Gin has a murky and checkered past, but where did it come from?
Well, juniper berries have seen widespread use for centuries; the Egyptians used them to treat tapeworms, the Greeks used juniper to increase physical stamina in athletes and the Romans used it as an inexpensive bulking agent for the expensive black pepper.
In the 11th century, Italian monks were using juniper berries to flavor crudely distilled spirits and was used as a treatment for the bubonic plague. There are various accounts of the distillation of juniper berry wine as was common across large parts of Western Europe through the ages.
However, the man generally accredited with the invention of gin is the Dutch physician Franciscus Sylvius. Rather than gin, it was then known as Jeneve and was far from his only achievement; he established the first academic chemical laboratory and founded the Iatrochemical School of Medicine, which expounded that diseases were the result of chemical actions. His research into the brain led him to the discovery of the Sylvian Fissure (also known as the lateral suculus) and he was a keen art collector. Not a bad patriarch for gin, eh?
Sylvius was credited with the invention of Jeneve in 1650 and it was sold in pharmacies as a treatment for a catalogue of kidney and gastric disorders across Holland. English soldiers fighting in the Eighty Years’ War were said to have taken a liking to the spirit, so much so, that through the bravery that mild inebriation brought, the term Dutch Courage was born. However, since the Eighty Years’ War ended in 1648, there is some historical discrepancy between these two accounts.
Whatever the particulars though, gin was bought to us by the Dutch and popularised by English soldiers; and the English have been grateful ever since.
Watch this space for the continuing saga of gin.