I always knew it to have a slightly shadowy past as I had heard it commonly referred to as the depressives drink, but little did I know the reality of how darkly shadowed & twisted it's history actually was. Gin has lived through the times with it’s notorious past weighing down it’s drinkers with a slightly groggy and twisted buzz unlike any other spirit. Going by the name of Mother’s Milk, stories of women killing their own children to sell their clothes to buy more Gin saw the name aptly changed to Mother’s Ruin. Gin became the spirit of the times because it was simple, easy, cheap and unlicensed. During this period, Gin parlours ran hand in hand with opium dens and these places were seen as a place of escapism, particularly for the poor where it was an affordable spirit that raised the poorest of poor to be able to live through their own suffering. A popular drink was the Hot Gin Twist; Gin, honey & orange juice in a large mug and topped with hot water - stirred and sipped like a tea. The Gin craze was seen as the root of all evil, the cause of murder, disease, idleness, misery & madness and as such was quickly curtailed by a series of Licensing Acts which were unpopular and short lived with one Bishop stating that, “it was better to see all of England free, than all of England sober”. Such laws were not successful and forced reputable sellers to close and opened up the doors for bootleggers to thrive which saw buyers gambling with each purchase as it was often mixed with turpentine or sulphuric acid. This problem forced the law to make changes and by around the 1740s more respectable laws were passed which is basically the situation we have today, reasonably high prices, excise duties and the sale under licensed retailers under the supervision of magistrates.
The distillation of Juniper berry’s and other botanicals is what gave this spirit it’s “medical” properties from when it first originated in Holland by Physician Dr Franciscus Sylvius in 1641 and the name Gin is thought to be an abbreviation of the word Geneva, the Dutch name for Juniper. It was used for medicinal purposes; treating stomach problems, gallstones, urinary tract infections and gout. It was also know for it’s warming property’s which is where we get the term “Dutch Courage” as it was administered to British Troops fighting side by side with the Dutch troops during the Thirty Years War to appease their long campaigns during damp weather. However it was King William III, also known as William of Orange who came to the English throne in 1689 who encouraged the distillation of English spirits which is what is commonly known as the beginning ofthe above mentioned slippery slope of England’s love of themischievous and commonly sort after potion which basically had all of London swarming with drunkenness all for the love of escapism. This ride was put to death with the Parliamentary introduction of lower wages and higher food prices which forced the people out of their Gin haze. However, the British love of Gin lived on with it’s regular gin ration supplied to British troops in India during the 19th century which saw them mixing it with quinine tonic, water, sugar and a squirt of lime to make the supposed malaria preventative more palatable.
Today, Gin is a well respected spirit and at a quick glance the quirky nature of the drink is often misinterpreted as a marketing ploy, rather than a historical reference to it’s unusual and wicked past. What separates Gin from Vodka? My understanding is the distillation of Juniper berries is what makes Gin, Gin and not Vodka. Vodka is basically an unflavoured neutral spirit. The connoisseur’s advise that the best ratio is 1:3 Gin to tonic water; don’t scrimp on buying quality tonic water and that the best garnishes are lemon or orange (or both, why not!) - squeezed and then plonked into the drink with the peel as the peel is where the oils are which is what gives your drink an even nicer subtle flavouring. I have been drinking Hendricks Gin because it was kindly gifted to me from some very considerate friends I have been garnishing my G&T with sliced cucumber and pepper which I have learned is a good combination because it is a soft Gin and the cucumber gives it a nice buttery taste.
Bottoms up as we escape into the warmer weather.
By Jacs xo