A brief history of Gin
by John Whitlow on Jun 12, 2023
Gin is a popular alcoholic drink in the UK, but it has a long and complex history that spans centuries and continents. In this blog post, we will explore how gin came to be, how it evolved over time, and how it influenced and was influenced by British culture.
Gin originated in the Netherlands in the 17th century, where it was distilled from juniper berries and other botanicals. It was originally used as a medicine to treat various ailments, such as kidney problems, stomach pain, and gout. The Dutch called it genever, which means juniper.
The British encountered gin during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), when they fought alongside the Dutch against the Spanish. They noticed that the Dutch soldiers drank genever before battle to boost their courage, coining the phrase Dutch Courage. They adopted the practice themselves and brought genever back to England, where it became known as gin.
Gin soon became very popular in England, especially among the poor and working classes. It was cheap, easy to make, and widely available. It also helped people cope with the harsh realities of urban life, such as overcrowding, poverty, disease, and crime. However, gin also had negative effects on society, such as addiction, violence, prostitution, and child neglect. The government tried to regulate and tax gin production and consumption, but this only led to more smuggling and illegal trade.
In the 18th century, gin underwent a transformation. A new style of gin emerged, called London dry gin, which was lighter and more refined than the old genever. It was made by redistilling neutral grain spirit with juniper and other botanicals, such as coriander, angelica, lemon peel, and orris root. London dry gin became the standard for quality and taste in the gin industry.
Gin also became associated with British colonialism and imperialism in the 19th century. Gin was exported to various parts of the British Empire, where it was mixed with local ingredients and flavors. For example, in India, gin was mixed with tonic water to prevent malaria, creating the famous gin and tonic. In other places, gin was mixed with lime juice to prevent scurvy, creating the gimlet.
Gin also influenced British culture in various ways. Gin was a staple of British literature, featuring in works by authors such as Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, and Ian Fleming. Gin was also a symbol of British sophistication and elegance, especially in the 20th century, when it was enjoyed by celebrities and royalty. Gin was also a part of British social life, being served at parties, clubs, pubs, and bars.
Today, gin is still a popular drink in the UK and around the world. In the UK, what was the Greenhalls Distillery in Warrington produces over 30% of all the gin drank in the UK and is the oldest distillery in the country.
There are many varieties and styles of gin available, such as Plymouth gin, Old Tom gin, sloe gin, and flavoured gin. There are also many ways to enjoy gin, such as neat, on the rocks, or in cocktails. Gin is also a part of British heritage and identity, reflecting its history and culture.
I hope you enjoyed this brief history of Gin.