Junipers and Monks – the History of Gin!

The history of gin – and some gin tasting as well!

By Jono Oates

There’s nothing better on a warm summer evening than sitting in the garden, or on the patio and sipping a refreshing glass of gin and tonic as the sun goes down. Gin has, in recent times, become more and more popular and is now, once again, one of the nation’s favourite drinks – but where did our everlasting love affair with a good old G&T begin?

In the 1st century AD a Greek physician called Pedanius Dioscoride mixed juniper berries with wine to create a herbal medicine which was supposed to soothe chesty coughs and ailments. In the 11th century Benedictine Monks in Italy also produced a juniper berry and tonic wine mix.

By the 17th century the forerunner of today’s gin was introduced in Holland, where they mixed juniper berries with a malt wine, mainly to help sweeten the taste of the sour wine. The mixture was called genever, and then jenever, and was introduced into Britain at the time of King William III, formerly William of Orange. It was said that the British got so drunk on this new liquor that they could not pronounce the full name due to slurring and the name was shortened to the much easier to pronounce: gin. During the Anglo-Dutch Wars in the 17th century the English troops had seen the Dutch soldiers drinking jenever and had been very impressed with their fighting prowess, seemingly improved by a tot or two of gin – this is where the term ‘Dutch Courage’ comes from.

During the 18th century, the Georgian period, the country became obsessed with drinking gin to excess, helped by its cost which was much cheaper, at the time, than beer. This resulted in the grotesque and disturbing etchings by the artist William Hogarth in 1751, showing the comparative calm of ‘Beer Street’ compared to the murderous chaos of ‘Gin Lane’, including the image of the heavily drunken mother dangling her baby over a flight of steps. This resulted in the Gin Act of 1751 where taxes on gin were raised significantly and licenses to sell it were made harder to acquire.

During the late 20th century gin had become unfashionable but, in the last 20 years it has made a significant return and there are now a wide variety of distillers and a colourful range of standard and flavour infused gins, all accompanied by carefully selected tonics to suit each variety.

For my early evening gin and tonic treat I chose the flavoursome, locally produced, Fifth Spire Gin. The company was started by two friends, Tom and Rory, initially from Tom’s spare room! They now have a gin and cocktail bar on Swan Road, called The Spirit Works. Their gin is produced using two copper stills, one filled with junipers, peppercorns and coriander and the other is loaded with citrus fruits – lemon, lime and grapefruit. I selected a suitable bottle of tonic to go with it, added a sprinkling of black peppercorns to provide a nice ‘crunch’, a line of green olives across the glass rim to dip and munch on, a slice of lime to give the citrus an extra boost and finally a handful of ice cubes to make it even more refreshing. It is a traditional gin, with no extra infusions or add-ons, but is a glorious drink, with a strong and positive flavour, and the citrus fruits are definitely in evidence, giving it a tangy, but not tart, taste.

It seems Britain, and Lichfield, has fallen back in love with gin…and long may that continue!

Fifth Spire Gin, and other cocktails, is currently available for home delivery via their website: or email for further information at:

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