When Life gives you lemons, drink your gin with a little twist.

History of Gin

This post is dedicated to the historical background of Gin and the fact that two medical ingredients merged into a cult drink.


As with many other alcoholic beverages, the true origin of Gin is in the dark (Ruthner, 2011).
Already in 1000 AD, evidence was found in the then-known school of Salerno to the use of berries and herbs, whose healing effects were awarded. Medieval recipes to fight various diseases rely on the combination of juniper berries and alcohol. Like many spirits, Gin is also of medical descent.
Some sources attribute the invention of the spirit to Dutch Professor Sylvius de Bouvre, who already put juniper oil into alcohol in the 16th century. The medicine, which he used for the treatment of gastric and kidney problems, gallstones and gout, he named Genever. The name probably came from the French word for juniper: Genièvre (ginspiration.de).
Genever’s triumph started when the British military forces supported the Dutch in the Spanish-Dutch war and took the drink back home. Pragmatic as they were (are), they simply re-named Genever into Gin (ginpassion.de, 2012).

Gin gaining popularity

Late 17th century King William III issued a ban on importing French goods. Since this also applied to French spirits and the British people liked to drink from time to time, in 1690, the British Parliament facilitated the production of Gin with the so-called “Distilling Act”. Henceforth, everyone could make his own booze. Four years later, the price of beer and other spirits rose dramatically due to „Tonnage Act“. That made the consumption of Gin cheaper for the population and lots of people switched over to Gin. Some employers even paid their employees with Gin at this time. What a surprise? The loose legislation led to overconsumption. Gin became a problem (ginspiration.de).

Gin Craze

Of course, the triumph of gin had its downsides, too. In the 18th century, which has become known as gin craze, the poorer populations flushed their worries and difficulties away with cheap gin. Overconsumption led to mass alcoholism. Moreover, mass alcoholism led to numerous violent crimes and riots (ginpassion.de, 2012). Since children of addicted women often were neglected or have already been born with addiction to alcohol, Gin got the sad nickname “Mother’s Ruin” (ginspiration.de).

The last Gin Act

The parliament had to face the problem concerning the loose law of making gin. It enacted in 1751 the last Gin Act, the “Tippling Act”. This act bound breweries to sell their products only to distributors and restaurants and not directly to consumer anymore. From this time on, merchants and restaurants had to acquire a license. At the same time, prosecution of illegal breweries increased so they gradually disappeared (ginpassion.de, 2012).

Development of Gin until today

During Industrial Revolution, Gin became established as a drink of the working class, which consumed the spirit in so-called “Gin Palaces”. In addition to escaping the daily routine and alcoholism, some innovations came up. In 1826, Robert Stein presented his apparatus for continuous distillation, which Aeneas Coffey later improved. These improvements allowed distilling large quantities of high-quality alcohol in a relatively short time (Ruthner, 2011). Not only had the production process improved, also Gin evolved. Thus in the 19th century the “Old Tom Gin”, with added sugar and therefore sweeter, came on the market (ginspiration.de).

It cannot be said with 100% certainty who originally invented gin. However, without any hesitation, the English made it popular.

How Gin and Tonic became a thing

The history of tonic water begins in 1638 and far, far away from England. It started in Peru. The Countess of Chinchon, wife of the Spaniard Viceroy, fell ill with malaria. Her husband asked the locally based Inca population for a cure of the disease. The Incas instructed them to take an herbal medicine containing parts of the bark of the “Quinquina” tree, which grows in the Andes. This tree is locally known as fever tree, because it is also used in cases of fever, indigestion or even cancer.
When the British went east end were confronted with malaria in India, they found out that the quinine of tonic water helps treating the disease. Tonic had been developed as medicine, and therefore its taste left much to be desired. Smart soldiers mixed the tonic with soda water, sugar and gin. Now they could even take it during cocktail hour The famous gin and tonic was born (The History of Gin (and Tonic), BBC)