Gin is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, with a wealth of interesting spirits produced right here on our doorstep. We chat to some of the enthusiastic local producers and offer up our favourite tipples!
History of gin
Gin may be one of the most popular liquors in the country, yet the colourless spirit has had to contend with a chequered history since it first landed on these shores more than 300 years ago.
Originally gin was sold as a medicine, distilled and supposedly capable of aiding kidney ailments, gallstones and gout after Dutch physician Franciscus Sylvius created genever. Brits were first introduced to it when the English soldiers assisted the Dutch against the Spanish in Antwerp during the late 16th century during the Eighty Years’ War.
The armies were known to drink genever before heading into battle, and it’s thought to be the origin of the phrase “Dutch courage”. William of Orange then arrived here to rule in 1688 and promptly relaxed laws on making spirits. Gin, which starts with a base of juniper berries, gained in popularity – among all classes – with the upper classes drinking genever and the working classes making do with a new, cheaper “imitation” gin, substituting the costly ingredients with such things as turpentine and sulphuric acid.
Subsequently, gin’s reputation took a turn for the worse. In London alone, more than 7,000 “dram shops” sprang up with an estimated 10 million gallons being distilled annually by barbers, grocers and market stall holders. Gin became increasingly cheap to produce, easily accessible, little duty was paid on it and some workers were even given it as part of their wages. The 1736 Gin Act forced anyone wishing to sell distilled spirits to take out a licence costing £50.
Only three such licences were taken, but gin’s popularity did not wane as “mother’s ruin” remained hugely popular, before a second act was passed in 1751, which raised duty, and prohibited distillers, grocers, chandlers, jails and workhouses from selling the liquor.
Thankfully this was the low point for gin and the spirit has rebuilt its once-tarnished reputation to become the UK’s most popular alcoholic drinks. Gin’s popularity has been helped by upmarket gin bars, ever-growing gin festivals and distilleries offering delicious varied botanical flavours.
Mr Fogg’s Residence
If you’re in the mood for boozing like a Victorian, there’s nowhere better than the illustrious Mr Fogg’s Residence club and cocktail bar in Mayfair. Inspired by Jules Verne’s well-travelled protagonist in Around the World in Eighty Days, you’ll find a magical parlour room filled to the rafters with Victorian bric-a-brac. Stuffed reptiles, suspended penny farthings, riding boots, part of a hot air balloon; it’s bizarre yet mesmerising.
Two doormen, dressed somewhere between a dragoon and a Victorian butler, usher guests inside. A resident pianist sings as he plays. From the moment you step off Berkeley Square into this weird world of theatre and madness, Mr Fogg’s utterly engulfs you. Their tipsy afternoon tea is wacky and unexpected. A teapot full of Mr Fogg’s spirited teas is served first; choose from a variety of tea cocktails and tinctures, inspired from all corners of the world. A cake stand laden with fudgy brownies, Portuguese custard tarts and finger sandwiches follows. If you love gin, love cake and love something a bit different, pay Phileas Fogg a visit!
Another place to indulge in a winter gin cocktail, paired with perfectly spiced food, is the newly opened Kricket restaurant in White City’s Television Centre in Wood Lane. Their Lucky Neem cocktail features Opihr Gin, sugar syrup and curry leaves; check out their Lucky Neem recipe.
Craft Gin Club
Jon Hulme, co-founder of the London-based Craft Gin Club says: “The rise in gin’s popularity is showing no sign of slowing down and at Craft Gin Club we’re tasting nearly 400 craft gins a year. We aim to reinvent the way gin-lovers discover and enjoy new gins, and so every month we send our members a bottle of craft gin from one of the world’s best distilleries. Each gin is paired with hand-chosen mixers, cocktail ingredients and foodie treats, along with our monthly magazine.”
Gin pioneers and childhood friends Fairfax Hall and Sam Galsworthy are behind Sipsmiths, the star producer based in Chiswick. Their journey began in 2009, in a tiny Hammersmith workshop where they set up London’s first traditional copper distillery since 1820. Their mission was simple: to bring London Dry Gin of uncompromising quality and character, back to the city where it first earned its name. Every bottle of Sipsmith is hand-crafted in small batches.