The Origins of Gin

Popular among the sailing fraternity a gin and tonic has graced many a cockpit after a hard day racing around the cans.  What are the origins of gin and why is gin so popular?


Genever is an alcoholic drink produced through grain distillation and is predominantly flavoured with juniper berries (Juniperus communis). Currently, this beverage is one of the most widely distributed spirits in the industry. All of its products are of different roots, techniques, and flavours, but they are all derived from juniper extract.

Brief History

Since the Medieval Ages, the spirit has gone from herbal medicine to a commercial commodity. The name of the drink originates from the French term genièvre, which literally translates to juniper. The Dutch changed it to genever and the British later shortened it to gin.


In the 17th century, Alchemist Franciscus Sylvius distilled malt spirit with herbs and spices producing a cheap medicine with diuretic properties. The beverage was introduced to British soldiers during the Eight Year’s war as they fought alongside the Dutch. The troops would drink before the battle to keep calm. This gave rise to the famous term ‘Dutch Courage’.

After the introduction of genever, it did not take long before this drink found its way into the English territory. British distillers began making their own version of this spirit. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it gained popularity among many households in London. This period became known as “The Gin Craze”. During this period, a pint of genever was cheaper than a pint of beer. The British government passed several legislative acts in an attempt to control this craze.

Because of the low price of the drink and its availability, England’s poorest people began drinking irresponsibly. A few years later, citizens began to lose their minds and die. As a result, the government introduced the Gin Act of 1736, the distiller’s license was priced at £50 yearly. This high price caused the spirit industry to plunge. In the next 7 years, the government only issued two licenses.

Unfortunately, this beverage became even more popular as distillers produced it illegally. The British government had to repeal the Act of 1736. They lowered the taxes and made sure the drink was sold in reputable locations. Eventually, the craze ended in the 19th century.

Brief Stories of Genever

Sir Francis Chichester, the author of Gipsy Moth Circles the World, attributed his victory to a daily glass of pink genever. Queen Elizabeth II knighted him after he became the first person to successfully circumnavigate the world solo in a sailboat. While he was loading the drink in his Gipsy, Sir Francis was quoted saying that it takes a great sailor to sail drunk. He mentioned that the saddest day during his journey was when the drink ran out.

In the 18th century, the drink was used partly as wage payment to the officers of the British Navy. The sailors would ensure they were not ripped off by lighting a small quantity of genever-soaked powder. This was used to check whether the skimpy Navy had contaminated their portion.

The drink has had a very interesting history surrounding its development and popularity. It’s amazing that the drink is still popular today.

origins of gin

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