FROM MOTHER’S RUIN…

From medicinal tonic, providing ‘Dutch courage’, labelled ‘Mother’s Ruin’, to today’s artisan premium product – Gin has had quite a journey

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Considered a quintessentially British drink, our beloved G&T actually originated in Holland known as Genever, a juniper infused malt wine-based liquor believed to have first been created in the 16C for medicinal purposes – although there is even earlier evidence of tonic wine infused with juniper berries as a treatment for chest & stomach ailments & Italian monks infusing spirits with juniper in the 11C. The term ‘Dutch Courage’ was first coined by English soldiers fighting the Spanish in the 30 Years’ War fought in central Europe between 1618 – 1648, and this version of Gin (Jenever) found its way back to England when they returned.

So why London Gin? So-named after the Worshipful Company of Distillers was formed by King Charles I in 1638, giving its members a monopoly on the distilling trade within just 21 miles of London and Westminster. London gin doesn’t have to be made in London – it refers to its predominant juniper flavour and strict regulations regarding production. It must be re-distilled from a neutral base spirit and all botanicals must be added during, rather than after, distillation.

After William III (aka William of Orange, a Dutchman) became King of England, Ireland, and Scotland in 1689, he implemented a trade war with France and introduced heavy taxes on French wines and Cognac, at the same time as introducing The Corn Laws and providing tax breaks on the production of spirits – which led to what was known as the ‘gin craze’, with massive expansion of the production of gin as a pint of gin became cheaper than a pint of beer. During ‘The Big Freeze’ of 1731, hot gin and gingerbread stalls became popular along the frozen River Thames.

In order to address the health & social problems caused by the unregulated, uncontrolled gin trade a series of no less than 8 Gin Acts were introduced in quick succession in an attempt to regulate & reduce gin sales, in particular those of ‘bootleg’ gin laced with rogue ingredients such as sulphuric acid and turpentine. The term ‘Mother’s Ruin’ was encapsulated in William Hogarth’s 1750 print ‘Gin Lane’ which illustrated the hardship brought about by the excessive drinking of bootleg gin alongside his corresponding print ‘Beer Alley’ portraying a more positive image, prior to the introduction of the 1751 Act which virtually ended all back street gin sales.

Gins established in the 18C and still thriving in the 21C include Booth’s, Greenall’s, Gordon & Co. and Plymouth Gin. In the 19C gin drinking became a more refined affair with the introduction of ‘Gin Palaces’. Column stills were invented and were able to produce greater quantities of cleaner, higher ABV gin than the traditional Alembic pot stills, and the exclusion of sugar led to what we know as ‘dry’ gin. The period of Prohibition of alcohol in the USA in the 1920’s led to speakeasy clubs where British gin was much prized over the bootleg ‘bathtub’ gin, and supplies were sent to Canada & the West Indies then smuggled into the USA. Post-prohibition, gin cocktails signified sophistication & glamour and British gin continues to be sold in large volumes in the USA.

The market for ‘dry’ unsweetened gins grew in the 1950’s, and the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 saw the popularity and sales of gin peak in Britain and the US – after which, gin fell somewhat out of favour. That was, until 2008 – when the Gin Act of 1751, which had outlawed small scale gin distilleries and only allowed volume distillers to be granted licenses, was successfully challenged and repealed – and the first new distillery in London since 1820, Sipsmiths, opened in 2009, paving the way for the increasing range of exciting, flavoursome handcrafted gins created by ‘boutique’ small batch distilleries available to enjoy today.

And good to know – Gin is a completely natural plant-based product, distilled from pure neutral alcohol to which only natural botanicals are added during the distillation process, thereby making it suitable even for those with wheat & gluten allergies. Juniper Berries, the base botanical ingredient of gin, are a superfood packed with Vitamin C and antioxidants and considered to have anti-inflammatory properties, as well as being good for the digestion. Indian Tonic Water (so-named because it was originally devised in India as a medicinal tonic) which is the traditional gin mixer, contains Quinine from the bark of the cinchona tree; a natural treatment for malaria and also believed to help with leg cramps. Oh, and a single (25ml) measure of gin with a lite tonic is around only 90 calories. Cheers!

The Chesford Garden Gin Co. range is ready to enjoy from our online shop, plus other online outlets and a handful of exclusive local stockists. If you’d like to ‘Talk Gin’, either as a customer or a stockist, do follow and get in touch via social media or the Contact Page.

Cheers!
CATHY ARMSTRONG
Chesford Garden Gin Co.
Royal Leamington Spa