Let’s beGIN with a little history
When gin was full of sulphuric acid and turpentine
It’s 250 years since the death of William Hogarth. His famous work Gin Lane still informs the way people think about the drink.
It’s arguably the most potent anti-drug poster ever conceived. A woman, her clothes in disarray, her head thrown back in intoxicated oblivion, allows her baby to slip from her grasp, surely to its death in a stairwell below.
She’s the centrepiece in an eye-wateringly grim urban melee – full of death, misery, starvation and fighting.
The year was 1751. The drug in question was gin. And the engraving was a conscious effort by William Hogarth, along with his friend novelist Henry Fielding, to force the government to do something about a drink that was threatening to tear apart the social fabric of England.
The craze had started with changes in the laws at the end of 17th Century aimed at curbing consumption of French brandy by liberalising the distilling industry.
The Glorious Revolution in 1688 saw the arrival of William and Mary, from the Netherlands, to topple James II. The Dutch influx brought a new spirit – genever – which rapidly caught on in England.
“There was a good chance in the 18th Century that the gins being drunk in London were genever-style,” says Gary Regan, author of the Bartender’s Gin Compendium. “A lot of it was probably really terrible. People were distilling in their houses.”
Of course, the genever being drunk by William III and his successors was not easy to replicate in a bathtub in a basement. The eager entrepreneurs reached for just about any additive they could in an effort to make the drink even vaguely palatable.
Types of gin
Genever, Jenever: Dutch spirit, still immensely popular in the Netherlands today. Distilled from malt wine and flavoured with juniper, hence the name jenever. Also referred to as Madam Geneva in English.
Old Tom Gin: Now used to refer to a style of gin popular in England in the 19th Century. Typically sweeter than modern gin. Various explanations for how name came to be. Traditionally often featuring some sort of cat on the bottle.
London Dry Gin: Modern style of gin, which has dominated since the late 19th Century.
Plymouth Gin: Similar to London dry gin, although said to be slightly sweeter, and the subject of protected geographical indication status, meaning it can only be made in Plymouth.
Sloe Gin: A liqueur made from gin and sloe berries from the blackthorn.
“You had a poorer populace who aspired to drink like the king,” says Lesley Solmonson, author of Gin: A Global History. “They wanted novelty. But the poor couldn’t afford the genever that the king was drinking.”
Instead home distilling operations mushroomed, with some areas having every single building churning out bad gin.
“They were using sulphuric acid, turpentine and lime oil,” says Solmonson. “It was like death in a glass. One tankard could kill you.”
“People were drinking to forget their misery. These gins were roughly double what the proof of a modern gin is. And they were drinking a whole tankard of it.”
For even the most virtuous pauper, temptation was hard to avoid.
“It was ferociously adulterated,” says Jenny Uglow. “And it was sold everywhere – in grocer’s shops and ship’s chandlers. There was a bar in every building. It has been said that it tasted more like rubbing alcohol.”
The first half of the 18th Century saw rapidly escalating concern over the new drug’s effects, as the records of the Old Bailey show.
Source: BBCNews Read more