The History of Gin
There are many stories about the origins of gin. The most popular seems to be that it was first made
in Holland as a medicine for stomach problems. It was soon flavoured with juniper, also medicinal,
to make it more palatable. This seems to be where the phrase Dutch Courage originated. In the
1600s it was drunk by British troops fighting in the 30 years war and they then brought it back to
'Gin Lane', William Hogarth. Etching and Line Engraving 1750-1751. Print c. 1806-09 by Samuel Davenport
'The Gin Shop', George Cruikshank 1 November 1829. A satirical sketch on the dangers of drinking alcohol
The Worshipful Company of Distillers was granted its Royal Charter in 1638 by Charles I. This meant the distilling trade was given a monopoly and regulated within 21 miles of the cities of London and Westminster. This helped to improve both the quality and image of gin.
When William of Orange became king in 1689, he imposed taxes on French spirits because he hated all things catholic. Hence Gin became much cheaper to drink as it incurred no taxes. Distilling laws were also relaxed and cheap gin often flavoured with turpentine became available. It caused many deaths and became known as the poor man’s drink and Mother’s Ruin.
The 1800s seems to be the time when saffron could have been introduced into gin! In overseas British saffron growing colonies, gin was added to a mixture of quinine and carbonated water to take away the bitter taste of this anti-malarial medicine. It was almost certainly where our G & T originated. Gin palaces also took off in London, suddenly there were bright gas lit rooms with large windows and mirrors taking over from the dimly lit gin shops.
In the 1900s the gin palaces evolved into cocktail and dance venues as cocktails became very popular in the 1920s and 30’s. As the century progressed gin fell out of favour and became old fashioned.
2000 Gin is back! Suddenly there has been an enormous resurgence in gin’s popularity. Almost certainly due to the wonderful new flavours of gin around. Many more small producers are making gin from all kinds of interesting botanicals, many of them sourced locally.