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
The Arab world has given birth to many thinkers and many inventions – among them the three-course meal, alcohol and coffee. The best coffee bean is still known as Arabica, but it’s come a long way from the Muslim mystics who treasured it centuries ago, to the chains that line our high streets.
Think coffee, and you probably think of an Italian espresso, a French cafe au lait, or an American double grande latte with cinnamon.
Perhaps you learned at school that the USA became a nation of coffee drinkers because of the excise duty King George placed on tea? Today ubiquitous chains like Starbucks, Cafe Nero and Costa grace every international airport, and follow the now much humbler Nescafe as symbols of globalisation.
Coffee is produced in hot climates like Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, Vietnam and Indonesia, and you could be forgiven if you thought it is a product from the New World like tobacco and chocolate. After all, all three became popular in Europe at more or less the same time, in the 16th and 17th Centuries.
In fact, coffee comes from the highland areas of the countries at the southern end of the Red Sea – Yemen and Ethiopia.
Although a beverage made from the wild coffee plant seems to have been first drunk by a legendary shepherd on the Ethiopian plateau, the earliest cultivation of coffee was in Yemen and Yemenis gave it the Arabic name qahwa, from which our words coffee and cafe both derive.
Qahwa originally meant wine, and Sufi mystics in Yemen used coffee as an aid to concentration and even spiritual intoxication when they chanted the name of God.
By 1414, it was known in Mecca and in the early 1500s was spreading to Egypt from the Yemeni port of Mocha. It was still associated with Sufis, and a cluster of coffee houses grew up in Cairo around the religious university of the Azhar. They also opened in Syria, especially in the cosmopolitan city of Aleppo, and then in Istanbul, the capital of the vast Ottoman Turkish Empire, in 1554.
In Mecca, Cairo and Istanbul attempts were made to ban it by religious authorities. Learned shaykhs discussed whether the effects of coffee were similar to those of alcohol, and some remarked that passing round the coffee pot had something in common with the circulation of a pitcher of wine, a drink forbidden in Islam.
Coffee houses were a new institution in which men met together to talk, listen to poets and play games like chess and backgammon. They became a focus for intellectual life and could be seen as an implicit rival to the mosque as a meeting place.
Some scholars opined that the coffee house was “even worse than the wine room”, and the authorities noted how these places could easily become dens of sedition. However, all attempts at banning coffee failed, even though the death penalty was used during the reign of Murad IV (1623-40). The religious scholars eventually came to a sensible consensus that coffee was, in principle, permissible.
Coffee spread to Europe by two routes – from the Ottoman Empire, and by sea from the original coffee port of Mocha.
Both the English and Dutch East India Companies were major purchasers at Mocha in the early 17th Century, and their cargoes were brought home via the Cape of Good Hope or exported to India and beyond. They seem, however, to have only taken a fraction of Yemeni coffee production – as the rest went north to the rest of the Middle East.
Coffee also arrived in Europe through trade across the Mediterranean and was carried by the Turkish armies as they marched up the Danube. As in the Middle East, the coffee house became a place for men to talk, read, share their opinions on the issues of the day and play games.
Another similarity was that they could harbour gatherings for subversive elements. Charles II denounced them in 1675 as “places where the disaffected met, and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers”.
A century later Procope, the famous Parisian coffee house, had such habitues as Marat, Danton and Robespierre who conspired together there during the Revolution.
At first, coffee had been viewed with suspicion in Europe as a Muslim drink, but around 1600 Pope Clement VIII is reported to have so enjoyed a cup that he said it would be wrong to permit Muslims to monopolise it, and that it should therefore be baptised.
Austrian coffee drinking is said to have received a big boost when the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683 was broken, and the European victors captured huge coffee supplies from the vanquished.
Perhaps that is why, to this day, coffee is served in Vienna with a glass of water – just like the tiny cups of powerful Turkish coffee with its heavy sediment in Istanbul, Damascus or Cairo. Is this just a coincidence, or a long forgotten cultural borrowing?
The beverage we call “Turkish coffee” is actually a partial misnomer, as Turkey is just one of the countries where it is drunk. In Greece they call it “Greek coffee”, although Egyptians, Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians, Jordanians and others do not seem to care overmuch about the name.
A Babylonian tablet inscribed with the directions for brewing beer (c. 3100BC). It is part of a series of tablets that account for an order of 134,813 liters of barley to be delivered to the brewery at the temple of Inanna in Uruk over the course of 37 months!
Source: Forty Grins