Martini Quotes

"I'm not talking a cup of cheap gin splashed over an ice cube.

I'm talking satin, fire and ice; Fred Astaire in a glass; surgical cleanliness, insight.. comfort; redemption and absolution. I'm talking MARTINI.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day and Mother's Ruin

Gin History, Craze, and Riots 

Hogarth's "Gin Lane"


     The history of gin and it's humble beginnings as a medicinal libation in Holland to its current day ubiquity in the fine spirit industry is a curious tale indeed.  As discussed is a previous post, gin has its roots in the Lowlands as a medicinal known as Jenever. British troops fighting in the Low Countries during the Thirty Years' War were given 'Dutch Courage' during the long campaigns in the damp weather for the warming properties of gin. Eventually they started bringing it back home with them, where it was already often sold in chemists' shops. Distillation was taking place in a small way in England, but it now began on a much greater scale, and the new drink became a firm favorite with the poor.  What entailed was a story of politics, profits, and taxes that would rival any modern day intrigue.  

     Not surprisingly, gin became popular in England when Dutch-born William of Orange took the English throne in 1688.  Through a series of statutes, he actively encouraged the distillation of  spirits in England.  Anyone could now distill gin by simply posting a notice in public and just waiting ten days.  By the end of the century, England was at war with France. So, to protect the economy and help the war effort, the government put a heavy duty on the import of spirits and lifted restrictions on domestic spirit production.  It was an attempt to supplant French made brandy with English gin.  In the early 18th century, eager to create a domestic market for corn, Parliament effectively deregulated the distillation and sale of intoxicating spirits — especially gin.  In doing so, they created a healthy market for poor quality grain – which greatly benefited the many landowners who sat in Parliament. The resulting trade also created a rich source of tax revenue.  Politics, taxes and manipulation permeate history.

   Gin Craze 

      The result of these policies was a boom to the burgeoning gin industry that led to a boom in crime, beggary and infant mortality. Women, in particular, seemed to favor gin and bought it from pharmacists as a medicinal drink. It was mixed with warm water to 'soothe the nerves' and was often known as Mother's Ruin.  This first half of the 18th century in England was marked by the Gin Craze.  In 1735, a commission of Middlesex justices reported: “Unhappy mothers habituate themselves to these distilled liquors, whose children are born weak and sickly, and often look shrivel’d and old, as though they numbered many years. Others again give it to their children…and learn them even before they can go to taste and approve this certain destroyer.”

      As public outcry grew, the government was forced to take action. The 1736 Gin Act taxed retail sales at 20 shillings a gallon and made selling gin without a £50 annual licence illegal. In the next seven years, only two licences were taken out. Whereas reputable sellers were put out of business, bootleggers thrived. Their gin, which went by colorful names such as ‘Ladies Delight’ and ‘Cuckold’s Comfort’, was more likely to be flavored with turpentine than juniper. At worst, it was poisonous, containing horrifying ingredients such as sulphuric acid. This was akin to the illegal bootleggers production of bathtub gin during the prohibition years of the early 21st century in the United States.   Hogarth's engraving "Gin Lane" (pictured above)is a well known image of the gin craze, and is often paired with "Beer Street", creating a contrast between the miserable lives of gin drinkers and the healthy and enjoyable lives of beer drinkers.  I could not imagine a more false juxtaposition.

Gin Riots

      The Gin Act of 1736 led to the Gin Riots led by an angered population of gin enthusiasts and fueled by this increased production of bootleg gin.  Eventually, a more reasonable legislative effort in 1751 began to curb the rampart drunkenness of the multitudes.  It was aided by rising food costs and decreased wages leaving less disposable income to purchase Mother's Ruin. Prominent anti-gin campaigners of the day included Henry Fielding, whose 1751 'Enquiry into the Late Increase in Robbers' blamed gin consumption for both increased crime and increased ill health among children.  The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling, for which Fielding is much better known is, however, a far better read.  

      So, as I enjoy a Mother's Day dinner out with the family at a nice restaurant, I will order that most eloquent of drinks- The Martini, and ruminate on the somewhat lowly and tumultuous history of it's main ingredient, gin.


Ironically, I will have a Martini made of
 Mother's Ruin
Mother's Day.

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