a distiller's license being introduced. At the price of fifty pounds, they were exorbitantly expensive, and people massively stopped producing so much gin.

The temporary hatred of gin

Things took a rather intense and absurd turn in 1751 when some propaganda-oriented etchings were created. The most interesting and relevant to our story are two that were made - Beer Street and Gin Lane.

Beer street is an etching that's designed, above all else, to show the relative safety of beer drinking. There are many people in the etching that, despite the fact that they may be a little clumsy or confused, appear to be happy, healthy, and in good spirits.

Gin lane presents an altogether different view of people. There are people throughout the etching literally losing their minds as a result of gin, with a drunk mother, for example, dropping her baby as a result of her drunkenness.

Propaganda, and nothing more

Gin Lane is a great example of some propaganda designed to make a problem that was, by all accounts, real, seem much worse than it actually was.

There were, purportedly, people that would do terrible things in search of their next gin fix. There is a story of a mother, Judith Defour, who sold her child's clothes to get money for gin. The child, as a result of being too cold, passed away - Judith was sentenced to death, and gin was vilified.

It's hard to imagine the scale upon which this was done, but there were literally thousands of people out there saying that gin was the root cause of all sorts of different problems. It was blamed for negligence, insanity, and murder!

In 1751, there was the gin act, which was meant to be used in order to reduce the amount of gin trade and gin produced. The gin act raised taxes and fees for retailers and made licenses even harder to make.

In addition to beer, tea was promoted, too. The idea was simple - stop everyone from drinking so much gin!

By 1830, England started to drink much more beer than gin, and things generally started to resolve themselves.

Gin

Beloved, once more

The first thing, following the gin act, that enabled gin to make its way into the classic gin cocktails that we know and love was a new still. Aeneas Coffey invented a new still that was different in design from traditional stills, making the process much easier and safer. There are even gifts now such as gin chocolate hampers that combine these wonderful gin flavours with your favourite chocolate goodies.

This, essentially, removed the fact that sawdust and turpentine could be added to gin, leading to a much safer drink for all involved. Gin consumption was still quite low, thanks to the gin act making production more expensive, but this was offset, just a little, by the new stills.

The second thing that made gin more popular was the British navy. As the British empire spread throughout the world and found themselves butting heads with mosquitos time and time again, they found that quinine worked to prevent and treat malaria.

Schweppes produced an Indian tonic containing quinine to make the drug more palatable. Navy rum was combined with tonic, creating the classic cocktail.

This love for gin with the navy was continued for decades, with a nazi bombing of Plymouth being especially loathed because of the sailors' love for Plymouth gin.

Since then, gin was back in the good graces of people throughout the UK, with the gin act being all but forgotten. The only thing from recent history related to the gin act is Sipsmith's acquisition of an official gin distiller's license in 2008 - since then, gin has seen a wonderful resurgence, finding its place as the ingredient that we know and love today.



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