by Zee Krstic
Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.” Which is now yours, Sam.
Slings. Gimlets. And the virtuoso of all cosmopolitan living: the martini. Among other spirits, gin has fueled our city’s never ending detoxification since the eighteenth century. But, as the United States is the cultural melting pot of the world (which also means we ruthlessly thieve many things from foreigners and claim them as our own) our Thursday night hangover actually comes from across the pond.
Although there is no one definite source of creation, the first forms of gin were recorded in the early 17th century in Holland. As the nickname ‘meat-drink-washing-and-lodging’ suggests, gin wasn’t originally intended for our ingestion; as ironic as it may seem, gin was introduced to the public as a treatment for stomach complaints, gout and gallstones. Eventually, to reduce customer’s complaints of taste, Dutch chemists added juniper, another ingredient handy in their arsenal due to juniper’s medicinal properties. Word travels fast. Soon other medieval Europeans began having ‘stomachaches’ of their own. And so gin was born into the consumer market, and well, we thank them for that.
However, it wasn’t until the Brits got their hands on the ‘serf’s elixir’ that gin would become widespread. English troops had a hard time leaving behind their ‘Dutch Courage’ after the Thirty Years’ War, so it’s no surprise that lords and peasants alike became enamored with the concoction after the troops’ homecoming. Seeking yet another source of income for the British Crown, King William III, or Will of Orange, began promoting the distilling of gin at the turn of the 18th century. Any Briton could simply post a notice of production within their squandering village and begin production immediately. Gin quickly outsold beer and ale, which was more expensive, and was even used as payment for services.
Not exactly your weekly paycheck, huh?
Modern gin is redistilled alcohol from agricultural origin with the mandatory presence of juniper berries. However, as many of the British and future Americans would discover, gin can be redistilled many ways ~ such as in the presence of natural sweetners and acids. However, gin, in any form, must simply come from water and natural additives. No true gin will have flavorings or added essences.
It’s no surprise that London’s streets wreaked havoc due to gin’s, shall we say… forthcoming side-effects? It’s like when you turned eighteen, moved to the university, and suddenly you graduate from beers in the basement to vodka in a thermos. The Brits were as sloppy as Lindsay Lohan’s theft skills.
James Burrough, born in 1834, was one of many chemists in the trade of gin. After traveling to the colonies to extend his knowledge on cocktails, he purchased the old gin and liqueur distilling firm of John Taylor & Son of Cale Street of Chelsea in 1863.
He would later trademark his brand of gin made in England: Beefeater, named after the guards standing watch at the Tower of London (beef-eaters).
Beefeater, amongst many other gins, would create chaos as citizens couldn’t have enough. Havoc rocked the streets of London as Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole crafted his ‘Gin Act’ in 1736, which imposed a tax on both gin sales and those who manufactured it. Peasants obviously revolted. I mean, could you imagine some old bastard charging you extra for your weekly apple martini? In the oh so famous words of Bon Qui Qui, ‘I will cut you.’
‘Mother’s milk’ rings true with Americans today seeing as gin was popular amongst the first colonists on our shores. Due to the repeal of the Gin Act of 1736, a new policy was introduced to Britain and her colonies with the help of distillers: reasonably high prices, reasonable excise duties and licensed retailers under the supervision of magistrates. It’s with this policy that gin ruled as the sophisticated spirit of choice in England and would later become a staple of American culture. Gin survived prohibition in speakeasies only to become mainstreamed after World War II as drinking became an American pastime and popular in England between afternoon tea and evening meals. By 1963, Beefeater would become the largest exporter of gin in England and three of every four bottles of gin coming to the United States were Beefeater.
And here we are, citizens of the 21st century, captivated by speared olives in our gin of choice. History repeats itself.
When we step into the urban gin mill aptly named Bathtub Gin, conveniently nestled away in the depths of Chelsea on Ninth Avenue, we are not so different from those peasants in London many years ago. Guzzling their famous Ginger Sling, pulsing to the beat in your slinky garb that barely covers your britney, Bathtub Gin is certainly a modern blast from the past.
When we feel royal, we saunter on down to Whitehall, an elegant establishment located on Greenwich Ave in the West Village. In your finest you can pour over Whitehall’s menu, complete with over one hundred different gins distilled in all corners of the world. But their take on the classic Negroni, stirred with non traditional grapefruit bitters, truly enhances the classic London dry Beefeater gin.
Seeking true London fare? Tories and Patriots alike could find themselves at The Shanty, situated at the forefront on Richardson St in Williamsburg. Modern patrons of The Shanty would be quick to say that the in-house bar of the New York distillery company could easily be another space in the West End. The Sauvetage, a cocktail native to The Shanty made with Dorothy Parker gin, is enough to bring you back to a time of endless gin in London.
From late night escapades to mid afternoon spirits, gin and gin-influenced cocktails continue to dominate the consumer market. Gin will never become lost in the shadow of vodka, or whiskey, but it has secured its spot amongst hard liquors worldwide.
Gin would reinvent itself from the firm favorite of English sods to the elite class in suburban America. It would captivate Americans almost every night in the form of slings, gimlets, and the endless variations of martinis. We can all remember growing up and seeing that little Englishman on the frozen bottle of Beefeater in the freezer. And although we haven’t been buddy-buddy with our English ancestors, they were united in their stumbling, slurring, and drunken stupidity. Poor, rich, tall, short, fat, skinny, British, American; gin, as absurd as it sounds, serves as a final cultural tie between one nation and another. For that reason, we are all unpatriotic in one way or another, if you catch my drift. God Save the Queen!