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The Sipsmith Blog

Gin and London | The 1751 Gin Act

in Articles April 29, 2013

Continuing our journey through the history of gin and London, we come to the 1751 Gin Act, marking the end of the ‘Gin Craze’ and the start of large-scale commercial distilleries…

After numerous attempts to curb the drinking of gin by the masses and the proliferation of small London distilleries, it was the Gin Act of 1751 that finally put the most resounding nail in the coffin that was the ‘Gin Craze’. It was in fact the last of a total of eight Gin Acts that the government passed from 1729, but what was so special about this one that it worked where others had failed?

Well, if you ignore the fact that the cost of grain was rising at about the same time, the Gin Act of 1751 put an end to the Gin Craze by encouraging ‘respectable’ selling. Whereas the Gin Act of 1736 had raised the licence fees and heavily taxed gin shops, which subsequently led to bootlegging and illicit distilling, the 1751 Gin Act lowered the annual licence fees and basically put the respectable businesses that had crumbled, well, back in business. Thus, the relationship of gin and London was transformed.

It was the Gin Act of 1751 that finally put the most resounding nail in the coffin that was the ‘Gin Craze’

The number of gin shops in London, the like of which were famously portrayed in Hogarth’s Gin Lane, started decreasing rapidly because distillers were encouraged to sell to licensed retailers, who were trading to the public from respectable locations. By 1757, just 6 years after the last Gin Act, the Craze had all but died out.

It was the Gin Act of 1751 that turned the tide not only with regard to gin consumption, but also in terms of the way the business of selling gin was structured. As well as the change to licensing laws, the Act banned any still that had a capacity of less than 1,800 litres, which meant that most of the small-scale illicit gin joints that littered the city were now breaking the law in yet another way. The time and the situation were perfect for large-scale, more commercial companies to prosper – and it has been much this way to this day.

Gin was transformed from being seen as an escapism tactic for the working classes to a relatively middle-class spirit.

The reputation of gin was also transformed by the 1751 Gin Act – namely, it was transformed from being seen as an escapism tactic for the working classes to a relatively middle-class spirit.

It wasn’t long before some of the big brands still around today began popping up, producing a much more refined, carefully created and altogether less dangerous and much tastier spirit. G&J Greenall began distilling as early as 1761 (just 10 years after the Gin Act in question), Gordon’s started in 1769 and Plymouth Gin was first distilled not long after in 1793. The relationship between gin and London had changed forever.

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