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You may have heard of nicknames for gin such as “Blue Ruin”, “Dutch Courage”, and “Bathtub Gin”. A little history of gin will explain the basis for these nicknames and more….

Gin was produced as far back as the early 16th century during the Dutch War of Independence. While there is some dispute as to the exact dates and origin of gin, most historians can agree on its original purpose and use. Gin was first produced and sold in Chemist shops for medicinal purposes. It was used as a treatment for a variety of ailments from stomach problems to gallstones and gout. The flavor was awful, so to improve the taste, the Dutch decided to flavor it with juniper, which enhanced the flavor and formed the basis for its current name. The term gin is derived from the words “genievre” and “jenever”, (the French and Dutch words for juniper).

“Dutch Courage”

During the Dutch War of Independence, British Troops, who were fighting against the Spanish, would drink Gin to give them “Dutch Courage” during the long battles in the damp weather. It was said to help keep them warm and give them the fortitude to continue fighting. Eventually, as their tours would come to an end, the troops would return home and bring this new beverage with them. This would help fuel its growth and popularity in England.

“Blue Ruin”

By the late 1720’s, the people of England were consuming close to 5 million gallons of gin annually, with an estimated 25% of all homes in London involved in the sale or production of gin. Its primary consumers at this time were the poor. For them, beer and wine weren’t strong enough, brandy was too expensive, rum was for sailors, but gin easily accessible, cheap and extremely effective. However, the gin of this time was nothing like gin of today. Its sole purpose was to facilitate inebriation. The taste was so bad, it had to be sweetened with sugar, just to make it even slightly palatable. Abuse of gin and rampant drunkenness became a major problem, and gin’s role in the situation led to the nickname “Blue Ruin”.

By 1736 the government had to pass the Gin Act to try to control production and use by making it extremely expensive. However, this act was very difficult to enforce. It was routinely broken and resulted in riots breaking out on a regular basis. By 1742 the act was considered unenforceable and was repealed. A new policy was created that licensed retailers, provided reasonable excise duties and provided higher, but reasonable prices.

“Bathtub Gin”

The rise of gin in the United States really did not occur until the prohibition days of the 1920’s, when Moonshine and Bootlegging were the answers to the closed distilleries. For Bootleggers, whiskies were hard to produce because they required storage and aging in oak casks. Gin, however, was easy to make and did not require any aging. All that was needed for gin was a large container, such as a bathtub (hence the nickname “bathtub gin”), raw alcohol, juniper berry extract, spices and some other flavors. Once again, the gin produced from this method was of very low quality and poor taste. It was this poor taste that gave rise to the practice of mixing cocktails to hide the awful taste of the gin. At the end of 1933, Prohibition was repealed and the production of bootleg gin came to an end.

The end of prohibition in the United States, along with the multitude of English tax changes, government policies and reforms provided an avenue for respectable firms to get into the business of producing and retailing gin, which ultimately led to the evolution of the higher quality gin. Over time, additional reforms were put in place and the gin distillation process became more refined. Gin has since evolved into a drink with delicate balance and subtle flavors. This helped transform it from favorite drink of the poor to the drink of the sophisticated and high society.


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