Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

Way back in the 16th century, gin was invented in the Netherlands by a Dutch doc who decided to create a medicinal alcohol with the main ingredient being juniper berries. This was the origin of the gin we know today as Jenever, or Genever, which is Latin for juniper. This medicine was then given to the troops as part of their rations, much like seamen were given rum.

Fast forward to the 17th century and the Dutch and the English fought side by side against the troops of Louis XVI. The Dutch soldiers sunk a lot of Genever before going into battle and were deemed to be brave and fearless. The English then decided to try this ‘Dutch courage’ for themselves and noticed how much braver they felt. They were soon given it as part of their rations and, thinking it was some kind of magical elixir, they took it back to base between battles to share with their peers. The strange spirit tasting of juniper became very popular, very quickly, especially amongst the poor. Not surprising really when their alternatives were disease ridden water of which a sip could kill you or ridiculously priced beer to stop you drinking the water! The lazy folks who couldn’t be bothered to keep saying Genever shortened it to gin, which stuck.

In 1689, James ll was overthrown by William of Orange who took his place as the King of England. The following year good old William passed the ‘Distillers Act’ which effectively allowed the public to produce their own alcohol in their homes as long as there were no objections from a 10 day public notice. Under the same law the importation of wine and brandy was restricted. So we have William of Orange to thank for all those horrendous bottles of home brew that have been inflicted upon us over the years. Cheers Will….
The new law combined nicely with the taste everyone had acquired for the juniper flavoured spirits the soldiers had brought back from Holland, and pretty much everyone threw themselves into producing their own gin. This wasn’t of the standard of Dutch Genever however, as the grains used were pretty poor quality and they were then cut with the likes of turpentine and methylated spirits. This vile brew was then flavoured with locally produced juniper berries, anything else than could be found growing wild and natural sweeteners such as rose water and liquorice root to try and make it drinkable. This was the very start of the period in history which became known as “the gin craze”.

The Mutiny Act of 1720 stated that anybody who distilled their own alcohol did not have to give soldiers a bed. This led to a massive upsurge in gin production and by 1730 there were more than 7000 gin shops in London.

Within 3 years it was estimated that Joe Average was knocking back 1.3L of gin a week, and 1 in every 3 buildings in the capital was either producing or selling gin. At around 160% proof this gin was lethal and the 16th century heathens certainly didn’t sip it. With it being so readily on offer it was stupidly cheap and was being drunk like we would drink water today.

This obsession with gin soon started to cause major problems, and was blamed for everything from madness to rising crime rates. For the first time ever gin joints started to let women in to drink with their menfolk. They were soon raging alkies who neglected their kids and turned to prostitution to feed their gin habit. And this, my very patient friend, is why gin became known as Mother’s Ruin. It took a while but we got there :0)