The History of Gin – Part 1

Posted By Mike Gill on July 3, 2017 | 0 comments


Gin is steeped in history probably more than any other alcoholic beverage.

The gin story starts when in 1688 a new king took over the throne of England.

King William the third, William of Orange a Dutchman. Why would a Dutchman become king of England, you may ask? No wonder the British historical TV dramas are so popular full of intrigue and corruption.

A short Summary:

William III was connected to the English throne by his mother, Mary, who was the daughter of Charles I. He married with Mary, his first cousin and daughter of his maternal uncle James.

James became king of England and was Catholic. Since the majority of England was protestant, James was unpopular and there was fear the ambition of the French (Catholic) king Louis XIV, with whom the Dutch were at war.

English nobles invited William to invade England and take over the throne. Meanwhile the Dutch Republic, of which William was the Prince of Orange and “Stadhouder”, could use a powerful protestant force against the French.
So, William beat James at the battle of the Boyne and became king of England, Ireland and Scotland.

Confused?

The King considered importing Genever the national drink of Holland
This was a malted spirit with barley that would go through a process like beer and then a distillation with the botanicals and often aged. Its sounds delicious and halfway towards a single malt whisky, but really not a popular drink outside of Holland.

However, the king found the English farmers had plenty of excess grain that was not fit for food and so what better turn to use in making spirit. He made the laws so relaxed, with far less tax than on beer, every man and his dog started distilling gin in London. The farmers were happy and so too was the nation.

With really no rules on who could produce gin and no license required unlike taverns etc. by 1751 there were 17,000 gin houses in London with a population of 600,000. Open 24/7 until 1839.

By 1720 90% of spirits were distilled in London and could be sold by anyone. That means 12 million gallons of raw spirit were being distilled in a city of 600K the equivalent of every man, woman and child drinking over half a litre of gin per week.

Here is a recipe from 1730.
120 gallons (550 litres) of raw spirit, a splash of turpentine, half ounce of sulphuric acid, lime, rosewater, almonds and alum which is dying compound, I guess for color. Sounds delicious!

Next post – the myth of Mother’s Ruin

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