Let’s take a trip down Gin’s memory lane so we can figure out where and when we all became so infatuated by gin!
There are many stories about who first created gin, one being all the way back in the 11th century. It was rumoured that Italian monks used juniper berries to flavour their distilled spirits although, the creation of gin has been credited to Fanciscus Sylvius, a Dutch physician who created the spirit for medicinal purposes in 1550. Brits got their first taste of gin during the Thirty Years’ War, when our troops were in Holland fighting the Spanish. They discovered it was good for calming their nerves and keeping them warm – giving meaning to the phrase ‘Dutch Courage’.
A few years on, King Charles I formed the Worshipful Company of Distillers, which allowed them to trade within 21 miles of London and Westminister. However, in 1689 when the ruler of the Dutch republic, William of Orange took the throne he decided that everyone was allowed to make gin, therefore creating ‘London Gin’ during the Glorious Revolution.
With another change of leader, came another change of law. George II brought in the Gin Act in 1736 after the death rates in London sky-rocketed and gin was to blame. Branded with negative connotations, anyone creating gin needed a license to retail their product which cost £50 and then duty was put at £1 a gallon, with a minimum purchase put at 2 gallons. Riots broke out and the law was widely, and openly broken. Gin was mass produced in residential houses – the birth of bathtub gin. Only 2 distillers took out a license, yet production rose by 50% leading the law to be abolished in 1742.
Going back to its origins, Dutch gin – known as jenever or genever – evolved from malt wine spirits. It was distilled from barely malt in a pot still, then aged in wood giving it a slight resemblance of whiskey but with lower alcohol levels.
In the early 18th century, gin was widely flavoured with turpentine to give it woody notes. It was also common to distil it with sulphuric acid, although the acid did not distil, it resulted in a stronger, unpalatable, often dangerous gin that had more intoxicating effects. To cover the taste, liquorice and sugar was often added, making it drier than the Dutch genever, but sweeter than a London dry – the best of both worlds. There are a few stories told to be the reason that this gin was branded Old Tom, one of which being that a tomcat fell into a vat of gin and died. But the one we’re going with is that it was named after Thomas Chamberlain. An English distiller working at Hodges Distillery with an apprentice called Thomas Norris. Around the distillery they were referred to as ‘Old Tom’ and ‘Young Tom’, so when young Tom opened his own gin palace in Covent Garden he began selling gin from barrels branded ‘Old Tom’.
The distilling process evolved with the invention of the column still in 1832, followed by the creation of a London Dry, distilled in citrus elements and subtle combinations of spices in the 19th century.
Tropical British colonies unknowingly created the legendary G&T when they used gin to mask the bitter taste of a quinine tonic they drank to fight off malaria.
Eventually, Gin began its ascent into high society as the ‘cocktail-age’ followed the first world war, and became famously used on Cunard Cruises. Who would have thought that such a sophisticated drink, had been through such a treacherous journey?