The Greeks and the Romans often used Juniper berries to treat a number of ailments from headaches to toothaches and to promote athletic vitalilty. (So Performance enhancing drugs are no new thing!)
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During Medieval times Juniper berries were stuffed into masks to fight the Black Death (1346-1353), a practice which continued until well into the seventeenth century, when plague doctors wore distinctive masks with long beaks filled with herbs and aromatics, including juniper to protect them from the disease. At the time it was believed that the Great Plague (1665) was caused by bad odours – hence the masks , however, as juniper is a natural flea repellant (and as it was fleas that were spreading the plague) they were indeed protecting themselves.
The Beginnings of Gin
The Dutch were drinking “Juniper berry Water” recreationally in the sixteenth century, however this was made with distilled wine and it was only when they were unable to import enough wine (partly due to the “Little Ice Age “and partly due to politics) that they began to distill with grains. This grain based juniper water is known as Genever and is still available today.
Gin in London
William of Orange ascended to the British throne in February 1689. Having come from The Hague in the Netherlands he was a big fan of Genever and Brandy but as he had declared War on France, French Brandy was no longer available for import. Being a canny lad and not one to miss out on a tipple he passed
“The Act for Encouraging the Distilling of Brandy and Spirits from the corn”.
Now anyone could distill and the floodgates opened. Britain saw a 400% increase in gin production. Everyone from everywhere drank gin. Not only could you buy it in taverns public houses and gin shops but from chandlers, barrows and hawkers. By 1730 gin consumption had reached 3 million gallons and opposition to rid the streets of gin was gathering momentum.
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A gin Act was passed in 1736 in a bid to drive gin out :
- £50 licence for selling distillied spirits
- Duty of £1 per gallon
- £100 fine for unlicensed retailers
- £10 fine for street sales
- Illegal to sell less than 2 gallons wholesale