History of Gin
Updated 14/12/20 - 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 Invention (1600s)
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.
Dutch Courage (1620s)
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.
The Glorious Revolution (1660s)
William of Orange (pictured) 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”. (Pictured at the top of this page).
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 establishments displaying a symbol referencing a black cat. It's thought that a slot could be found to put money in, a bartender inside would then dispense a shot of gin which would flow from a lead pipe to the waiting customer.
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.
Tropical Gin (1800s)
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.
The Navy Turn Pink (1824)
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.
America and Prohibition (1920s)
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 New Gin Craze (2011)
After a time out of the limelight, gin bounced back with a vengeance. Classic retro cocktails mixed with premium gins in stylish glasses came back in fashion and a new wave of premium gins took 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; producing a fantastic selection of spirits including the exquisite Anno Kent 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. This was soon followed by a special edition over proof gin, created to mark the 60th birthdays of Anno co-founders, Andy and Norman. Anno 60² Gin became a permanent part of the collection and features big, bold and woody flavours with 60% alcohol/volume - perfect in a G&T or Negroni.
Flavoured Gins (2010s)
As the first decades of the 21st century came to a close, gin and craft distilling showed no signs of slowing down. In fact, industry experts saw no end in sight for the boom. As more dry gins entered the market, people demanded something new and exciting to add to their collections. Many distilleries chose to bring back traditional pink gins, using flavours from the 1800s and remarket the past. Anno wanted to be different, so enter Anno B3rry Pink Gin and Anno Orange & Honey Gin, both launched in 2019. Anno's first pink gin stands out by using three Kentish berries, with hints of cocoa and spices. The beautiful, deep fuchsia pink colour carries over into attractive and delicious cocktails. The Orange & Honey Gin has a glorious, glistening honey tint and aroma of freshly squeezed orange juice. Anno also worked at the launch with a bee conservation charity, to celebrate the addition of local raw honey and bee pollen to the gin, with donations made for every bottle sold.
The World's Strongest Gin (2020)
Over the years there has been an ongoing push to go beyond navy strength gin, so called in a nod to Royal Navy officers of the early 18th century, who wanted to be sure of the strength of the gin on board their ships. This was thought to be partly a protective measure, so if the spirit ever came into contact with gunpowder, it would still be effective. To test it, they mixed some gin and gunpowder, lighting it and observing the flame. A clear flame was ‘proof’ of the quality and became a new standard, so eventually anything 114 proof (or 57.1% ABV) was considered safe enough to carry on board. On top of this, they would have likely needed a decent drink and ensuring its strength was a good way to guarantee this to the crew. Despite all this, the phrase itself wasn't actually used until many, many years later when a marketer adopted it to promote their stronger, more robust gins on the market. Since then, the concept of over proof gin has grown and grown, with several world records held by distilleries around the globe, pushing the ABV to 60% for example, Anno 602 Gin. A new contender from Scotland later introduced a 77% ABV gin and soon after, an 82.5% ABV from Sweden. Now, Anno have taken the crown and created Anno Extreme 95 Gin, with a huge 95% ABV in a 20cl bottle, boxed with a 25ml measuring beaker. What's next? We'll have to wait and see.
To Learn More
You can visit the Anno distillery and attend one of our guided tours, enjoy a gin and tonic while learning more about how gin's made. We also offer more in-depth tours with tastings of various gins, where you can learn about botanicals and flavours. For an even more hands-on experience, there's a gin blending experience, where you can make your very own full size bottle of gin to take home in a personalised bottle with a goodie bag and certificate. Book experiences here or buy as a gift voucher.