With over 50 different Scottish producers, it’s fairly obvious that we as a country just love making gin. So much so, in fact, that we make 70% of the UK’s favourite tipple! From a classic Gordon’s or Hendrick’s to a newer variety including the likes of Edinburgh Gin, Harris Gin or our very own selection; there’s something for everyone. But what about the history of this spectacular spirit? Well, just like a good old Tom Collins, it’s certainly a long one.
Where it All Started
Originating from Holland, it’s found that gin – not quite as we know it – dates all the way back to the Middle Ages; a 13th century Flemish Manuscript was known to reference a spirit flavoured with “genever”, genever being the Dutch word for ‘juniper’. It’s then seen to resurface in the early 1600s when a Dutch scientist originally created juniper berry oil as a treatment for all kinds of ailments, adding it to a distilled spirit accompanied by botanicals for the purpose of a more ‘drinkable’ flavour. However, this new concoction got taste-buds going and was only available through pharmacies; unsurprisingly, the number of cases of reported illnesses skyrocketed! The demand for “genever” was actually so high that a number of small distilleries came about – the era of the commercial, non-medicinal gin was born.
Have a Little Dutch Courage
But how did the word get out about this tantalising drink? Well, during the Thirty Years’ War (from 1618 to 1648) the English troops were fighting alongside the Dutch and noticed that their fellow soldiers were extremely brave in battle. This courage was seen as coming from the relaxing effects of ‘genever’ which they contained in small bottles, hanging from their belts, taking a wee swally every so often – and so is coined as “Dutch Courage”, renowned the world over. When the English soldiers returned home from the war at last, the news of this ‘genever’ spread like wildfire, and soon after the Dutch began to import it all over the world.
Vive la Révolution!
We’re now in the swinging 1660s and William of Orange has just come to the throne. With it, he brought the freedom to distil and sell spirits – so long as they were produced from home-grown, English crop. The spirit prices were seen to drop and larger taxes on beer even further increased the need for gin! Sadly for folk at the time, these price drops resulted in an unregulated production which used a dire quality of grain.
It’s Your Mother’s Ruin
It’s the 1720s, it’s London and it’s the good old fashioned gin craze. The gin craze came about because an unbelievable number of water-borne diseases were found to be amongst London’s water supply, making gin the safer option (I know which I’d rather have!). A whopping 7000 spirit shops popped up around London and gin soon became known as ‘the opium of the commoners’! There’s one particular illustration, coming from William Hogarth, called ‘Gin Lane’ that supposedly depicts the image of societal breakdown that occurred because of all this excessive gin-drinking; a societal breakdown including mothers neglecting their children, hence the name “Mother’s Ruin”.
All an Act
Something just had to be done about the madness that was the gin craze! So what did they do? Well, in the 1750s, gin Acts were passed to ensure only licensed retailers were allowed to sell alcohol – this way outlawing the many unlicensed shops there were. Unsurprisingly, consumption levels fell and there were more ‘respectable’ firms that took up the task of distillation; they made the quality of the product rise to be something that was good enough to enter the sights of high society. When has the law ever stopped anyone before, though? Illegal sales continued to persist, of course, just as an underhand sale on the streets by shops that would display the symbol of a black cat.
Fancy a G&T?
Now then, into the 1800s when the threat of mosquito-carried malaria became of massive concern to the colonists as the British Empire expanded. There was a will and there was a way, however: quinine. Quinine was a known deterrent for these pesky wee mosquitos but it tasted unbelievably bitter on its own – what to do? Well, luckily carbonated water had just been invented and quinine was then added to this to create – you guessed it – tonic water! Thankfully, someone had the idea to try it with a gin and so created the good old gin and tonic.
For the Men
It’s the 1830s and the invention of the distillation column has just come about. This creation led to a significant shift in the wondrous quality of the spirit, and so created a new type of gin that went by the name of “London Dry Style”. With this new style being so popular, fabulous gin palaces started popping up for society’s gentlemen; those that wished to sip this new London Dry Style in such a place were provided with the very best of entertainment.
A Leap in Time
Fast-forward 100 years to the roaring 1920s and we find ourselves across the pond in America. Alcohol has been banned and prohibition is underway, so what did they do? They came to Great Britain, of course where the alcohol was flowing!
Cocktails are said to have been around for a long, long time before they became fashionable, even appearing in The Balance and Columbian Repository from 1806. However, although there was a little bit of a rise in popularity after WW1, they didn’t quite reach peak status until the late 1960s. This was when cocktail recipes started to appear in drinks books and gin was an absolute must at parties.
The Present Day
So, after that wee journey in time we’re finally back to present day, 2018, and gin seems to have bounced back with utmost strength after a brief period of time out of the limelight. Many new gin bars are opening across the country, new cocktails are created with gin as their ‘ginspiration’ and more and more gin distillers are popping up all of the time, ourselves included. Who can blame us, though? With such a variety of flavours and techniques to be explored – especially here on Skye -, we just can’t help ourselves. We’re just so grateful that us Brits love to drink gin so much!