How the county is leading the revival of gin
FROM ‘Mother’s Ruin’ to the quintessentially English summer tipple of choice, gin has come a long way since it first hit our shores in the 18th century.
Trendy new spirits are popping up everywhere, from small kitchen table enterprises or as new ventures for major international drinks companies.
These are not just any gins. These are lovingly hand-crafted, delicately-flavoured, with real provenance – and we can’t get enough of them.
According to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association last year saw annual gin sales rise by 16%, with around 40 million bottles sold, creating a £1bn economy.
In Norfolk there are several specialist gin companies, each offering something new and fresh to the market. Where once in a bar you would have simply asked for a gin and tonic with ice and a slice, today you are faced with a vast selection of craft gins and a similar array of different tonics, all infused with an extraordinary range of unexpected, exotic flavours.
There are even specialist events and whole bars dedicated to the experience – such as the Gin Palace in Norwich which has over 180 different types, served with a host of accompaniments from blueberries to cardamom. But when gin first hit our shores some 300 years ago, it wasn’t the elegant taste experience being sold to drinkers today. In fact, dubbed the ‘gin craze’, it swept the nation and was blamed for a breakdown of social order.
Gin, which has its origins in Holland, became popular in England when Dutch-born William of Orange took to the throne. By 1730 it is believed around 10 million gallons of gin were being distilled annually in the capital alone.
Described as ‘opium for the people’, gin could be bought cheaply and became the drug of choice in over-crowded, slumridden London. It was blamed for misery, rising crime, prostitution, madness, higher death rates and falling birth rates.
The arrival of the drink also coincided with women being allowed to drink alongside men in bars for the first time and it was blamed for leading many women into child neglect and prostitution, resulting in the nickname ‘Mother’s Ruin’ – a label that has stuck for centuries.
In 1751, with public pressure growing, the Gin Act was passed with new licensing measures, which, combined with a series of bad harvests, saw the ‘gin craze’ gradually fizzle out.