Sure, gin may be available at your local bar in all kinds of shapes, sizes and variations. And, it may be used to make cocktails with tipsy-turning names like the bee’s knees, the dirty martini and the legendary Singapore sling, yet this illustrious spirit came from much more humble historical beginnings.
And whilst you can now find all types of top quality Australian gin, the spirit was created far across the other side of the globe, and it wasn’t in England…
Clear Dutch courage
You may be shocked to know – especially when every bottle-O in Australia stocks Beefeater, Gordon’s and Vicker’s – but this legendary spirit was actually first sipped in the Netherlands. Even back in the Middle Ages the Dutch were mixing up juniper berries for use in medical purposes. Used to fight fevers and even the pest, Doctor Franciscus Sylvius de la Boe is accredited with the creation of the spirit way back in the 16th Century.
De la Boe founded the spirit by making schnapps distilled with juniper berries, calling it “genever”, and then dished it out for medical purposes. Then, during the Eighty Year’s War (bit of a slog), Dutch soldiers were given the beverage to increase their bravery, thus coining the term we all know today for different reasons as “Dutch courage”.
Onto the Brits
The spirit was soon to become outrageously popular amongst the Brits, with people being allowed to distil their own variation if they so desired. Its home production popularity skyrocketed due to the fact that the UK suffered from incredibly high important taxes on alcohol from foreign countries including that of wine and beer.
So, people just started making it themselves, even mixing their ingredients in the home bathtub. The spirit, therefore, became very cheap, exploding in popularity without the quality attached. It was often very diluted using sulfuric acid or turpentine as well as being distilled with cheap cereals, as well as having sugar and rose water added to give it a more… palatable taste.
The drink keeps getting bigger
It seems there was just no stopping this famed beverage, especially in its adopted home of the UK, where in 1733 the Brits consumed a whopping 47 million litres of the stuff. High death rates, increased crime, prositution and declining birth rates were some of the effects this semi-recent beverage had on a country gone absolutely bonkers for it.
They went so mad for it, in fact, that the government had to pass the Gin Bills between 1729 and 1751, designed to regulate consumption and save the country from alcoholism. The prices rose with the quality’s increase with the gin epidemic ending around the start of the 20th Century.
The first G&T is made in India
At least the spirits’ quality was allowed to prevail, with the drink making its way to India, where British soldiers were forced to drink quinine daily to ward off malaria. One day, some clever chap had the idea of adding a little sugar, water and lime, with an even cleverer chap deciding to then add a high quality gin to the mix.
Thus was the mixture of the first ever G&T, a beverage that is enjoyed at garden parties and raucous nights out from Melbourne to Shanghai, London (obviously) and anywhere you can find this legendary spirit awaiting a sip on a hot summer’s arvo!