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Gin-on-Thames: a potted history of gin

Drinking a tipple from our gin menu while overlooking the River Thames harks back to a time when gin and the river went hand-in-hand. Here’s why.

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Gin is first thought to have been invented in the 13th century, although it’s only in the 17th century when Dutch and Flemish distillers are known to have started distilling malt spirits and juniper to produce gin in significant batches. The alcohol was quickly transported to England and thousands of gin shops sprang up across the country.

The ‘Gin Craze’ followed, when many people overconsumed gin because of its cheaper price compared to other alcohol. In the 1730s, consumption of gin was still at its height when a new trend started – the London ‘Frost Fairs’. In these days, the River Thames regularly froze over during the winter. Londoners would make an occasion of it, setting up stalls selling gingerbread and hot gin, including the incredibly strong ‘Old Tom’. As such, the River Thames became synonymous with the world of gin!

In the years that followed, the government stepped in with various Acts of Parliament to try to limit the escalating social problems associated with gin. As a result, an expensive gin distillery licence came into force, while people were compensated with generous rewards if they shared information on illegal gin operations. This eventually led to the waning of the ‘Gin Craze’ and the production of higher quality gin, making it a more refined drink. This led neatly on to the much-loved gin and tonic combination. This first emerged in the tropical British colonies, when a mixture of gin, sugar and lime was used to mask the flavour of quinine, which was used to treat malaria.

England has seen a recent resurgence in the popularity of gin, thanks to a number of high-end distillers producing innovative gins in small batches. London and the surrounding area is still a particular hub for gin, with a fifth of England’s gin distilleries located in the London area. Continuing the connection between gin and the River Thames, a number of distilleries have chosen to locate near the River Thames, including Sipsmith’s in Chiswick, City of London Distillery near Blackfriars Bridge and Jensen’s Gin in Bermondsey. Many botanicals used in gin-making today can often be found along the River Thames too.

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