From its earliest beginnings in the Middle Ages, gin has evolved over the course of a millennium from a herbal medicine into an object of commerce in the spirits industry. Today, the gin category is one of the most popular and widely distributed ranges of spirits. Gin derives its predominant flavour from juniper berries. The name gin is most likely from the French genièvre or the Dutch jenever, which both mean “juniper”.
The Dutch physician Franciscus Sylvius is credited with the invention of gin. By the mid 17th century, numerous Dutch and Flemish distillers had popularised the re-distillation of malt spirit or wine with juniper. These were sold in pharmacies and used to treat medical problems such as kidney ailments, stomach ailments, gallstones, and gout. English troops whilst fighting against the Spanish in the Thirty Three Year War noticed its calming effects before battle. This is the origin of the term Dutch Courage.
Gin enjoyed a brief resurgence in England as early as the 17th century, at the time of William III (William of Orange), ruler of the Dutch Republic. William occupied the British throne in what has become known as the Glorious Revolution. He made a series of statutes actively encouraging the distillation of English spirits. Anyone could now distil by simply posting a notice in public and waited ten days. Gin became vastly more popular, particularly in crude, inferior forms, where it was more likely to be flavoured with turpentine as an alternative to juniper. This created a market for poor-quality grain that was unfit for brewing beer, and thousands of gin-shops sprang up throughout England, a period known as the Gin Craze.
In tropical British colonies gin was used to mask the bitter flavour of quinine, which was the only effective anti-malarial compound. Quinine was dissolved in carbonated water to form tonic water; the resulting mix became the origin of today’s popular gin and tonic combination, although modern tonic water contains only a trace of quinine as flavouring.
Because of the relative price of gin, when compared with other drinks available at the same time, gin became popular with the poor. Of the 15,000 drinking establishments in London, not including coffee shops and drinking chocolate shops, over half were gin shops. This problem was tackled by the introduction of The Gin Act in 1736, which made gin prohibitively expensive. A licence to retail gin cost £50 and duty was raised fivefold to £1 per gallon with the smallest quantity you could buy retail being two gallons.
As reforms took effect, the gin production process became more refined. Gin evolved to become a delicate balance of subtle flavours, and thus began its ascent into high society. London Dry Gin, with its subtle flavour, made it easy to mix and it quickly became the staple ingredient in a host of fashionable drinks, including the world famous Martini.
Fifty Pounds Gin is named after the cost of the license introduced by the Gin Act, but fortunately, it’s not a recreation of a recipe from that era and is of much higher quality. Launched in 2010 and made at Thames distillery, Fifty Pounds Gin is made with a grain spirit base where the botanicals are steeped in the alcohol for at least two days, after which it is distilled. The exact botanical line is kept secret but thought to contain 11 in total; juniper, angelica root, coriander, liquorice root, grains of paradise, lemon, orange rind and savoury. Savoury has become a part of quite a few gins in recent years. It is a favoured botanical of Thames Master Distiller, Charles Maxwell. The three other botanicals are a fiercely kept secret.
Made in batches of around 1000 bottles at a time and bottled at 43.5%, Fifty Pounds Gin is a London Dry Gin through and through. The aroma is classic with lemon and juniper coming to the fore. To taste, Fifty Pounds Gin is more assertive with juniper followed by coriander, rounded citrus and angelica. The flavours carry well and end with a long finish.
The bottles are inspired by the first gin bottles to have been created, known as case gin. Each bottle bears the individual distillation batch number, together with the year that it was distilled.
(photo by Wren Photography)