I could make this as dry as gin itself but I’ll try and compact 300 years into a blog post and make it easy to read !!!
A few points of history (The geeky bit )
- A Dutch physician Franciscus Sylvius
(Here he is ! 😜)
…is often falsely credited with the invention of gin around 1650. Here is why:
- The first ever literary reference to jenever ( original term for gin) was in a play “The Duke of Milan” (1623), when Sylvius would have been nine!
- English soldiers in 1585 were already drinking jenever for its calming effects before battle, from which “Dutch Courage” is believed to have originated.
- The earliest known reference to jenever appears in the 13th century encyclopaedic work Der Naturen Bloeme (Bruges),
- And the earliest printed recipe for jenever dating from 16th century work Een Constelijck Distileerboec (Antwerp).
Gin emerged in England in varying forms as of the early 17th century, When William of Orange,
(these guys don’t do anything for the Alpha Males!!)
Ruler of the Dutch Republic, occupied the British throne with his wife Mary – gin became vastly more popular, particularly in it’s crude, inferior forms, where it was more likely to be flavoured with turpentine as an alternative to juniper.
The formation by King Charles I of the Worshipful Company of Distillers (WCD), where members had the sole right to distil spirits in London and Westminster and up to twenty-one miles beyond improved both the quality of gin and its image; it also helped English agriculture by using surplus corn and barley. Anyone could now distil by simply posting a notice in public and just waiting ten days (if only it were so simple nowadays!). Sometimes gin was distributed to workers as part of their wages and soon the volume sold daily exceeded that of beer and ale, which was more expensive anyway.
In 1729, an excise licence of £20 was introduced and two shillings per gallon duty was levied. In addition to which, retailers now required a licence. This almost suppressed good gin but it was the quantity consumed of bad spirits which continued to rise.😪
In 1730 London had over 7,000 shops that sold only spirits.
William Hogarth in his ‘Gin Lane’, an engraving depicting gin drinking at the time portrays a scene of idleness, vice and misery, leading to madness and death. Typical of the time and showcases how bad it must of been!
The Gin Riots
The problem was tackled by introducing The Gin Act in 1736, which made gin prohibitively expensive. A licence to retail gin cost £50 and duty was raised fivefold to £1 per gallon with the smallest quantity you could buy retail being two gallons. The Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, and Dr. Samuel Johnson were among those who opposed the Act since they considered it could not be enforced against the will of the common people. They were right. Riots broke out. About this time, 11 million gallons of gin were distilled in London, which was over 20 times the 1690 figure and has been estimated to be the equivalent of 14 gallons for each adult male. But within six years of the Gin Act being introduced, only two distillers took out licences, yet, over the same period of time, production rose by almost fifty per cent.
The Gin Act, finally recognised as unenforceable, was repealed in 1742 and a new policy, which distillers helped to draft was introduced: reasonably high prices, reasonable excise duties and licensed retailers under the supervision of magistrates. Still applicable today.
These changes led to more respectable firms embarking on the business of distilling and retailing gin and it became the drink of high quality, which it has since remained.
Gin had been known as ‘Mother’s Milk’ from the 1820s but later in the century it became known as ‘Mother’s Ruin’, a description perhaps originating from the earlier ‘Blue Ruin’ of the prohibition era in the previous century.
As reforms took effect, so the gin production process became more refined. Gin evolved to become a delicate balance of elegance and began its ascent into high society.
Ok you get the picture…
Jump forward to 2009 and HMRC receives applications for not one, but two microdistilleries in London: Sipsmith in Hammersmith, and Sacred in Highgate. There was a problem, however. HMRC didn’t know how to deal with them. Licences had not been issued in such a long time that the process was somewhat outdated
After much to-ing and fro-ing, the licences were dispatched, and the two craft distilleries were in business.
Ian Hart of Sacred – who cold distills his gins, vodka and vermouths using his laboratory set up in his living room – remembers how difficult it was in the early days. ‘Back in 2009 when we and Sipsmith started, people had only really heard about Gordon’s, Beefeater, Tanqueray… the idea that there was a two-man band operating out of their house was very unusual, and it was a real uphill struggle to start with. But it’s a lot easier now, because there’s a lot more enthusiasm for new artisan gins.’
The UK has come a long way since 2009 – HMRC are now prepared and willing to work with new craft distillers to help get them set up with the required licences, and this step change has had a positive effect.
‘There was a wave of craft distillers starting up in America, and that really inspired what happened in the UK – the first wave was Chase [in Herefordshire], Sipsmith and Sacred,’ says Jamie Baxter, master distiller at COLD, who used to be the distiller at Chase. ‘We’re part of the second wave that’s coming through at the moment, and the third wave is just about to start.’
Now onto drinking the stuff. One of the best ways to appreciate its unique characteristics is in a classic Martini. My favourite is The Vesper which according to Ian Fleming Is 007’s cocktail of choice, shaken not stirred naturally:
“Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”
-Casino Royale, Chapter 7
GIN 50 cl and Tonic 1 measure of gin and three of tonic 150cl
and because I am writing this from Italy here is the Italian way of drinking it:
1 oz. dry gin
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. vermouth rosso
So what ever you do this week what ever gin you choose just enjoy yourself and dont let anyone tell you there are set rules for what gin goes. Of course enjoy the classics but there are so many to choose from nowadays, all with their own aromatic and distinctive character. It would be a shame to stop at Gordon’s, Tanqueray or even Sipsmith. It may not turn out to be your forever favourite but it just might be! That’s the fun of discovering something new. I for one am on the hunt this week for a local Apuglian gin – I might find a blinder or I might not but the enjoying the experience is what counts!
Please send me photos of you gin pick today to firstname.lastname@example.org Salute!!
See these fab links for more stuff