Gin likely traces its origins to liquors produced back in the Middle Ages, with references to a spirit flavoured with “genever” referenced in a 13th Century Flemish manuscript. By the 1600s, the Dutch were producing gin in earnest, with hundreds of distilleries in the city of Amsterdam alone.
Gin, like so many things, was originally produced as a medicine. It was distributed by “chemists” for the treatment of ailments such as gout and dyspepsia. Consumed in large enough quantities, it likely did help ameliorate perception of the symptoms associated these issues and many others, such as “Coward’s Fist,” though only for a few hours at a time. Gin gained in popularity doing the Thirty Years’ War when British soldiers fighting on Dutch land were bolstered with “Dutch Courage” by drinking gin.
It didn’t take long for this lovely liquor to hop across the English Channel in a big way. In the latter half of the 17th Century and in the early years of the 18th Century, gin rapidly gained popularity in England, cementing the association it still enjoys with that nation. In fact, by the year 1720, some experts estimate that as many as a quarter of the households in London frequently produced their own gin. The period in the storied city’s history became known as “The Gin Craze,” an era that was so awesome Parliament had to pass no fewer than five major legislative acts over the course of 22 years in a vain attempt to rein in the population’s consumption of gin.
Gin remained popular with the Brits, notable for its use by soldiers and colonials living in lands prone to malaria infections: gin was excellent at masking the unpleasant, bitter flavor of the anti-malarial alkaloid quinine, a necessity for the susceptible foreigners. This medical elixir developed into the Gin & Tonic we know and love to this day.