In 1751, artist William Hogarth published his satirical print ‘Gin Lane’, which depicted disturbing scenes including a gin-crazed mother, covered in syphilitic sores, unwittingly dropping her baby to its death down some cellar stairs. From such gin sodden debauchery to the glamorous Martini bars of ritzy hotels, London has been the spiritual home of gin for centuries and the affair continues with a new generation of brands and drinking establishments throughout the capital In the last decade or so enthusiasm for interesting gins has grown, and with it, the number of small distillers such as Portobello Road, a small outfit boasting its own 'Ginstitute', a tiny room above the Portobello Star dedicated to the history and scientific understanding of gin.
Mini gin distillery Sispsmith in Hammersmith has open days and tasting evenings, although I hear they are currently booked through into the new year
And last night I met another gin - Butlers’s Gin a new, British, artisan spirit produced in Hackney Wick, East London. A smooth yet refreshing fusion of juniper, lemongrass, cardamom and citrus notes, Butler’s Gin has a light, crisp character which is set to become the drink of choice for the cognoscenti, bringing something extraordinary to every occasion.
Ross William Butler is The Butler. A designer, brand developer and lifelong gin obsessive, Ross spends much of his time on his speedboat Fletcher, enjoying the waterways of South-east England. It was on Fletcher, whilst moored in London's Docklands one summer, that The Butler developed his first batch of gin. This small personal venture swiftly grew as friends and acquaintances tasted its delectable aroma.
Originally inspired by a Victorian recipe, the gin is placed in a 20-litre glass jar with infusion bags containing fresh lemongrass, cardamom, coriander, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, fennel, lemon and lime. After infusing for 18 hours it is hand-bottled.
Ross was handing out the gin at the delightful Hackney Heart, a lovely pop-up shop . gallery and creative space on hackneys Mare Street.
Originally intended as a medicine, gin became suddenly affordable in Britain due to changes in the duty levied following the accession of William of Orange to the throne. French brandy prices went through the roof, a great many small-scale gin distilleries were established across London and by the early years of the 18th century what had become known as the Gin Craze was truly out of hand. In the first third of the 19th century, advancements in distillation eventually allowed for the mass-production of pure spirits using "continuous" stills. These spirits were then re-distilled to make "London dry gin", the defining stipulations for which are still in force today: it must contain no added sugar, be flavoured primarily with juniper and a minimum of 37.5% alcohol by volume.
With the discovery that quinine was effective against malaria the colonial officer class began to drink the new "tonic water" enlivened with gin. Now enjoyed in fashionable circles, the rehabilitation of mothers' ruin was complete, with the added bonus that the antimalarial tonic water actually worked.
The perception of a link between gin and glamorous living received another fillip in the jazz age. The drinking of cocktails and the culture around them grew and flourished even during American prohibition, and President Roosevelt's first act upon signing the paperwork which repealed the alcohol ban was to mix a martini, using plenty of gin, vermouth and olive brine. The growing popularity of gin cocktails provided the distillers with another challenge: the fruity juniper and citrussy coriander seed flavours which work so well with tonic water are not always ideal in a cocktail