Gin Club Session #8

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Time for the third part of our gin craze tale as we continue to explore this monumental period in London’s drinking history. We’ve picked a historical gin to go with it, Plymouth dry, and we’ll be making the pre-cursor to the dry martini, the marguerite

So far, we have discussed the lead up to gin craze and those early years of the epidemic in the 1700s.  

GIN LANE

William’s Hogarth’s depiction of the gin craze in 1751 paints a graphic portrayal of the streets of London. Anti-gin marketing aside, there was a reason for concern with around 17,000 gin shops open to the public. In London, over 10 million gallons of gin were consumed during that single year by a population of just 700, 000.

There was more to the illustration than just a worrying portrayal of modern times. Many troops had returned from fighting abroad and the government was concerned about them turning to the cheap allure of Madam Geneva. There was also the added pressure from the beer brewers. Many had seen their profits dwindle in the shadow of gin’s rise and there were rumours that they helped fund Hogarth’s propaganda in the first place. Henceforth came the creation of ‘beer street’; a simpler, more appealing counterpart to the ‘gin lane’ etching, full of wholesome, happy scenes.

Take a closer look at the depiction. The eye is drawn to a central female figure; an inebriated mother, dropping her child in favour of what looks like a snuff box. Motherly figures, usually seen as the pillars of a community, were shown here as symbols of depravity. Describing the spirit as ‘mother’s ruin’ was a powerful way to associate gin with the decline of polite society.   

In the next session, we will conclude the gin craze with the notorious gin acts.

(TO BE CONTINUED!)

PLYMOUTH GIN

Until 2015, Plymouth gin had a geographical indication (like cognac or champagne). A gin bearing the name ‘Plymouth gin’ had to be made in that location with Dartmoor water. Unfortunately, due to a change in legislation and a lack of urgency on the brand’s side, this is no longer the case.

This takes nothing away from the great heritage of the site at Plymouth. There are parts of the distillery shop and bar on site dating back to the 1560s. One of its original uses was to provide lodging for the Mayflower pilgrims before their journey to Virginia. This inspiration can be seen through the branding on the bottle.

Another element of the brand concerns the Black Friars, part of a Dominican monastery that had supposedly been on site. However, there is very little evidence to back this up.

For a gin with so much provenance, we had to pick a cocktail to match.

The history of the Martini has many variants, especially between the years of 1882 and 1910. We will cover all of them at some point! Here we focus on an incarnation that called for Plymouth as the gin of choice, the marguerite.

There are numerous references to the cocktail, but in Stuart’s ‘Fancy Drinks and How to Mix Them’, printed in 1904, we see a clear shift from the sweeter martinis into the drier styles. 

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