1751 Gin Act

1751 Gin Act

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Cheap gin, first imported from the Netherlands in the 1690s, became an extremely popular drink in the early 18th century. Politicians and religious leaders began to argue that gin drinking encouraged laziness and criminal behaviour. In 1729 Parliament increased the tax on gin and this led to complaints culminating in the 1743 Gin Riots. The government responded by reducing duties and penalties, claiming that moderate measures would be easier to enforce.

Gin drinking continued to be a problem and by the 1740s the British were consuming 8,000,000 gallons a year. It was estimated that in some pasts of London over a quarter of the houses were gin shops. in 1751 the government took action and greatly increased duties on gin. The sale by distillers and shopkeepers was now strictly controlled and these measures successfully reduced the consumption of gin in Britain.

Gin Act 1751

The Sale of Spirits Act 1750 (commonly known as the Gin Act 1751) was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain (citation 24 Geo. II c. 40) which was enacted in order to reduce the consumption of spirits, a popular pastime that was regarded as one of the primary causes of crime in London. [ 1 ] By prohibiting gin distillers from selling to unlicensed merchants and increasing fees charged to merchants, it eliminated small Gin shops thereby leaving the distribution of Gin to larger distillers and retailers. [ 2 ]

The evolution of gin in London, 1750 – 1850

London’s gin palaces – convivial, glamorous environments. But how did gin reinvent itself from being something drunk by children in slums just 80 years prior?

Fans of booze and/or history may know a few things about gin’s past. One being that the gin craze raged in London between 1720 and 1751, during which time adults would drink an average of half a pint of gin a day. The gin consumption of the average child’s wasn’t far off this either.

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Then, from 1830, the gin palace was born. These were brightly lit, welcoming spaces that were adorned with lamps, mirrors and cut glass.*

But how did gin reinvent itself between these dates? How did it go from being something drunk in the slums to something drunk by the well-to-do in glitzy spaces?

Not much is written about gin’s transition, but we’ve done some super sleuthing to uncover the following…

First of all, the gin drunk during the gin craze was known as ‘Old Tom’, and was very different to the gin we drink today. Anyone was allowed to distil their own gin the lack of quality control causing it to taste foul. Copious amounts of sugar would be added to mask its base flavour. It was so disgusting that turpentine and sulphuric acid were also often added in the name of making the drink taste better.

The gin craze was brought to a halt largely by the Gin Act of 1751. By prohibiting gin distillers from selling to unlicensed merchants and charging higher fees for licenses, it eliminated small gin shops, which helped curb consumption. Bad harvests between 1757 and 1760 led to a ban on distilling grain, which helped reduce consumption further.

Although the ban was lifted in 1760, gin was subject to higher taxes and had to pass tougher quality controls than ever before. Distillers, realising gin would cost more to make, were forced to improve the quality of the drink so it could justify its price.

Alexander Gordon, the founder of Gordon’s Dry London Gin, opened his first distillery in 1769. His commitment to quality was clear – the gin was (and still is) distilled three times for purity. In 1786 he relocated his factory to Clerkenwell in order to take advantage of the purer water bubbling up at the natural spring of Clerk’s Well.**

Although Alexander Gordon laid the way for better gin, other distillers followed suit in the late 1820s and early 1830s. New distilling methods were invented at this time, enabling producers to make spirits that were free of impurities. As they didn’t need sugar or other nasty ingredients to hide the taste, gin from the 1830s onwards was much cleaner and brighter. This new type of gin, referred to as London Dry gin, became popular as it fit beautifully with the Victorians’ interest in healthier ways of living.

The other part of gin’s reinvention came with the arrival of gin palaces in the 1830s. The motivation for their introduction was the 1830 Beer Act, which enabled anyone who had purchased a cheap licence to sell beer. Over the eight years that followed, 45,000 beer shops opened across the UK – more than 15 a day. Gin sellers knew they need to do something to fight back.

The aesthetic of the gin palace was aided by numerous recent innovations. In the early 1800s, gas lighting was introduced – for example, Pall Mall was lit by gas lamps in 1807. In 1832, sheet glass was invented, making this much more affordable and accessible. Mirrors were also put within reach from 1835, when the silvered-glass mirror was invented. All of these innovations meant that gin palaces could supply glorious amounts of light, day or night. More importantly, they were far more glamorous and exciting than the competing beer shops.

So, with innovations in gin’s production and the appearance of its environment, gin moved from being a deadly and foul drink to something sophisticated that was quaffed in sparkling surroundings. It moved an incredibly long way between 1750 and 1850.

If you have any other interesting facts about gin, we’d love to hear them! Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

*There’s lots to say about the gin craze and gin palaces, but unfortunately we don’t have space here. You can also check out one of London’s last gin palaces on our History of Drinking Tour.

**A few other interesting facts about Gordon’s London Dry Gin: the recipe he launched with has not been changed to this day. We know that the gin is triple distilled and takes its flavour from juniper berries, coriander seeds, angelica root, liquorice, orris root, orange and lemon peel. However, only 12 people in the world are privy to the complete recipe. Gordon’s Gin is now the world’s best selling London Dry gin.

‘Gin Lane’ by William Hogarth, a print that illustrates the possible consequences of gin drinking. Note the hanged man in the building, the children drinking gin on the right hand side and the baby on a skewer in the distance.

An early Gordon’s gin bottle. Alexander Gordon began distilling gin in 1769.

Children and Youth in History

This is one of the best-known prints by the famous artist, William Hogarth. He designed it to support the British government's attempt to regulate the price and popularity of drinking gin (known as Geneva) in the Gin Act of 1751. The print is accompanied by the following verse:

Gin, cursed Fiend, with Fury fraught,
Makes human Race a Prey.
It enters by a deadly Draught
And steal our Life away.
Virtue and Truth, driv'n to Despair
Its Rage compells to fly,
But cherishes with hellish Care
Theft, Murder, Perjury.
Damned Cup! that on the Vitals preys
That liquid Fire contains,
Which Madness to the heart conveys,
And rolls it thro' the Veins.

Gin had originally been marketed as a medicine for upset stomachs in the Netherlands. It was imported into Britain after 1689 and quickly became the choice drink of the poor. Many distilled and sold it from their homes. Some historians claim that by 1750, one out of every fifteen houses in London sold it. Children would often be sent to buy gin for their parents and sampled it themselves. It was also regularly given to calm babies. Hogarth shows here the poverty, public drunkenness, and crime, which resulted from the cheap availability of gin. The most shocking figure in Gin Lane is the drunken mother. She may be partially based on a real person, Judith Dufour. Due to the mother's neglect, the two-year old child had been taken from her and placed in a workhouse. Dufour reclaimed her child and shortly afterwards strangled it and left the body in a ditch. She sold the clothes that the workhouse had provided the child for a few pennies, and then used the money to buy gin. Dufour was publicly hanged for the murder.

First imported from the Netherlands in the 1690s, gin began to rival beer as the most popular drink in England. In 1689, the English government opened the distilling trade to all English people who paid certain taxes. Over the next sixty years, however, the government regulated the sale of gin with an inconsistent taxation policy. The ready availability and low cost of gin led to the a massive rise in consumption known as the Gin Craze by the 1730s, consumption in London had risen to the equivalent of 2 pints per week per Londoner.

Politicians and religious leaders argued that gin drinking encouraged laziness and criminal behaviour. In 1729, Parliament passed a Gin Act which increased the retail tax to 5 shillings per gallon. With the Gin Act 1736 the government imposed a high licence fee for gin retailers and a 20 shillings retail tax per gallon. These actions were unpopular with the working-classes and resulted in riots in London in 1743. The license fee and tax were lowered significantly within a few years.

First imported from the Netherlands in the 1690s, gin began to rival beer as the most popular drink in England. In 1689, the English government opened the distilling trade to all English people who paid certain taxes. Over the next sixty years, however, the government regulated the sale of gin with an inconsistent taxation policy. The ready availability and low cost of gin led to the a massive rise in consumption known as the Gin Craze by the 1730s, consumption in London had risen to the equivalent of 2 pints per week per Londoner.

Politicians and religious leaders argued that gin drinking encouraged laziness and criminal behaviour. In 1729, Parliament passed a Gin Act which increased the retail tax to 5 shillings per gallon. With the Gin Act 1736 the government imposed a high licence fee for gin retailers and a 20 shillings retail tax per gallon. These actions were unpopular with the working-classes and resulted in riots in London in 1743. The license fee and tax were lowered significantly within a few years.

How Gin Bounced Back From Decades of Decline to Become London’s Latest It Drink

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Photographed by Karen Radkai, Vogue, November 1960.

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In the heart of London’s Notting Hill, stands a 19th century public house that juts out of Portobello Road like a robins-egg blue beacon with a blazing marquee—“Proud Purveyors of London Spirits, Victuals & Lodgings.” It’s got four different levels: at the top, a hotel, with a tapas restaurant and bar on the ground floor. But it’s what’s in the basement that’s most important: a working gin distillery, where master craftsmen—and the occasional guest—create bottles of craft Portobello Road Gin.

The establishment is called the Distillery, and anyone can visit it to see all the copper pots and vats, the distillers banging around in their aproned glory. And anyone can make their own botanical blend, sprinkling in citrus notes or spicy notes or notes straight out of a Hogwarts potions class (hello, wormwood). It’s a cool, unique, and distinctly British experience. It’s also an emblem of London’s fast-moving gin renaissance.

The Distillery is just one of 24 working gin distilleries in London proper. (If that doesn’t sound like a lot, consider this: ten years ago, there was one.) And that’s just physical buildings: all over town, the hottest bars and best restaurants are putting gin cocktails at the top of their menus. Liquor stores are stocking craft bottles on their shelves only to watch them fly off. The U.K. Wine and Spirit Trade Association reports that there are at least 100 British gin brands on the market, more than double what there were in 2011 (and the WSTA only started collecting data on the subject in 2010). This year alone, Brits bought almost 55 million bottles, up 44 percent from this time last year. That’s 1.32 billion gin and tonics.

Din Jusufi, bar manager at The Marylebone’s 108 Bar, has witnessed this “ginaissance” first hand. When the bar opened four years ago, they had just six gin brands. Now, they have over 50—soon to be 51, as they’ve decided to make their own batch, called “108 gin.” It’s a “floral gin with hunts of prune and basil and a sweet orange peel finish,” he says, and it’ll be available this summer.

Maybe all this doesn’t sound groundbreaking because London has always been associated with gin. Rumor has it that, in medieval times, peasants downed it to ward off the plague. From there, it became part of their culture—nay, brand: the world’s most famous gins, like Beefeater and Gordon’s, are all British. Simply put: if anyone is going to drink gin, it’ll be the Brits.

But in the 1950s, gin consumption declined in the UK. “It represented all that was wrong with the past, the austerity of the post-war years,” says Jake F. Burger, The Distillery’s master distiller. And with other spirits—especially vodka, thanks to its fresh, youthful marketing campaigns—on the rise, gin was all of a sudden, “the dusty old bottle in your gran’s cabinet.” Even Sean Connery’s James Bond was ordering vodka martinis. London distilleries began to shutter left and right, a combination of rising property values and lack of consumer interest. Soon, only Beefeater remained.

That’s not to say gin was obsolete—perennially popular cocktails like martinis made sure it always had a place. But it wasn’t innovating, or exciting, or interesting. No one was jazzed about gin. So how did it go from stuffy spirit to toast of the town?

Part of it is the pendulum of time—old becomes new, the haze of nostalgia revives things for a new generation. “Perhaps now gin reminds people of that halcyon past, of old Albion and the rose tinted days of yore?” Burger muses. Plus, with prestige shows like The Crown, Downton Abbey, and even the royal wedding, anglomania and the British brand is at an all time high.

Societal factors also played a large part. Miles Beale, chief executive of UK’s Wine and Spirit Trade Association, points to London’s overall culinary transformation, which has seen the city embracing diverse and dynamic food over the past decade. “People have increasingly sophisticated palates and are interested in the locality, provenance and authenticity of what they are drinking made from quality products and botanicals,” he says. Klaus St. Rainer, mixologist and author of Ginspiration, seconds that. “Customers today care more about ingredients and quality,” he says.

But while the natural fluctuation of trends and increased interest in local food and drink can explain the drink’s uptick, it can’t explain its explosion. It would take an unusual legal battle to really bring gin back to its birthplace.

Sam Galsworthy loves gin. He grew up on it—perhaps inappropriately so, he sheepishly adds. But in the early 2000s, he was in the beer business, working for a brewery that stationed him in the United States. There, he witnessed the burgeoning craft brew movement, where people became fascinated by how, where, and by whom their beer was made. They, Galsworthy learned, loved a story. The whole thing made him think. Why wasn’t there anything nearly as exciting going on across the pond? Especially around gin—the spirit of London? “There was an enormous black space in craft gin,” Galsworthy says. And he soon learned why: the Gin Act of 1751.

The Gin Act outlawed small scale gin distilleries in the capital. It made sense at the time—there was a lot of bad bootlegging going on—but over three centuries later, it just meant boutique hopefuls weren’t allowed to open a factory in city limits. If Galsworthy and his business partners wanted to open a gin distillery, they’d have to fight it court.

“Believe me, there was very few people who thought it was a good idea,” Galsworthy said of his legal battle. They lobbied members of Parliament, spoke to trade bodies, and begged anyone who they thought could exert any sort of influence. Finally, after two years, the Gin Act was repealed in 2008. In 2009, Galsworthy and company opened the first distillery in London since 1820. They called it Sipsmith.


The British Gin Act of 1751 (infamously portrayed in William Hogarth’s iconic GIN LANE engraving pictured on left) is one of the most important landmarks in the history of gin production. It marked the beginning of the long historic journey towards becoming the reformed spirit of the 21st century and the classic spirit we so enjoy today.

Gin Lane 1751 is the embodiment of a classic Victorian style gin in its taste profile, juxtaposed with accurate label recreation of the period to create a range of authentic and crafted varietals.

To accomplish this, a partnership was forged with 8th generation London distiller, Charles Maxwell of Thames Distillers, based in Clapham, London.

Hamlet's Delay In Killing Claudius Analysis

Hamlet Final Essay William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, follows Prince Hamlet who has been tried with the troubling task of seeking revenge for his father’s death. The person that Hamlet must kill in order to achieve vengeance is his uncle, Claudius. Many have wondered why Hamlet hesitates to kill his uncle in order to complete his task and that is the topic of discussion within this essay. Probable explanations for Hamlet’s delay are: his desire to remain in touch with his religion and morals his need

The Turbulent History of Gin, As Told By the Internet

It’s been a turbulent couple of centuries for gin, the herbaceous spirit that people either love or hate.

Now known as the favorite spirit of WASPs and Brits, gin has struggled over the past few hundred years to keep its reputation. The rocky history of this juniper-infused spirit includes everything from run-ins with the law in 18th century Britain to helping save the British Royal Army from scurvy in 1867. How many other spirits can claim responsibility for a true medical miracle?

Despite its turbulent history, gin has almost always had a place behind the bar and has experienced a resurgence. But the path to get there has been bumpy and complicated indeed.

17th Century: Genever travels to England

Genever, gin’s malty Dutch predecessor, can likely claim responsibility for catapulting its herbal counterpart to fame in Britain in the mid-17th century. Like many other spirits, gin was used as a common cure for various ailments.

Flemish and Dutch distillers popularized the re-distillation of malt wine in the early 1600s and added elements like juniper, anise and coriander for flavoring. These concoctions were sold in pharmacies as a cure for kidney and stomach problems, gallstones and gout (not unlike whiskey, and to much the same effect). Eventually, varying types of these drinks made their way to Britain, introducing a very thirsty population to the joys of gin.

1751: Gin Lane

The rampant consumption of gin that resulted from the government encouraging the distilling industry over the past hundred years and, for the most part, operating in an unregulated market, was a recipe for moral disaster, particularly among the lower classes. By 1720, nearly 25 percent of all London households produced or sold gin. In the mid-1700s, some decided it was time for a change.

In support of what would become the Gin Act of 1751, which prohibited gin distillers from selling to unlicensed merchants and increased sales fees, artist William Hogarth created Gin Lane and Beer Street. The pair of drawings depicted the 𠇎vils” of drinking gin, contrasted with the benefits of drinking beer. That’s right: anti-gin propaganda. Events around this time tarnished the drink’s character for the next hundred years.

1800s: The Gin and Tonic is born.

As gin recovered from its soured reputation, it proved to have some rather resourceful applications. During the mid-1800s, British citizens and soldiers in India needed a way to protect themselves from malaria. It was discovered that cinchona bark, which produced quinine that could prevent and treat malaria, was the answer.

By the 1840s, Slate reports, Brits in India were using 700 tons of cinchona bark a year. Since quinine was bitter (ever tasted tonic on its own?) and the powder they used not very easy to drink when simply mixed with water, they eventually began adding gin.

Even Winston Churchill recognized the benefits of the drink, saying, “The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.”

1867: The Gimlet is born.

Malaria isn’t the only disease gin was responsible for curing (okay, so gin’s not the responsible party in either case, but you know what we mean). Scurvy was also a great offender in the 1800s, particularly with British sailors. Because scurvy can be prevented with a daily dose of vitamin C, the Merchant Shipping Act of 1867 required ships to carry lime juice, which was preserved with the addition of rum and rationed out to sailors.

1867 was also the birth year of Rose’s Lime Juice—which was much different then than it is today. Because lime juice didn’t taste fantastic on its own, the sailors added gin. This effectively created what we now know as the Gimlet, a name that likely came from the eponymous tool that was used to open the casks of lime juice (or, possibly, from a naval surgeon named Sir Thomas Desmond Gimlette).

1882: The Martini is born.

Sadly, there are no medicinal benefits to the Martini. The cocktail has, however, played a large role in popular culture. In 1882, arguably the most classic of all classic cocktails, made from gin, vermouth and orange bitters, appeared in print for the first time (though there was some debate about the name).

It apparently struck a chord with drinkers and stuck—hard—leading to appearances in James Bond, and, most recently, Mad Men. You𠆝 also be remiss to forget the Martini boom of the 1990s. While Cosmos and Appletinis are not actually variations on the classic trio of ingredients, the famous cocktail nonetheless inspired its own category.

1920 to 1933: Prohibition & Bathtub Gin

Gin once again has an ugly run-in with the law during the Great Experiment in the United States. Because the spirit is easy to produce by infusing neutral spirit with botanicals like juniper and coriander, thirsty imbibers began making it in their bathtubs. This likely spurred the popularity of gin-based drinks in the early to mid-20th century, including the Martini, French 75, Gin Rickey and Orange Blossom.

The stuff even inspired the name of New York speakeasy Bathtub Gin.

2010s: Gin is finally on the up and up.

Re-popularized during the classic-cocktail resurgence, gin has made quite the comeback. Bartenders have mastered century-old cocktails made with gin, and distillers have resurfaced styles like Old Tom and Malacca, as well as experimented with everything from barrel-aging to unexpected flavorings (saffron gin, anyone?).

Historians like David Wondrich (who helped unearth the secrets of Old Tom to create Ransom’s bottling) are still uncovering new and exciting facts about the spirit every day, and it’s now clear that the spirit’s turbulent past has helped shaped the way we drink today.

Watch the video: In Our Time: S1913 The Gin Craze Dec 15 2016 (August 2022).