A Brief History of Gin
Written by The West Winds on Jan 22, 2015
A Brief History of Gin
Juniperus Communis or common juniper has been used by Northern Hemisphere peoples and cultures for thousands of years to cure ailments of internal matters like stomach problems and urinary tract infections. These small ‘berries’ are in fact seed cones which take 18 months to ripen and are crushed before being used as medicines but also flavourings for meats, sauces and stuffing’s as well as spirits and liqueurs. Researchers even found dried juniper berries in the tomb of the Egyptian king, Tutankhamen.
The Mesopotamians were distilling 4000 years ago, starting with water, moving into perfumes then as they discovered the basics of fermentation the wonder of alcohol was born. Originally this ‘science’ known as alchemy was shared amongst ancient healers and heretics across continents from Arabia to Northern Europe. Often it was the learned brethren of the religious orders behind the concept. By day their wanderings through forests and farmlands meant that the nights were spent experimenting with herbs, botanicals and berries in their stills as they strove to create tonics and remedies to cure the ills of the time.
An ancient Celtic phrase ‘uisge beatha’ meaning whisky actually stemmed from the Latin term ‘water of life’ which highlights the importance placed on these early incarnations of spirits.
Gin, in its earliest known form was created by a Dutch physician; Dr Franciscus Sylvius in 1641 and by 1668 there were several hundred distilleries producing the ‘Dutch Courage’ in Amsterdam alone. The name Gin is thought to be an abbreviation of the word Geneva, the Dutch name for Juniper.
Another term, ‘Dutch Courage’ was conceived by British troops fighting side by side with their Dutch counterparts against the Spanish Empire noted the calming effects this new spirit had on the soldiers before battle.
With William of Orange taking charge of England having overthrown King James following a little disagreement despite their recent alliances, as part of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, gin started to gain prominence amongst the beer swilling Brits.
Around this time the only spirits consumed by the English were French and Spanish Brandies which due to politics and taxation, thanks to the preceding 80 Years War, were hyper expensive and frowned upon. Gin soon became the spirit of the times as production was simple, easy, cheap and unlicensed.
The grain farmers who previously struggled to sell their poorer grains had now found a market for the leftovers as the evil and coarse spirit began to take a hold.
1700 London, the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution and a city faced with serious growing pains. A mass exodus from the rural lands saw lower food costs, higher wages, overcrowding and thanks to the deregulation of a Distilling Guild, saw the city face the Western world’s first great drug epidemic….The Gin Craze.
The working class took to this new libation as a form of escapism with great gusto as gin consumption outweighed beer 6:1. This strong, crude, turpentine flavoured spirit was produced everywhere from bathtubs to buckets and could be bought for next to nothing almost anywhere. By 1740 there were nearly 8,000 noted shops, purveyors and stores selling gin in London alone as the city wallowed in gin.
‘Drunk for a penny, dead drunk for two pence’ was the cry as people sold gin on every corner, encouraging vice and debauchery the like never seen before. Crime escalated as did ill health, prostitution, orphanages and violence.
At the height of the madness, ‘Madam Geneva’ as it was often referred to was everywhere. Every man, woman and child consumed 10 litres of the heinous tipple.
It took a series of laws known as the Gin Acts, heavy policing and some serious taxation to slowly abate the wave of gin. Around this time some of the first known semi-professional police forces were formed using tax monies to fund some form of law and order.
After 50 years the tide of gin began to turn as some decorum returned to London’s lower classes, but Mothers Ruin would be etched into the annals of history forever.
As the British Empire sailed the globe seeking new lands and riches; Gin - thanks to the high taxes had now become the drink of the upper class. This included the Naval Offices of the time as they used it to ward off malaria by disguising the foul taste of quinine by mixing the two. Quinine, a known anti malaria agent came from the dried bark of the Cincona tree (called ‘Fever Tree’ by many indigenous tribes around the world due to its properties in staving off the fever-like conditions of the tropical curse, Malaria). Later it was added to carbonated water, which was the origin of Tonic Water, one half of the famous G&T.
Gin had several resurgences including the Victorian era, with Charles Dickens amongst many others frequenting the Gin Palaces of industrial London. In addition, of course, the Prohibition Era where the simple yet elegant first lady of Gin, the Martini, saw its inception from the Speakeasy’s and Blind Pigs of the USA.
Originally it was agreed that there were 2 styles of gin, being London Dry and Dutch Geneva. Now we have several sub categories, including Plymouth & New World.
London Dry - Any gin made containing 51% juniper and without the addition of sugar before bottling. eg. Beefeater gin
Genever - Originally distilled from malt wine, this old world style has a malty flavour and can be aged.
Plymouth - One of the last remaining original distilleries, named after its geographic designation
New World - Gins made either using new world ingredients or new distillation techniques. eg. West Winds Gin, Hendricks gin
Our Gin- The West Winds Gin
In 2009 we decided to make our own gin having played with, sold and drank hundreds of litres of other peoples booze for years. Three out of four of us had misspent our youths in and around Margaret River; surfing, partying and chasing girls. It was a natural location for our water source; pure, pristine and a place to be revered. For two years we tinkered, toiled and tippled our way through the creation process, arguing and agreeing every few weeks about what flavours we liked and didn’t like. Finally we produced a gin we were happy with; before Jason (our flavour genius) decided he wanted to make another gin. Some people say ‘Why’, we say ‘Why not?’.
So we created two gins, one playing by the rules and one breaking them all.
We named our Gin ‘The West Winds’ in a tribute to the ocean breezes used for centuries by Sailors to cross the Indian Ocean to land on the West coast of Australia and beyond in a search for the riches of the new world. These West Winds are also responsible for bringing some of the purest rainwater in the world to the shores of Margaret River which is then triple filtered to form the core of our gins.