History of Gin
OriGins: A Short History of Gin
These days, gin is frequently sipped with tonic water as a pre-dinner drink or enjoyed in a trendy cocktail. However, despite this refined modern image, gin has a few skeletons in the closet in terms of its history...
A Dutch scientist originally formulated juniper berry oil as a medicine and it was added to distilled spirit along with botanicals in order to make it more palatable. It was so palatable in fact, that cases of reported illnesses soared as the masses tried to acquire this ‘genever’ that was only available in pharmacies. The demand was so high that numerous small distilleries emerged and the commercial, non-medicinal version was born.
English troops fighting alongside the Dutch in the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) noticed that the Dutch soldiers were extremely courageous in battle. This bravery became attributed to the calming effects of the genever that they sipped from small bottles hanging from their belts. English soldiers returning home from the war spread the news of this genever and the Dutch began to import it all over the world in their vast fleet of trade ships.
William of Orange came to the throne and brought in the freedom to distil and sell spirits, providing they were produced from home-grown English corn. Spirit prices dropped and heavier taxes on beer further increased the demand for gin, resulting in unregulated production using poor quality grain.
The Gin Craze (1720s)
With many water-borne diseases prevalent around London, gin became a safe drink for the poor. In excess of 7,000 spirit shops sprung up around London and gin became known as the opium of common people. The engraving ‘Gin Lane’ by William Hogarth depicts an image of the social breakdown supposedly caused by gin, which took the blame for a of multitude of sins and consequently earned the nickname “mother’s ruin”.
Acts and Cats (1750s)
Gin Acts were passed in order to allow only licensed retailers to sell alcohol and therefore outlawing the unlicensed dram gin shops. Consumption dropped and more respectable firms took up distillation, producing better quality products and entering the sights of high society. However, illegal sales continued to persist with the production of a sweet version known as Old Tom gin, which was sold underhand on the streets by shops displaying the symbol of a black cat.
A Gentleman’s Drink (1830s)
The invention of the distillation column led to a significant shift in quality and the emergence of a new type of gin, known as the London Dry style. The smoother taste of the distilled spirit allowed for the aroma of the botanicals to become predominant and many companies started to develop gins with a wider range of complex flavourings. Exquisite Gin Palaces were established for the society’s gentlemen, which were luxuriously furnished and provided extravagant entertainment.
As the British Empire expanded, the threat of mosquito carried malaria became of great concern to the colonists. Quinine was a known deterrent for mosquitoes, but it tasted exceptionally bitter on its own. With the recent invention of carbonated water, quinine was used as a flavouring to create tonic water which, as it just so happens, is a perfect complement to gin. Gin and tonic was therefore drunk as an anti-malarial and became the distinctively British colonial drink. Needless to say, when the troops arrived back in Britain the practice came with them, minus the addition of quite so much quinine.
It was discovered that Angostura bitters were a good cure for seasickness and they therefore began to be used for medicinal purposes in the Navy. As with tonic, it was found that bitters were a great accompaniment to the gin, producing a pink gin that soon became enjoyed on a more widespread basis.
Over the water, as a result of campaigns lead by the Prohibition Party and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union among others, the Volstead Act was passed in 1919 to ban the consumption of alcohol. Despite the thirteen years of prohibition that followed, this was not upheld by a majority of the population and illegal bars became commonplace. Smuggled alcohol was insufficient to satisfy the demand so many opted to make their own alcohol, leading to an era of moonshine and bootlegging.
Shaken, Not Stirred (1960s)
Cocktails are thought to have existed long before they became fashionable, even getting a mention in an edition of The Balance and Columbian Repository from 1806. However, despite a brief surge after World War I, their popularity didn’t properly increase until the late 1960s when cocktail recipes started to appear in drinks books and gin became an essential drink for parties.
The Time is Now (2013)
After a time out of the limelight, gin is bouncing back with a vengeance. Classic retro cocktails mixed with premium gins in stylish glasses are back in fashion and a new wave of premium gins are taking over. Distilled in small scale stills, using high quality ingredients and a lot of care and attention, these select gins are made for the more refined palate. At the pinnacle of this historical journey is Anno; an exquisite Kentish Dry Gin. Made in a London Dry Gin style, it is lovingly handcrafted by experienced scientists, incorporating natural Kentish botanicals to create the optimum drinking pleasure.