There’s something very refreshing, and very British, about a Gin and Tonic. It harkens back to Colonial times and days of Empire past, when Blighty, not that young American upstart or those industrious Chinese fellows, was the true Superpower of the world. Alas, no more, but Gin remains as quintissentially British as Tea, stiff upper lips, and losing gracefully at sports we invented. Just like Tea, we nicked it from somewhere else and made it our own, too, though unlike Cricket, we do Tea and Gin better than everyone else.
Gin, to paraphrase the finger-stirring Gary ‘Gaz’ Regan, is a sultry mistress. The Historical Gin of yesteryear, however, was a very different beast to the sultry minx we enjoy today. She was a robust and pungent, rough and bullsome wench who went about with a clenched fist and a gnarled expression, whereas today she can certainly still leave you laid out on your back and wishing you hadn’t been quite so rude, she does it with a kiss before she takes you out with her perfect little handbag.
Oh, but we love her. And she has a fascinating history.
Gin’s story begins around 1055,with the first written reference to a Juniper flavoured acqua-ardens (burning water) in the Compendia Salerno, in Italy, where it was likely being proscribed as a health tonic.
During the Black Death, Plague Doctors would stuff their beaked masks with Juniper Berries to ward off the foul odors and airs of the Plague, believing that it would protect them from falling prey. They were partially right – Juniper is a deterrent to the rats that people believed to have carried the Black Death. Ever worried that you’re never further than 6ft from a rat? Gin could be your answer.
Two hundred years later in 1269 we see the first mention of Juniper-based health tonics, in 1552 Phillipus Hermanni recorded a recipe for a Juniper eau-de-vie in his Conselijck Distiller’s Book. Juniper is also thought to aid kidney function.
In 1575 Lucas Bulsius (later Bols) set up a distillery in Amsterdam, producing his first Genever in 1602. Genever is the direct predecessor to Gin, though it differs owing to the addition of Malt Wine and is sweetened after distillation; imagine sweet gin with a touch of whisky and you’re part way there.
British soldiers fighting in the Dutch War of Independence (1618-1648) developed a taste for Genever (which they referred to as gin); the tradition of taking a measure of Genever before going in to battle is the origin of the phrase ‘Dutch Courage’. They took their love of this Juniper-based spirit home with them.
In 1688 the English King William of Orange began to restrict imports of French Brandy and encouraged the production of Gin (which also helped find a market for a surplus of grain).
The Gin Act of 1751 granted licences to distill Gin and restrictions on its production, and consumption decreased; the new legislation also had the effect of improving the quality of the spirit. This was also the year that William Hogarth produced his famous diptych, Beer Street and Gin Lane. These satirical prints viewed together showed the merits of English ale over the evils of gin, but also implied a connection between the two – that the prosperity shown in Beer Street was responsible for the depravity in Gin Lane.
In this period, many of the brands we know today were founded. Booth’s Gin was founded in 1740, Alexander Gordon founded his distillery in 1769. Mr Coates founded Plymouth Gin (the only gin in the world to have AOC Status) at Black Friar’s in Plymouth in 1793. James Burroughs perfected his recipe for Beefeater in 1820 (though did not begin commercial production until 1863) and Charles Tanqueray, a Silversmith, founded his distillery in 1830.
In 1830, a game changer: Robert Stein and Aneas Coffey developed the ‘continuous’ still, allowing for a pure, high quality spirit. Botanicals in gin now no-longer masked poor spirit, they could take centre-stage.
Easy. Here’s how you can nail it every time with these simple tricks:
- Choose your gin according to your taste, mood, or whim.
- Select your tonic. This is the big secret – using cheap or poor quality tonic is a bit like putting taking a delicious lobster and covering it in generic unbranded ketchup from a roadside canteen. Your mixer matters. For best results, we recommend Fever Tree.
- Add all the cubed ice you can cram in your glass. Ice melts faster if there’s less of it, so to keep your drink optimal for longer, get as much in the glass as you can fit.
- Pour a healthy measure of gin over the ice. Top up with Tonic. We’re fans of the 1:3 ratio of Gin:Tonic
- Garnish according to your preference – lime, lemon, cucumber, grapefruit, strawberry, black pepper… it all works, just go with what you fancy!
Simple as that! Browse our full range of Gins online here.