Gin Lane

Gin Lane: a descent into hell

Gin Lane. It’s one of the most iconic British images of the 18th century. But behind the familiar characters of Hogarth’s most famous engraving lies a fascinating insight into the highs and lows of the first English gin revolution.

In those days, gin had become a scourge on society. It was cheap, unregulated and having a negative impact on the social fabric of England. There came a point where the problem could no longer be ignored. Hogarth’s extraordinarily detailed “Gin Lane” etching shone a bright light into the darkest corners of this new craze. For the first time, gin was exposed for what it really was and for the damage it was doing to the fabric of society. By 1730, gin consumption in England had spiraled to 13, 638, 276 litres of gin in a single year. Moral opposition was on the rise and gin became the enemy – blamed for everything from moral decay to murder.

London in crisis

This was a bad time for England’s capital city. In the mid-18th century, annual infant mortality soared to more than 240 deaths per 1000. Poverty was driving people to alcohol. And gin was becoming affordable and easy to get. The result of this notoriety was the inevitable passing of another Gin Act to control its sale and to reduce consumption.
Then in 1756 the grain harvest failed and small distillers had to close their doors. Prices rose , as did quality. Gin was no longer so accessible to the masses and returned to its original status as a wealthy persons drink and the big players moved in.

In 1769, Alexander Gordon started his distillery in Bermondsey, south London. Thomas Dakin set up a plant in Warrington and the Coates family started making Plymouth Gin in…
Plymouth! These are names that have stood the test of time and they all have a place in the long history of gin.

The devil is in the detail

Gin Lane and Beer Street

The storytelling in these etchings is extraordinary and it illustrates (in graphic detail) the devastating social impact of cheap gin on 18th century society.
But look carefully at this extraordinary piece of satire and you will discover a depressing, but instantly recognisable, scene.

There, in the starkest terms is the story of gin. In the images and the characters Hogarth brings to life so vividly, the grim reality is there for all to see. Drunkenness, hunger, social decay, violence, suicide, murder and madness are all on display. And the warning to society was clear. Beware the evil drink – it will be our destruction.

This is in direct contrast with Hogarth’s twin engraving, Beer Street. This was a civilised, convivial place where people drank, laughed and made merry in clean, safe pleasure palaces nice enough for even children to enjoy. But why this difference in attitudes and what was the point of these two engravings?

The truth is never simple

At the end of the war of Austrian succession, more than 80,000 soldiers returned home to Blighty. With them, they brought the normal demands of life – food, water and shelter. But these fighting men (many of whom had returned psychologically or physically damaged) had a predilection for drinking and fighting. And gin was the perfect lubricant!

The great English public were concerned of the consequences of such an influx and the pressure was on to manage the social problems before they got out of control. They demanded the Government pass another Gin Act to control the scourge before it got out of control.

Social commentary: gin versus beer

And that’s where Hogarth stepped in. As a piece of social commentary it was extraordinary. Satire was at its peak and this graphic expose made it crystal clear. Gin was going to lead to a steady slide towards immorality, violence and eventually death. While beer was a social lubricant to be encouraged for the benefit of society.

Nothing new in this world

If you think the media has been propagandised in the 21st century, it was even worse 300 years ago. This was pure politics. Many believed that Hogarth had been in cahoots with the brewers to demonise gin, their greatest competitor.

In any event, it’s worth taking a detailed look at this painting to reveal the true horror of the warning message that Hogarth was trying to deliver. And it’s one of those pictures where the more you look, the more you see. Even a few minutes of scrutiny reveals a horrific tale.

Gin Street: unsavoury characters on every corner

In Gin Street, right up front, there’s a distressing image of a drunken mother. She has dropped her infant child over the edge of a precarious staircase while she picks at a snuff box. She has a leering, slightly dangerous look on her face. Just in front of her is an emaciated man. He’s clutching a flask of gin while holding a manuscript called “The Downfall of Madam Gin”.
A bit further back an old woman lies in a barrow sharing shots of gin with a group of rioters outside a gin distillery.
And then there’s the pawnbroker sign (in the shape of a cross) indicated the populations preference for a gin spirit over the holy spirit.

But there’s more. The background shows images of death, destruction, self-abuse. If you look carefully, there’s even a dead child on a spike. All very gruesome and the message is clear. Don’t mess with gin. It will be the ruin of you.

Beer Street: happy and glorious

By contrast, Beer Street is a far more salubrious place. Its residents are portrayed as happy and healthy. In contrast to the destitute and immoral citizens of Gin Street, the Beer Street gang are far more wholesome.

Far from being addled by addiction, they appear nourished by the life-giving ale of England. The residents display positive virtues such as good health, trade, community and industry. Everything (and everyone) on Beer Street is happy and healthy. Except for one.
In the Beer Street engraving, the pawnbroker is about to go out of business due to having no customers. He lives in the only crumbling building in the picture.
In contrast the other residents of the street are positively prospering. Sturdy, humorous English workers wander the street. It is the King’s birthday, so the flag is flying over the church. Under the Barley Mow pub sign healthy residents sip foaming ales out of large tankards while eating roasted meats.

All in all, Beer Street doesn’t seem like such a bad place at all. It is heaven to Gin Street’s hell.

The decline of Mother’s Ruin

Between the campaigning engravings of Hogarth, a clear and real social problem that was plain for all to see and Government pressure to stop the scourge, gin’s decline was assured. It eventually returned to the rarified atmosphere of the middle classes and became more refined, safer and fashionable. Major brands such as Gordon’s, Tanqueray, Booths and Langdale’s built gin’s reputation with the more affluent members of society. Prices went up and it was no longer as affordable for the masses. By 1751 gin consumption in London had fallen to less than 20% of its volume a decade earlier.

Then, by the beginning of the 19th century, the upper classes took to gin in their gentleman’s clubs. By the 1820s, its popularity was undoubtedly on the rise again. Prices began to fall so that it was once again, cheaper than beer.

The rise of the gin palace

This time the big distillers spotted a gap in the market and they targeted these working class gin drinkers with a new phenomenon – the gin palace.

These wonderfully extravagant and over the top establishments gave gin some middle class respectability and gave ordinary people a nice place to drink safely and in style.
Later in the 19th century, more distinctive styles of gins started to appear including the classic Old Tom. By the 19th century, with the addition of tonic water with quinine (to prevent malaria) gin became the go-to drink for Britain’s colonial masters and the gin and tonic was born. Later that century, it became popular in gin Punches at Gentlemen’s Clubs such as the Garrick.

From cocktail classic to grubby pub drink

In the 20th century, gin had become a classic cocktail ingredient as sophisticated drinks such as the Negroni and the Dry Martini became fashionable. And then, in the 1970s it fell out of fashion again. The market became dominated by big brands from big businesses who had lost their imagination. Gin became a rather grubby, down market pub drink served without any pretensions of style or sophistication.

The devil made me do it!

Fast forward to the 21st century, and the dawn of the craft gin revolution.

Since 201, there has been an explosion of craft gin making across the world. London and Barcelona became the meccas for sophisticated gin drinking and reinvented the way it was served. The humble G&T was elevated into a deliciously theatrical cocktail served in large copa glasses and garnished with exotic fruits and fancy things like pink peppercorns and grated nutmeg. These days there are literally thousands of imaginative craft gin distilleries, a plethora of flavoured mixers and loads of surprising options. These now include many thousands of distinctive, beautiful gins (flavoured and non-flavoured). And some increasingly bizarre versions made from things as diverse as lobsters and red ants.

Personally, I’ll stick with a nice G&T made with a good craft gin, a squeeze of lemon and a premium tonic water. And I will drink to the return of Mother’s ruin.
The devil made me do it!



Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)

Don’t forget to follow us on our facebook community page to join in the gin discussion.


RECENT POSTS

  • Gin Lane: a descent into hell
    Gin Lane. It’s one of the most iconic British images of the 18th century. But behind the familiar characters of Hogarth’s most famous engraving lies a fascinating insight into the highs and lows of the first English gin revolution. In those days, gin had become a scourge on society. It was cheap, unregulated and having … Continued
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botanicals

Botanicals: gin’s secret stars

Why is gin so different to vodka or any other white spirit? What makes gin so special? Well, the secret lies in the botanicals.

What are these botanicals and why are they so important? And how exactly do they turn a colourless, odourless, tasteless liquid into one of the most versatile and exciting spirits on planet earth?

We thought we’d spend a little time looking at these secret ingredients. We want to help us all to understand what makes these little blasts of flavour so important in the world of gin. So, let’s start with the most obvious: juniper.

Without juniper, there is no gin.

For a drink to be classified as gin, Juniper is a must. According to legal definitions, gin must always be a minimum of 37.5% ABV and Juniper must be its dominant spirit. That seems pretty simple and clear. But this is actually where the fun begins! Once the minimum requirements are met, distillers are working on an empty canvas where the art is only as good as the artist. From here on out, all you are limited by is your imagination.

Juniper’s medicinal history

The juniper berries you are most likely to find in your gin are actually a type of pine cone from a shrub called juniperus communis. This is generally found growing wild across most of the Northern hemisphere. It’s what gives gin that distinctive taste of pine, camphor and lavender.

In fact, its medicinal qualities have been recognised for millennia. An ancient Egyptian papyrus from 1500BC refers to juniper as a cure for tapeworm infestations. Juniper berries have also been found as part of the embalming process in ancient Egyptian tombs. Through the ages they were used to cure infections, prevent epilepsy and even cure the plague.
These days, the best juniper is grown on the hillsides of Macedonia and Italy and is rich in aromatic oil. This is one reason why its important for distillers to try a number of different samples to get the mixture exactly right.

Botanicals: a world of fragrant opportunities

Most of the botanicals that we use in gin have medical roots that go back hundreds (sometimes thousands) of years. Some of them are still used for their medicinal qualities.

As we know, juniper berries are integral to creating gin. Unsurprisingly, they feature in every gin that is produced.

As well as juniper, there may be some other common botanicals that may surprise you.
Wormwood (more commonly associated with absinthe) is a popular botanical for many distillers. Others such as coriander are extraordinarily popular and you will see it make an appearance in many gins imparting a fresh, spicy sage and lemon flavour.

Beyond that, you enter a world of opportunities with more fragrant botanicals such as frankincense (sweet and oily) and cassia bark (sharp and pungent) appearing more and more often.

Many other gins feature angelica (woody and earthy), citrus and orris root (aromatic and floral).

But the list goes on to include almonds (marzipan sweetness), bergamot peel (musky, perfumed) and cardamom pods (warm and spicy). These are becoming increasingly popular alongside cubeb berries (peppery), elderflower (sweet and floral).
Citrus peels are always in demand and ginger (spicy and warm) and even licorice (woody and sweet) are making more frequent appearances.

Each of these botanicals help to build up the complex layers of flavours that we enjoy in our G&Ts today. As gin makers experiment and become more comfortable with the possibilities of ingredients that they are using, they have become increasingly bold.

Laverstoke Mill: a temple to botanicals

If you’re interested in learning more about botanicals, it’s worth paying a visit to the stunning Bombay Sapphire distillery in Hampshire.
Here, the main distilling process takes place in Bombay Sapphire’s converted 18th century Laverstoke Mill straddling the crystal clear waters of the River Test. But in a stroke of architectural genius, a swooping glass extension (reminiscent of the river that flows underneath it) covers a fascinating gin museum with wonderful gin tours. You will have the opportunity to taste a wonderful Laverstoke cocktail too!
Inside this extraordinary glass building they grow some of the botanicals that they use to make Bombay Sapphire. They have dozens of different botanicals beautifully presented in jars and bags for guests to touch and smell.

In their Discovery Experience they’ll help you map out your flavour tastes and even offer a well crafted cocktail mixed in their on-site bar. Their drinks are made to recipes by their in-house mixologist Sam Carter – and they’re delicious. The variety of botanicals on display is breathtaking and the flavours so individual and eclectic, that this will definitely need to be on your list for a fascinating visit once life returns to normal.

So, next time you try your latest gin, see which ones you can identify and raise a glass to our secret botanicals. They are the reason the magic happens.



Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)

Don’t forget to follow us on our facebook community page to join in the gin discussion.


RECENT POSTS

  • Gin Lane: a descent into hell
    Gin Lane. It’s one of the most iconic British images of the 18th century. But behind the familiar characters of Hogarth’s most famous engraving lies a fascinating insight into the highs and lows of the first English gin revolution. In those days, gin had become a scourge on society. It was cheap, unregulated and having … Continued
  • Khao San gin: a fiery trip back to Thailand
    Khao San Gin – the spirit of South East Asia and named after a street I remember well.  It was many years ago now when I flew to Thailand to meet my girlfriend. She’d been backpacking across Asia for 6 months.  I’d heard her saying how she had been dreaming of hot showers and clean … Continued
  • The Ruddles Report: February 2021 Gin News
    Ruddles has been at it again. As the hairy “face” of Barcelona Gin, he’s very easy to like – and his opinions carry weight. He’s lent his marketing power to a few Barcelona Gin posts recently and every time, they beat all our records for engagement. We think he’s our secret weapon. That’s why, in … Continued
  • Gin Sea: born in London, raised in Spain
    Gin Sea’s 5-times distilled base spirit is sourced from England and imported directly to Manuel Barrientos’ little gin project in Galicia. All the best gins start with the best ingredients and this is no exception. It’s the highest quality neutral grain spirit around and is sourced overseas before a touch of Galician magic is added … Continued
gin punch

Gin punch: a giant cocktail served in a bowl

posted in: Cocktails, Gin and Juniper | 0

We all like a cocktail. But 200 years before the term was invented, we had to resort to other creative ways of getting our alcohol fix. In those days, there were no cocktail glasses, fancy recipes or bartender’s tools in those days – so they turned to punch! In its earliest days, in the 18th century, a typical punch would contain ingredients that were considered exotic for the time. Often, these would include fruits that seem normal to us now, but which were extremely rare and expensive three centuries ago.
These included rare treats such as oranges from Asia, fragrant spices from the East and sugar, all the way from the Caribbean, which became the perfect match for the strong flavours of rum and brandy. The trouble was that rum and brandy were very expensive. On the other hand, English gin was increasingly affordable. It wasn’t long before gin became recognised as a better value concoction than some of its contemporary spirits and that was when it entered the mainstream world of punch.

A drink for the middle classes

The relative accessibility and affordability of gin quickly made punch more accessible to the burgeoning English middle classes.
However, strangely enough, the 18th century reveals no published gin punch recipes at all. According to a contemporaneous journal, “a hornful of punch should be administered to cattle in a bid to cure their distemper”. This is a clear indication that in those early days punch was initially considered something of low quality and not of much use to actual humans. However, towards the end of the 18th century, reports of its human medicinal qualities began to appear alongside suggestions that it could help to treat a variety of ailments. Gin Punch was soon believed to be a cure-all for everything from dissolving kidney stones, to curing Berri-Berri. It was also (bizarrely) considered a great way to encourage toxins to leave the body efficiently, in the form of sweat.

1776: the punch revolution

In 1776, at around the same time as the American’s were plotting their revolution, diarist James Boswell wrote (after a particularly good night on the town) that he: “drank rather too much gin punch. It was a new experience to me and I liked it much”.
By the end of the 18th century gin punch had elevated itself from its humble position at the heart of the local gin palace, into something more fitting. This elevation made it suitable for the more sophisticated and rarified atmosphere of London’s gentleman’s clubs. Stalwarts such as the Garrick or Limmer’s Hotel became the places that finally established punch as a popular and respectable, middle class drink. In fact, one of the first gin recipes at the turn of the 18th century, sounds rather nice (but very strong):
two pints of gin, oranges, lemons, orange sugar syrup and white wine.

Punch goes upmarket

A few decades later, London’s Garrick Club added a new twist to its own “house punch” – soda water. The original Garrick Club Punch recipe called for:

half a pint of gin, lemon peel, lemon juice, sugar, maraschino, a pint and a quarter of water and two bottles of iced soda water.

It didn’t take very long for its fame to spread around London and before you know it, punches and punch bowls were popping up everywhere. Over time, these punches evolved into more complex single serve variants which were popularised by Americans in the 1870s. They gave them personal names such as the John Collins and the classic Tom Collins. By the end of the century, punch had been truly established in English culture and English Dry Gin had become a mainstay of many of the best punches. But why is punch served in a punch bowl?

Why is punch served in a bowl?

It’s simple, really. As strong punch loosened inhibitions, it helped reserved Englishmen come out of their shell. It helped them to add a little well-lubricated wit to social gatherings, political discussions and business occasions. Drinking punch was always a fabulous social occasion and gathering around the punch bowl ended up becoming the popular focus for many a high spirited evening, loosening inhibitions and encouraging conviviality, conversation and sharing in a way that had never been seen before.

From simple punch bowl to sophisticated cocktails

These days, punches have fallen out of fashion, but that’s a real shame since these simple-to-make, sociable drinks can be a lot of fun. And they can be deceptively strong. Over the years, people’s tastes evolved once more and the simple punch bowl morphed slowly into the next big alcoholic fad in the 19th century – cocktails. Bartenders began to mix drinks to suit their specific customers and the approach to alcohol became increasingly bespoke and sophisticated. Now, the cocktail is definitely king – of that there is no doubt. But there are still some great gin punches out there – and it would be a great shame to let this fabulously simple tradition die out. Check out our recent article on a classic New Year’s Eve punch. And here’s another variant on the gin punch for when the weather gets a bit better.

Gin Punch recipe

Ingredients:

Method:

  1. Cut and combine all the fruits into a large punchbowl
  2. Add the gin, juice, syrups, creme de framboise (or alternative fruit liqueur) and water
  3. Refrigerate for 4-5 hours
  4. Before serving: add ice, fill to top with cava and stir
  5. Ladle into punch glasses with plenty of fruit (and ice)
  6. Repeat frequently!


Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)

Don’t forget to follow us on our facebook community page to join in the gin discussion.


RECENT POSTS

  • Gin Lane: a descent into hell
    Gin Lane. It’s one of the most iconic British images of the 18th century. But behind the familiar characters of Hogarth’s most famous engraving lies a fascinating insight into the highs and lows of the first English gin revolution. In those days, gin had become a scourge on society. It was cheap, unregulated and having … Continued
  • Khao San gin: a fiery trip back to Thailand
    Khao San Gin – the spirit of South East Asia and named after a street I remember well.  It was many years ago now when I flew to Thailand to meet my girlfriend. She’d been backpacking across Asia for 6 months.  I’d heard her saying how she had been dreaming of hot showers and clean … Continued
  • The Ruddles Report: February 2021 Gin News
    Ruddles has been at it again. As the hairy “face” of Barcelona Gin, he’s very easy to like – and his opinions carry weight. He’s lent his marketing power to a few Barcelona Gin posts recently and every time, they beat all our records for engagement. We think he’s our secret weapon. That’s why, in … Continued
  • Gin Sea: born in London, raised in Spain
    Gin Sea’s 5-times distilled base spirit is sourced from England and imported directly to Manuel Barrientos’ little gin project in Galicia. All the best gins start with the best ingredients and this is no exception. It’s the highest quality neutral grain spirit around and is sourced overseas before a touch of Galician magic is added … Continued