Gin and London have shared a long and spirited history, one that can be traced all the way back to the 1600s. We celebrate the origins of gin and the London distillers who helped put it on the map.
Like many of Britain’s national favourites, gin did not originate on our shores. In fact, if you don’t count the Italian monks who are thought to have used juniper berries as flavourings in distilled spirits back in the 11th century, it’s Holland that’s credited as the birthplace of gin.
From medicine to Dutch Courage
A Dutch physician who went by the name of Franciscus Sylvius is thought to be the ‘inventor’ of gin having started prescribing a juniper-based distilled spirit for medicinal purposes in 1550.
The English first got their hands on the spirit while fighting Spain in Holland during the Thirty Years’ War, where they drank it to calm their nerves before going into battle. Yes, that’s right. Gin is the original ‘Dutch Courage’. And, when the soldiers returned home, they took their newly found favourite spirit with them, of course, and they never looked back.
Gin distilling begins in London
After the Worshipful Company of Distillers was formed by King Charles I in 1638, which gave members a monopoly on the distilling trade within 21 miles of London and Westminster, it was clear that London would play a special role in the history of gin. However, we owe the real tradition of London Gin, as well as Britiains’ attachment to it, to yet another Dutchman.
And that’s the Dutch king William III – better known as William of Orange – who took to the throne in England and Ireland on 22 January 1689 and introduced the traditionally Dutch drink to his subjects. The era became known as the Glorious Revolution, and it was during this time that London became the epicentre of gin’s popularity.
In fact, it was when one of the very first recorded recipes was developed, and has since been discovered in the British Library. It recommends adding strawberries and raspberries to the distillation process in order to give the gin a pink hue and fruity flavour.
From a Strawberry Smash Club to a Lady in Red, we like to think we’ve learned from our gin-loving ancestors and know a thing or two about fruit gin cocktails and pink gin cocktails, so we suggest you celebrate the happy partnership between gin and London by making one for yourself.
William and his wife Mary encouraged the distillation of gin throughout their reign, granting permission for anyone to make the spirit in their home if they wanted to. The spirit became so common that even wages were sometimes paid in gin. After all, gin was cheaper to make compared to beer, which also relied on a dangerously contaminated water supply, and so it quickly became a logical option for many poorer Londoners.
The love affair continues
By the early 18th century, London was home to thousands of ‘dram shops’ and around 10 million gallons of gin were being distilled in the capital.
As a result, it wasn’t long before the gin and London love affair turned into an obsession and gave rise to a host of popular gin cocktails, such as the classic G&T, which was first drunk by British soldiers on the Indian subcontinent as a means of avoiding illness due to the high levels of antimalarial quinine contained in the tonic water.
Enjoying the history lesson? You can discover more classic tipples within our guide to the cocktail creations that every aspiring bartender should master.