This year is predicted as being ‘The Year of Gin’. We enlisted the help of ‘tipple aficionado’, Chris Smith Esq. to acquaint us with the history of this ambrosia, and to give us a few recipes to try out when the thirst demands it.
Gin, conventionally, is seen as a quintessentially English drink. However the infusion of Juniper berries with grain spirit was perfected first by the Dutch in the mid 17th century. It took the importation of a monarch from Holland, William of Orange, to send the English into a gin craze. The new king quickly realised he could please the ruling landowners and consolidate his power by encouraging the malting and distillation of their grain. He deregulated the production of spirits, allowing everyone and anyone to distill their own alcohol, often using bathtub stills in their homes.
With the landowner’s rich, and the commoners sozzled, William had secured his place at the top of the throne.
Quickly, the extensive production of cheap gin led to the Gin Craze– over a quarter century of riotous drinking. Half a pint of gin was sold for the price of one pint of beer, so getting tight on gin became the norm for the common man and, unconventionally for the time, woman.
Attempts by parliament to regulate and limit gin production in response to the crisis resulted in anti-establishment drinking of the spirit, colloquially known as Madame Geneva. The Gin Craze finally died with rising grain prices, more reasonable legislation and an (unfortunate) social trend towards respectability and sobriety; a sort of societal detox after years of hair of the dog.
Gin consumption properly revived with the invention of the gin and tonic. British colonialists, forced to consume quinine to combat malaria, added gin to mask its bitter taste. The popular drink came home (with the wealth of other nations) to become a British institution. By the end of the 19th century, ‘Gin Palaces’ sprung up across the country, noted for their opulence in squalid environments
Across the ocean, it would take act of American sized folly to truly develop gin’s potential. Prohibition encouraged underground production and consumption of alcohol. Bootleggers and bartenders favoured gin as an easily produced and flavoured alcohol that performed well as a basis to new cocktails. The original cocktail, now called an ‘Old Fashioned,’ required aged whiskey, which took time to produce and miles to transport. Gin instead formed the basis of the new classic: the Martini.
The Martini soon suffered from its popularity and became seen as an old man’s drink. The late 20th century obsession with consumerism drove the growth in cocktails with little complexity that focused on hiding the taste of alcohol rather than celebrating it. Still, gin survived. Even hip hop embraced it; Snoop Dogg rapped about his Seagram’s and juice, while Notorious B.I.G. bemoaned Tanqueray induced hangovers.
The revival in classic cocktails of recent years had led to the rediscovery of niche gins and the proliferation of boutique distilleries. Mixologists and G&T enthusiasts alike can choose from the original Dutch jenever to fynbos infused South African gin.
Life’s looking good through the bottom of a gin glass.
Text by Chris Smith
Local Gin distilleries
Jorgensen’s Gin is a wacky blend of zesty Macedonian Juniper and peppery Grains of Paradise from Wild WestAfrica. http://www.jd7.co.za
Indigenous and fynbos flora is a main feature of all of the Inverroche gins, and has been used for centuries by Khoi and San people as medicinal and edible plants.