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British Gin

British Gin

Gin has seen its popularity soar in recent years and is a firm favourite in Britain. Whether enjoyed in a cocktail or as a gin and tonic, it makes a refreshing and flavoursome drink that can be enjoyed at any time of the year. With the British gin industry seeing record number of sales both home and abroad it might be good to know the history and future of this ever increasing industry.


So where does the history of British gin begin? Well, surprisingly it’s not in Britain, in fact its origin comes from the Dutch spirit genever.

The first creation of British gin was in 17th century London when William of Orange came to Britain in 1688 to rule. When he was in power, he relaxed the laws surrounding the creation of spirit making which saw an explosion of new drinks including the creation of gin which was at the time a cheap version of genever. This cheap gin was a drink that the poor in society could easily afford and have access to, whereas genever was much more expensive and could only be bought by the rich.

So why was gin so much cheaper?  Without the money to be able to buy the high cost ingredients for genever Londoners had to use cheaper items like sulphuric acid and turpentine to mimic genever’s taste and feel.

Bad press coverage surrounded gin during the Georgian period which made it out to be a spirit that only the poor and hopeless drank. It was between this period and the 19th century that gin shops were opened, which were usually small shops selling gin to take away or to take a quick drink of before carrying on your day. 

It’s wasn’t until the 19th century that these small gin shops were replaced with much more glamorous establishments know as gin palaces. At its height there were around 5000 gin palaces in London alone with most of them based around the west end and the poorer areas of the city. While these establishments were design to allow customers to buy a cheap drink of gin,  they had the side effect of closing down many public houses as they offered seating and food, whereas the gin palaces were there to down a drink and move on which at the time most people wanted.

The original style of British gin was called Old Tom which was made with liquorice and then with sugar. It is the sugar version that is now known as London Dry.

It was in the 1920s that the public’s perception of gin started to move away from it being a drink for the poor as it was growing in popularity with the younger generation as well as being drunk by the wealthy at parties. The 1960s saw a down turn in gin sales as it was then seen as an older person’s drink and it was being replaced by younger people with a new spirit on the British market “vodka”.  

This down turn in gin sales unfortunately saw many of the Victorian distillers having no choice but to close down, sell the distillery or move out of London.  

Thankfully in recent years independent gin makers and distillers have helped revive this lovely, refreshing drink into a thriving industry.

Current British Gin Market

In recent years the British gin industry has gone from strength to strength with recent export levels nearly hitting the £500 million mark, which makes it one of Britain best exported spirits.  The number of people drinking gin in Britain is also rising each year, resulting in a number of new distilleries opening up across the country.

The use of new technology and techniques has allowed gin makers the ability to create a number of new tastes and styles to bring to the market. These new styles have helped win over new and younger drinkers to enjoy this classic British spirit.

The increase in sales of British gins around the world is proof that British distillers are onto a good thing and so long as they keep producing a high quality product there is no reason why this industry should not continue to grow over the coming years.

Interesting British Gin Facts

The name London Dry is a little deceiving as it is in fact a style of gin that doesn’t have to be made in London to be called a London Dry.

In the mid-19th century many distilleries, including Gordon's, found themselves all based around the same area of Clerkwell as they all wanted to benefit from the local springs.

The much loved drink, gin and tonic was in fact originally made to help fend off malaria in the British Empire. The quinine in the tonic helped as an antimalarial agent.

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