In 1751, William Hogarth was asked to create two prints: one depicting the evils of gin, the other the virtues of beer. Hogarth must have received a pat on the back from the brewers who commissioned him, because ‘Gin Lane’ cast gin as the greatest of all evils. It ruined mothers, and caused starvation, insanity and suicide. In ‘Beer Street’, industry and commerce thrive — and everyone is a picture of health.
Gin drinking did get severely out of hand in the 18th century. In one notorious case, a woman named Judith Dufour collected her two-year-old child from the workhouse, strangled him, dumped the body and sold his clothes for 1s 4d to buy gin (the detail from ‘Gin Lane’ above is Hogarth’s version of her). Between 1729 and 1751, eight Gin Acts were enforced to temper London’s drinking habits; the last finally worked. It encouraged ‘respectable’ sale, and put the bootleggers out of business. The Act also banned stills with a capacity of less than 1,800 litres, clearing the way for big companies. Gordon’s started in 1769, Plymouth Gin in 1793.
Fast-forward to 2014 and a new ‘gin craze’ is underway, albeit a more sophisticated one. In 2008, small-scale distilling was allowed again for the first time in more than 250 years. It’s a world away from Georgian production: bathtubs, sulphuric acid and sawdust have given way to bespoke juniper infusions. A number of craft gins are available. They aren’t much more expensive than the brands, but your G&T will thank you for buying them.
Sipsmith, which campaigned for licence changes, produces a couple of delicious gins, which — as the name suggests — sip very nicely. The juniper flavour is spicy and bright. For winter, the damson vodka would be a treat, but what could be more perfect for the British summer than getting woozy on a gin cocktail and doing something Hogarth’s cronies would disapprove of?
How to drink these new craft gins? A G&T (with plenty of ice and a slice of lime, naturally) is the obvious choice, but there are other cocktail options. Dodd’s Gin, based at a former dairy in Battersea, recommends the Aphrodite:
40ml Dodd’s Gin
10ml fresh lime
15ml London Honey water solution
4-5 dashes Dr Adam Elmegirab’s Aphrodite Bitters
3-4 fresh basil leaves
Put all the ingredients in a boston tin, shake vigorously to smash the basil leaves and then pour the contents into a highball or rocks glass. Top with ice and garnish with a crack of plain chocolate.
If the weather isn’t on your side, sloe gin is a good warmer. It’s ideal for hipflasks, but, for a different take, try it in a gimlet, mixed with sugar syrup and lime juice. And, of course, The Spectator has its own gin, available to purchase online through our shop. The editor recommends drinking it neat on press day.