GEEK OUT: The Gin Craze of the 1700s
Gin, one of the world’s most beloved spirits, has its own story of tragedy and triumph.
William of Orange came into power in London in 1688, and amongst continued conflict between Britain and France, changed the face of drinking forever. Up until this point, French Brandy, was the most consumed spirit in London. Now - William of Orange had brought in a range of new legislation that put heavy taxes on the importation of Brandy and encouraged the home grown production of Gin. At the time, if you wanted to make beer you needed to pay a heavy licensing fee as well as commit to free food and accommodation for travelling soldiers, the new laws meant you didn’t need a licence to produce a spirit and you were not obliged by the same rules as the brewers. As a result, many turned their backs on the production of beer and focused their attention on gin.
It worked! Gin production went through the roof with accounts of every third commercial building making gin. By 1723, the English were drinking 10 litres of gin per person for every man, woman and child! The population began to decline and artwork depicting the behaviour of the day became commonplace. It was now the English were aware there was a problem.
The government was unsuccessful in its attempts to curb the rate of drinking on multiple occasions until finally the Gin Act of 1751 - commonly referred to as The Sale of Spirits Tax - this placed much larger taxes on the production of gin, the distribution and eventually also the sales tax. Some historians say the Gin Craze ended because of rising costs of grain significantly increasing the cost of production, but in general it is accepted that many factors came into play including the new taxes and a change in consumer culture after having seen the devastating effects of alcoholism.
It took almost 100 years for gin to re-establish itself after 1751, with the first Gin Palaces appearing during the Victorian era of 1840 marking the beginning of a rebirth for the spirit.