After delving into the pre-history of the gin craze, it’s now time to examine the main impact of this huge event in the journey of gin. We will also be covering our gin of the week, Portobello Road and creating the Pegu Club cocktail.
For the first instalment of the Gin Craze, click here!
Up to this point, we’ve witnessed all of the elements come together, starting with the migration of the knowledgeable monks to the urban centres of England. The awareness of juniper, thanks to the Dutch passion for Genever was expedited by the reign of William of Orange who made the distillation of spirits easier than ever. And a crash in the price of corn was the last piece of the puzzle.
AN INFAMOUS LIQUOR
The word gin was defined in the Oxford dictionary in 1714 as ‘an infamous liquor’, which was quite the understatement! As Bernard Maudeville, author of ‘The Fable of the Bees’, writes in the same year,
‘… nothing is more destructive, either in regard to the health
or the vigilance and industry of the poor’.
London at the time was not a city with streets paved of gold, and it was the poor who were most affected by this cheap vice. The death rate exceeded the birth rate, but the population was kept steady thanks to the ever-expanding British Empire; bringing waves of migrants from other colonies. Families were kept in poor living conditions; commonly single rooms without access to clean water or sanitation. A new-born baby had less than 80% chance of making it to the age of two and many of the graveyards, unceremoniously known as ‘poor-holes’, were overfilled. It was no wonder London’s inhabitants were set to drown their sorrows.
Drinking gin was the fastest road to escapism. The ‘gin’ was cheaper than bread, highly addictive, and masked with a multitude of poisonous ‘flavour-enhancers’. By 1720, 90% of English spirits were being distilled in London and less than 10% were exported. It was all being drunk by a population of less than 600, 000.
The government needed to stem the tide or face an epidemic. And so, came the Gin Acts.
(TO BE CONTINUED!)
PORTOBELLO ROAD GIN
A gin with a great connection to Leeds. The recipe was concocted by Jake Burger who used to run the notorious drinking institution Jake’s Bar on Call Lane.
When the company expanded to London, their first site was a refurb of an old pub, The Portobello Star. Once established, they opened a tiny space above the upstairs christened the ‘Ginstitute’ – a mini-museum dedicated to everything gin including its production. ‘Ginterns’ could go along to learn the history and make their recipe to take home using the 30-litre alembic that resided within.
Naturally, having a still on-site, Jake and co-owners Ged and Paul had experimented creating a gin of their design. When it came to large scale production, they approached Charles Maxwell, of Thames Distillery fame, with their 10 botanicals recipe. Minds met and the group settled on a recipe of nine botanicals (ditching the 10th suggestion, cardamom). Portobello Rd gin was born – a bold, contemporary expression of a London Dry with subtle spice, clean on the palette.
The bottle has a striking classic design thanks to the talents of David Adrian Smith – a vintage glass signage specialist.
For our drink, we will be recreating the Pegu Club cocktail. Born in a gentleman’s club of the same name for the ex-pats in British colony Rangoon, Burma. It first appears in Harry MacElhone’s 1923 recipe book, ABC of mixing cocktails. It is also featured in the Savoy Cocktail Book.
Be sure to join us every Friday on Blind Tyger Leeds Instagram for Gin Club!