Though gin’s origins are ironically murky, you heard the story of Professor Franz de la Boë – and how he stumbled upon gin – when getting to know our featured distillers: Boë Gin. While the factuality of this tale is nowhere near as clear as the spirit to which it refers, it’s a great yarn nonetheless and, throughout history, gin has been the basis of many great stories.
Join us on a journey through space, a little bit of time and a whole lot of gin.
You are sure to be aware of the phrase “Dutch Courage”, an English colloquialism that refers to the use of alcohol to stiffen one’s resolve. Evidently, the origins of the phrase are intrinsically linked to everyone’s favourite juniper-based spirit.
The most popular tale dates the etymology of the term to the time of English soldiers fighting in the Thirty Years’ War. One version of the story states that Dutch gin was used by the soldiers for its alleged warming properties on the body during cold weather and its comforting effects before battle; another recounts that English troops observed the bravery brought on by jenever’s liquor on the Dutch soldiers and, naturally, dubbed it “Dutch Courage”.
Subsequently, gin would go on to become popular in England thanks to King William III – better known as William of Orange.
Following this popularisation of gin, the first half of the 18th century has since become known as The Gin Craze: a period when the consumption of gin increased rapidly in Great Britain, especially in London. By 1743, England was drinking 10 litres of gin per person per year
“By 1743, England was drinking 10 litres of gin per person per year”
Large swathes of the population overconsumed the spirit known as “Mother’s Ruin” and the city had a virtual epidemic of extreme drunkenness, provoking moral outrage and legislative backlash.
Five major acts were passed (in 1729, 1736, 1743, 1747 and 1751) before The Gin Craze began to diminish, though this was attributed more to the rising cost of grain than to any legislation.
In the late 1820s, gin saw a resurgence through the emergence of “Gin Palaces”. Often lavishly decorated and lit by gas light, these were essentially gin bars frequented by the poor – who continued to be the chief consumers of the spirit – as an escape.
In his Sketches by Boz, Charles Dickens described them as “perfectly dazzling when contrasted with the darkness and dirt we have just left…”
By the 1850s, there were reportedly around 5,000 “Gin Palaces” in London alone. Again, this led to further debate on the drink and subsequent reforms saw the gin production process become more refined. So gin evolved, developing a more delicate balance of subtle flavours and commenced its ascent into high society.
“Gin evolved, developing a more delicate balance of subtle flavours and commenced its ascent into high society”
It’s safe to say that today gin is having yet another resurgence. Since 2010, the number of gin producers in the UK has more than doubled with around 50 opening in 2015 alone. And a large chunk of this number can be attributed to a rise in craft gin distilleries – who are popping up all over the country.
But the renaissance that’s taking the drinks industry by storm must surely be attributed to the fact that these craft distilleries are upping their efforts with inventive, experimental and delicious new spins on gin.
Simply put, gin has never tasted better and we’ll drink to that.
Originally published in Issue 1 of our Flavlourly magazine. Written by Kevin O’Donnell