The first Gin Craze
The modern day gin craze is not the first. In the late 1600s, the UK found itself with a Dutchman on the throne, King William III of Orange. He began a trade war with France making it incredibly difficult to import things like wine and cognac. He instead introduced tax breaks for distilling essentially allowing anyone to make gin. A pint of gin became cheaper than a pint of beer, which sounds fabulous, right? Wrong. The gin was full of terrible chemicals like turpentine and sulphuric acid. If you were lucky, you’d get some sawdust in there too. Gin became the root of all evil. It was a drug that the poorest were hooked on. They drank it as a form of escapism, drinking to forget all their problems. There were tales of promiscuity, mothers forgetting about their children and the selling of children just so people could get their fix. It’s thought that this is where the saying ‘mother’s ruin’ came from. Ever wondered where the word gin comes from? Well, it’s believed that it comes from intoxicated brits unable to say genever so just shortened it to gin.
By 1730s, the government had begun to realise just what a terrible mess they had on their hands. They brought in laws around making gin with the first being the 50 pound distillers license in 1736. The idea was to make it illegal to distill unless you paid £50 which, at the time, that was a lot of money. It wasn’t particularly successful and it took 15 years before the government passed the final Gin Act in 1751. This law stated that distillers must pay a license fee and could only sell to licensed retailers in affluent areas. This, along with the rising price of grain meant that the gin craze completely died out.
Gin didn’t disappear completely, some of the most well known gin brands today of today were established in the following 150 years after. G & J Greenalls set up in 1761, Gordon’s Gin set up in 1769 and Plymouth Gin set up in 1793. Just over 100 years after the act, Hayman’s Gin set up in 1863. Although it’s easy to dismiss some of the above gins for being mass produced, credit has to be given where credit is due. These are brands that have stood the test of time and helped change the face of gin, taking it from the root of all evil to a classy, refined drink. Part of the law passed meant you had to distill in large batches, stills larger than 1800 litres to be exact, making small batch gin illegal. This remained the same until 2008.
The 1800s saw a new era for gin and it had become a more sophisticated drink. The development of the Coffey still (designed by Aeneas Coffey, nothing to do with coffee we drink) meant for cleaner, better quality spirits. The expansion of the British empire brought about new botanicals and discovery of quinine and the 1830s saw dedicated gin palaces pop up. They were ostentatious and over the top, adorned with mirrors and gas lights. Drinks were cheap and people were encouraged to drink up and buy more. Whilst gin seemed to have a better reputation, it still had its issues. The prohibition era in the USA brought about ‘bathtub gin’, cheap, poor quality gin made illegally. The idea was to make it in small enough batches to refrain from being detected from the authorities.
Over 250 years later, not a lot had changed since the Gin Act of 1751. It took some persuasion and the likes of the creators of Sipsmith and Sacred Gin to bring about change. Finally, in 2008, the law was repealed. A mere 10 years later, we have the gin boom of today, the second gin craze.