Everyone knows gin is made of juniper berries and essential for a martini. It’s the lesser-known facts that are going to win you brownie points at your next cocktail party!
1. Holland created it first
One may think gin originated in the land where it’s most famous, but like many of England’s favourite beverages, gin originated in Holland. Genever, juniper-flavoured Dutch and Belgian liquor that was originally a medicine, was popularised in the 16th century. However, in the 1700s when the drink reached the shores of Britain it gained even more notoriety and was transformed into the spirit we know today.
2. It’s apparently medicinal
Gin comes from Genever, which was distributed as medicine by 16th Century Dutch pharmacists. Juniper tonic wines were handed out for coughs, colds, pains, strains, ruptures and cramps, as a popular cure-all.
3. Dutch Courage
A theory of origin for the phrase “Dutch Courage” is directly related to gin. During the Anglo-Dutch (1652–1674) or perhaps as early as the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), the British soldiers noted the bravery-inducing effects of genever on Dutch soldiers. Another version states that genever was used by English soldiers for its calming influence before battle, and it is supposed to have a warming effect on the body in cold weather.
4. G&Ts originated in India
In the early 19th century, malaria was a common disease in India and other tropical countries, for which quinine was a traditional cure, but its taste was highly unpleasant. British officers in India took to adding a mixture of water, sugar, lime and gin to the quinine to make the drink more palatable, thus creating the iconic cocktail. Tonic water is essentially a carbonated soft beverage in which quinine is dissolved, and this is how the first commercial tonic water was produced in 1858.
5. The dark moniker “Mother’s Ruin”
In the 1730s, London went through a “Gin Craze”, which lead to a rise in crime, death rates and prostitution. The spirit was dirt cheap and hawked by barbers, pedlars, grocers and even sold on market stalls. Much of the gin was drunk by women, and the children were neglected, daughters were sold into prostitution, reportedly the spirit even induced abortions, leading to its disturbing nickname.
6. The golden age of gin
In the 1850s, early settlers in Australia, used gold dust to pay for their favourite Gordon’s gin. The recipe for Gordon’s gin has remained unchanged since 1769, which means that you can taste the same gin as those Australian settlers did.
7. A secret gin vending machine
The English government tried to crack down on the Gin Craze in the 1700s with heavy taxes. To combat this, a gin slinger by the name of Captain Dudley Bradstreet used a black cat shaped plaque to sell the liquor anonymously. The Puss and Mew also known as Bradstreet’s Cat was set up as a secret gin delivery system, with a tube running from inside to out. Customers had to place money in a small drawer in the mouth of the cat, and a shot of gin would come pouring through the tube from the cat’s paw.
8. Scurvy was the inspiration for a Gimlet
The credit for this popular cocktail goes to surgeon Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Gimlette (1857–1943). He is said to have first added lime cordial to the daily gin drinks of the men of the Royal Navy to help combat the ravages of scurvy on long voyages. Scurvy was the lack of vitamin C, and gin was added to the lime juice to help it become more palatable to the sailors. Thank you, Royal Navy!
9. Did you think the British drank the most gin?
Nope, the Philippines reportedly take up around 43% of the global gin market. There’s even a Tagalog word for a gin-drinking session, “Ginuman.” The spirit was introduced in the 1830s and became popular during the Spanish colonial era. The Ginebra San Miguel distillery, founded in 1834, remains the Philippines’ no. 1 producer of gin.
10. Gin at the gallows
In the darker pages of the history of gin, during England’s juniper craze, gin was even sold at public executions. Gin sellers reportedly did well at public hangings, and it is even said that sometimes the hangmen themselves were drunk!