Lesley Jacobs Solmonson: London Gin Craze Had Roots in Nascent Consumer Society

Roundup: Talking About History

Lesley Jacobs Solmonson is the author of “Gin: A Global History” and the co-founder of 12bottlebar.com, a website devoted to classic cocktails. The opinions expressed are her own.

Gin has always been big business in England. In the 18th century, as London’s infamous “Gin Craze” unfolded, the spirit was at the center of a debate that helped define the country’s politics and economics -- and created a commercial demand that persists to this day.

The privileged of the 1700s sipped genever, the “original gin” imported from Holland. Desperate to keep up with their betters, the lower classes demanded a gin of their own. As a result, from 1720 to 1751, a storm of unrest swirled around the production, distribution and sale of rotgut booze.

The story of the Gin Craze properly begins with the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which brought William III of Orange to the British throne. He brought with him a hatred of all things French -- he immediately banned the import of Gallic spirits, such as brandy -- and a warring political agenda that required funding. Meanwhile, William’s wealthy landowner friends in Parliament had surplus grain, not to mention an eye for the profit it could make them....

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