Bars across the UK have spent the last few years expanding their gin sections, with some now offering a bewildering array of spirit filled with unusual botanicals. How has gin risen through the ranks to reach this new high? Here’s our potted history of its re-emergence.
Gin the beginning
Once gin rivalled beer in UK drinker’s hearts, coming to a peak when the ‘gin craze’ swept across Britain, especially London, in the first half of the 18th century. With the craze came the worry that the working classes were becoming drunks (as ever, refined peoples were not seen as a problem for moral panics) and attempts were made to restrict the production and sale of gin.
Various acts managed to curtail gin production by making it excessive expensive to produce and limited sales to licences outlets. This combined with other factors (rising costs of grain, the temperance movement, and tea imports) led to gin losing its premier placing and being relegated to the doldrums.
Gin again, begin again
Gin never went completely away, from the 1860s the British Navy supplied sailors a weekly ration as part of their wages and during the time of the Indian occupation gin and quinine came together in a bid to stave off malaria. Quinine is remarkably bitter so to make it palatable the spirit, sugar, lime, and ice were added and the first gin and tonic was sipped.
And there gin languished in the public conscience for a long time. With only a tiny number of distilleries producing uninspiring drinks, people weren’t excited. It’s little wonder James Bond switched from his gin-based vesper cocktails to the more famous vodka martinis.
What changed things? This part of the story begins in the 1990s with master bartender Dick Bradsell. Bradsell was a renowned bartender with a flair for cocktail innovation and gin was the base alcohol for several of his modern classics, including The Wobble and The Bramble. A new generation of cocktail makers fell under his influence and gin’s image gained some respectability.
With gin re-emerging, albeit still in the ‘trendy’ London cocktail set, enterprising aficionados looked to distilling their own. Here the Gin Act of 1751, with its draconian restrictions on who could distill the spirit still loomed over the industry. Simply put, small distillers couldn’t make gin economically and were kept out of the market.
Enter Sam Galsworthy and Fairfax Hall, the founders of Sipsmith. In 2009 they set up London’s first traditional copper distillery in over nearly 200 years and they were only able to do so after successfully lobbying the government to change the law to encourage small-scale distilling. Lifting the restrictions revolutionised the market, releasing pent up desire amongst distillers.
Sipsmith opened up the doors for other British distillers, leading directly to the plethora of gins found in bars and shops today. The old worries of ‘Gin Lane’ are long gone and the wide range of botanicals used means there is a gin to suit all tastes.
If you haven’t tried gin before, this is a great time to get to on-board. But don’t limit yourself to the standard G&T, also make time to sip a delicate gin cocktail or two and discover a world of botanical essence.