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The dark origins of gin

April 10, 2018

The dark origins of gin

What is the first thing you imagine when you think of gin?

At The Hamper Lounge we like to think back to the glamorous gin palaces of Victorian times, which gave rise to pubs as we know them today.

We also like to think of the Gin Craze before that, and the disreputable dens of vice and infamy in which the working classes gathered to drown their misery.

Unable to bear squalor and terrible factory conditions, many poor remained permanently inebriated and lived very short lives as a result. Gin shops obligingly offered competitive prices, promising to get you “dead drunk” for two pennies and even provided clean straw for you sleep the alcohol off there and then. Gin was especially favoured among women, who took it with warm water to “soothe the nerves”, which has lead to it being dubbed “Mother's Ruin”.

Children drank almost as much as adults. Mothers and nurses often gave gin to babies to quieten them, sparking an early addiction. Many children were born deformed thanks to gin; it was also the main reason behind death rates at the time exceeding birth rates.

Several attempts to regulate the production and consumption of gin with various “Gin Acts” failed miserably. Those desperate to escape their misery and those eager for a quick buck always found ways to work around bans and regulations.

 Eventually, though, tougher taxes, a ban on distilling grain, as well as stricter quality laws, brought the situation under control. Alexander Gordon, the founder of Gordon's Dry London Gin, redeemed gin's reputation somewhat through his strict commitment to quality. Gin palaces, the first of which opened in the 1820s, further helped reinvent gin as a pleasant indulgence one enjoys in the company of friends, rather than the foul and deadly Mother's Ruin that it used to be.

Gin has evolved from jenever, the juniper-flavoured traditional liquor of the Netherlands and Belgium. Hardly anyone thinks of it in association with Mother's Ruin now. We rather think of it in association with tonic, and perhaps a bit of lemon or lime along with it, too. On the rocks!