The History of Gin

George Cruikshank's engraving of The Gin Shop (1829).
George Cruikshank's engraving of The Gin Shop (1829).

Gin History in the UK

Gin is often considered to have the most interesting background of all the spirits that are part of the ever-evolving drinking culture found all over the globe. Its English background recounts the history of British nobility, class struggle, technical innovation, the marine sector, and a variety of other topics.

The United Kingdom and Gin have a long and illustrious history, dating back to the 1600s, and is known for its dynamic character. Gin, like many things that are considered to be British favourites, however it did not originate in Britain. Holland is acknowledged as being the birth place of gin.

George Cruikshank's engraving of The Gin Shop (1829).

"Dutch Courage"

It is believed that Franciscus Sylvius, a Dutch physician, was the "creator" of gin since, around the year 1550, he began recommending a juniper-based distilled alcohol for therapeutic reasons. Before heading into combat, the English soldiers drank it to help relieve their anxieties. The first time the English became acquainted with the spirit was during the Thirty Years' War when they were battling Spain in Holland.

Indeed, you have it correct. Gin was the first spirit to be known as "Dutch Courage." And when the troops came home, of course, they brought their newly discovered favourite spirit with them, and they never looked back once they started drinking it.

A Saloir drinking on a ship for dutch courage
Dutch Courage.

Gin Distilling in London

We may trace the true history of London Gin and the British love affair with the spirit back to another Dutchman. It was inevitable that London would play a pivotal role in the development of gin when King Charles I established the Worshipful Company of Distillers in 1638 and granted its members a monopoly on the distilling trade within 21 miles of London and Westminster.

This historical period is known as the Glorious Revolution, and it was in London that gin first became widely popular. As when William III of the Netherlands, sometimes known as William of Orange, ascended to the thrones of England and Ireland on 22 January 1689 and instituted the drinking customs of his own country.

One of the earliest known recipes, now housed in the British Library, dates back to this period. It suggests using fruit like strawberries and raspberries in the distillation process for a fruity flavour and a pink colour to the finished gin.

Hogarth's Gin Lane (created 1750–1751).
Hogarth's Gin Lane (created 1750–1751).


In the year 1870, more people were consuming tonics. In British India, troops were given quinine as a preventative measure against malaria, which was having a significant impact on the population at the time. Quinine was taken in the form of dosages. On the other hand, quinine has an extremely unpleasant taste.

The last step in the consuming process involves combining the tonic with sugar and water. These applications served as the impetus for Schweppes to include quinine and citrus extracts into their carbonated water, which resulted in the creation of the Indian tonic.

Tonic is a term that may also refer to tonic water. It is a non-alcoholic beverage that includes quinine derived from a plant. The latter is responsible for the flavour's somewhat bitter undertones.

Chalk and sulfuric acid, when mixed and stirred, produce a reaction. The gas is collected and stored in a heated tank after it has been acquired. To gasify the water, the mixture is agitated while it is being heated, which creates pressure. It was Pierre-Joseph Pelletier and Joseph Bienaimé Caventou, two French pharmacists, who are credited with the invention of tonic. They are credited with being the first people to isolate quinine.

Johann Jakob Schweppe, a Swiss watchmaker, and chemical enthusiast discovered a technique in the year 1780 to charge water with carbon dioxide .

Fever Tree Tonics selection
Fever Tree Tonics used most commonly in Gin and Tonic

Gin in Modern England

Today, there are three categories of gin that are defined under the regulation of the European Union:


This beverage is made by combining neutral alcohol with the extracts of several fragrant plants and many combinations of other botanicals, notably juniper.


This is a kind of gin produced via distillation of a foundation of neutral alcohol and fragrant plants, such as the juniper used during the Juniper Festival. Following the distillation process, makers may add extracts and flavours to the gin. Gins that are made by the process of simple maceration, as opposed to gins that are made through the process of re-distillation, are referred to as "Compound Gins."


This gin is not specific to London only. This is widely served worldwide and is very popular in modern days. After the gin has been distilled, London Gin cannot have any additional flavours or sugars added to it. Because of this, it is unavoidably dry. Gin that has been distilled using neutral alcohol and fragrant herbs, including juniper, but to which nothing other than water may be added after distillation to reduce the amount of alcohol contained in the product.

A Gin Distillery
A Modern Distillery used in the creation of distilled Gin

The Future of Gin in the UK

There is no indications that gin's popularity is on the decline anywhere in the UK. Gin, like the people who drink it, it's likely one of the drinks that can withstand the test of time better than others. Gin has been around for nearly half a millennium, and it has just surpassed vodka in popularity. We like to think of the present gin boom as the spirit's revival in contemporary times, the second Golden Age. And with its undeniable popularity among the British, gin and tonic had already been part of British drink menus.