Gin History

A history lesson you will want to read for once…


1689: King William of Orange drops taxes on spirit production for the health of the nation’s finances.

His first action as King was to drop taxation and licencing on distillation, whilst raising taxes on imported foreign spirits. This boosted British distilling and helped raise much needed capital to help fund the frequent and bloody wars he was so fond of fighting.

1731: Frost Fairs on the frozen River Thames give Londoners a new reason to get sipping.

Whenever the weather turned, crowds would gather to explore the stalls and tents selling hot gin and gingerbread that popped up along the frozen River Thames, as enterprising Londoners looked to make a quick shilling out of what became known as the London Frost Fairs.

1736: The fifty pound act. As consumption continues to rise, the government attempts to curb Londoner’s unrelenting enthusiasm for gin by introducing a distiller’s licence costing £50, a huge sum. This pushed the industry underground with only two official licences granted in seven years. Informers on illegal Gin-Shops were paid £5, creating a lucrative industry of its own.

1850: Saviour of the British Empire.

As the British Crown took over the governance of India, British immigrants began to struggle with the ravages of malaria. A local cure came from the bark of the chinchona or ‘fever’ tree, which contained the notoriously bitter quinine. To make it more palatable, sugar, lime, ice and gin were added – and the G&T was born.

1860: The British Navy introduces a weekly gin ration.

Officers of the British Navy were paid a portion of their wage in gin (lucky devils). Alcohol on board Naval ships was decreed to be a minimum of 57.7% ABV to ensure gunpowder stocks stayed flammable if contaminated by any leaky gin barrels. Never ones to be short changed, sailors would light a small amount of gin-soaked gunpowder, therefore obtaining ‘proof’ their ration had not been watered down by a scrimping Navy.

1888: The Martini is born. Several people have laid claim to the invention of this classic gin cocktail, described as ‘the Elixir of Quietude’ by author E.B. White. This simple gin drink was among the first created and consumed purely for pleasure and the anesthetic effect that clearly demarked the end of the workday and the beginning of the evening’s revelries.

1920: PROHIBITION ERA. Thirsty Americans and out-of-work bartenders descend on London at the start of Prohibition.

Although the party was already in full swing thanks to London’s Bright Young Things, these new arrivals ensured no Jazz Age London party was short of attendees.

1953: THE NAME’S BOND… Ian Fleming introduces one of his own creations, the Vesper Cocktail.

He and his friend Ivor Bryce created this variation on the martini cocktail in Jamaica. But it is purely British and finds its spiritual home in London’s hotel bars. Fleming’s books and this cocktail defined sophistication for generations to come.

1990: The cocktail becomes cool again.

Dick Bradsell begins training a generation of young bartenders after reading David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks and becoming inspired to master the art of mixing himself. This revived the nightclub cocktail, transforming it from spirit drowned in tonic or fruit juice to elegant and simple creations.

2003: I meet Mrs B (over a Gin & Tonic of course.)

2017: We launch The Secret Gin Club!