In 70 A.D., Pedanius Dioscorides, a Greek physician and pharmacologists, whose classical works of modern botanical terminology were used for over 16 centuries, was one of the first people to record a detailed description of the use of juniper berries steeped in wine to combat chest ailments. In 1055, it’s believed that the Benedictine Monks of Solerno, Italy included a recipe of tonic wine infused with juniper berries in the ‘Compendium Solernita’. Fast forward to the 13 Century and gin likely traces its origins to liquors produced back in the middle ages, with refences to a spirit flavoured with genever in Flemish manuscript. In fact, gin gets its name from the Dutch word for juniper, which is genever.
By the 1600s, the Dutch were producing gin in earnest, with hundreds of distilleries in the city of Amsterdam alone. This liquor consisted of a malt wine base and a healthy amount of juniper berries to mask its harsh flavour.
Gin, like many other well-known brands, was first produced for medicinal reasons. It was distributed by chemists for the treatment of ailments such as gout and dyspepsia. Consumed in large enough quantities, it likely did help the symptoms associated with these issues and many others, such as “Coward’s First,” though only for a few hours at a time. Gin gained in popularity during the 30 years’ war, when the British soldiers fighting on Dutch land were bolstered with “Dutch Courage” by, consuming the juniper spirit.
It didn’t take long for this spirit to travel across the English Channel and by the latter half of the 17 Century and in the early years of the 18 Century, gin rapidly gained popularity in England, cementing the association is still enjoys. In fact, by 1720, some experts estimate that as many as a quarter of the households in London frequently produced their own gin.
It is believed that the first known written use of the word ‘gin’ appears in a 1714 book called ‘The Fable of the Bees, or Private Vices, Publick Benefits’ by Bernard Mandeville. The book consists of a series of essays and poems arguing the necessity of vice as the formation of the merging capitalist economy and acts as an insight into English history in the early 1700s.
Mandeville cites gin in the book as “…the infamous liquor, the name of which derived from Juniper-Berries in Dutch, is now, by frequent use… shrunk into a Monosyllable, intoxicating Gin.”