Skip to content

Time To Take Another Walk Down Gin Lane

2012 January 19

I was reading Lancashire Life whilst back home at my parents’ (stop judging me, it’s the rural North and the Internet doesn’t work properly) when I came across an article about Joanne Moore. Not the glamour girl of the silver screen otherwise known as Dorothy Cook (no relation). This Joanne Moore works for G&J Greenalls, and she’s the world’s only master gin distiller.

It’s an interesting article, and well worth a read, but there’s more to this than wheeling out the tired old saw of “Wow! A woman doing a man’s job!”. However, I do want to offer some heartfelt congratulations to Joanne especially for her signature product Bloom, which is made with notes of chamomile, pomelo and honeysuckle. Chin chin, darling.

Gin for Victory!

For the UK gin is a rather relevant beverage, with its history steeped in that of the Empire (not unlike tea).

An old fashioned print depicting the horrors of gin: a woman sits in the centre of a busy victorian street, her baby abandonned, her breast exposed and her face creased with laughter. Around her everyone is drunk, disorderly and dirty.

Hogarth's famous print "Gin Lane" hardly strikes a classy note

Alongside tea, gin is wrapped up visions of womanhood past and present. No, seriously – so important, so ground shaking is the connection between women and gin that we have our very own gin and tonic perfume. The relationship has, however, been fraught with difficulties.

Gin arrived on our shores in around 1690. By the eighteenth century it had become very popular, culminating in The Gin Craze. Put simply, gin was cheap, strong and easily available, particularly for the urban poor. A lot of gin was drunk, and a lot of poor people got drunk. As is often the case when poor people take drugs, gin was linked to crime, and in the case of poor women, it was linked to promiscuous behaviour and infertility, earning the sobriquet Mother’s Ruin.

Reformers of the time, including William Hogarth, focussed on how gin consumption might be affecting women. This sort of thing is still the case today – with excitable press articles over binge-drinking “ladettes“, the idea of a drunken woman is treated very differently from that of a drunken man. Given that women were supposedly exemplars of correct social behaviour, their bad gin drinking behaviour was treated with something akin to political hysteria, and we all know about the history of that word. In fact, gin’s image was such that the 1751 act of parliament introducing taxation on alcohol was known as the Gin Act and for a while, at least, gin did not touch the lips of any woman who wanted herself to be thought well of.

The Martini Comeback

Why don’t you slip out of those wet clothes and into a dry martini?

Robert Benchley

The rise of gin can probably be attributed to the gin martini. Not the vodka heresy as drunk shaken-not-stirred by 007 (who eschewed the womanly gin connection), but the real deal, made with gin, vermouth and either an olive or a twist of lemon (I recently found out that those slivers of peel are pleasingly known as “dead goldfish” in the bar trade).

A caucasian man and woman dressed in 1930s party clothes admire an image of a gin bottle next to two gin martini cocktails in this advert for Dixie Belle gin

With the invention of the cocktail - and the cocktail dress - gin became a premium product for women

Gin martinis were invented at some point in the mid-19th century, and they oozed class and sex appeal. Gone was the downtrodden image of gin, and here to stay was the limey note (although the martini is an american invention, gin remains very, very British) of superiority in cocktail form. My favourite anecdote is over  Noel Coward‘s recipe for the martini: “filling a glass with gin then waving it in the general direction of Italy”.

With sexy gin came sexy ladies, of course. In popular culture, the gin-drinking lady had shaken off her working class shackles and exchanged them for high heels and a form-fitting cocktail dress. Yet the phantom of criminality still lingered, especially in the States, where during Prohibition cheap, illegal gin was widely available due to the relative ease of making the spirit, giving rise to bathtub gin, so called because you could make it in your bathtub.

And as we know from Hogarth, criminality + gin + women = political difficulties over female sexuality. This time, there are tales to be told with women on both sides of the bar.

The case for Prohibition was being made by the Christian campaigning group known as the Women’s Temperance Movement. On the other side of the fence, we have gin-drinking flappers adorning the aisles in Speakeasies. These women were both working towards different kinds of freedoms, which perhaps have reached their pinnacle in the sex-positive and anti-porn camps of today’s feminist movement.

The anti-gin temperance faction were looking for a way of getting their household money out of the hands of the barkeepers and into their cupboards to feed their children (this from a time when men were the primary breadwinners and their wives were given an allocation of salary to spend on the home and family). The glittery girls in their cocktail dresses were living a lifestyle outside of traditional notions of “home and hearth”.

Gin and I

Now, I’m partial to a gin and tonic, having been brought up to think of it as a “grown up” drink, unlike the fizzy gunk in a bottle presented to us as teenagers in the form of alcopops. Being able to sit down and enjoy – not just drink, but actually enjoy – a well-made gin and tonic was one of the ways in which I knew my tastes had changed from those of a sweet-craving teen into something more adult.  I’m now a bit of a gin aficionado, and gin, in return, is cool.

There’s lots of different sorts of brands, with their own mix of botanicals. There are gin clubs, and many of the beautiful London pubs are reclaiming their heritage as gin palaces. These buildings, with their wood panel divisions and separate entrance ways, marked a time when it was unseemly for a lady to be in a public house, and the ability to drink with discretion, and away from the riff-raff, was valued.

Yet there is still the spectre of Gin Lane hanging over womankind:

The most dangerous drink is gin. You have to be really, really careful with that. And you also have to be 45, female and sitting on the stairs. Because gin isn’t really a drink, it’s more a mascara thinner.

“Nobody likes my shoes!”

“I made… I made fifty… fucking vol-au-vents, and not one of you… not one of you… said ‘Thank you.'”

And my favourite: “Everybody, shut up. Shut up! This song is all about me.” 

Dylan Moran

Gin remains a tricky drink, known for its tendencies to make one tearful, and crying is still sadly a girlish subject, although there are ongoing attempts to make the drink more manly, as seen in the macho advertising for Gordon’s Gin featuring sweary chef Gordon Ramsay.

Now, whilst seeing Captain Shouty pelted with ice and limes is quite entertaining, the obvious message is “gin is a MANLY DRINK for MANLY MEN” with a side note of “take it seriously, this is a foodie subject” to reinforce the quality of the product. Gordon was recently dropped from the campaign, following a decline in sales, which may or may not indicate that, for the time being at least, gin still remains a ‘female’ tipple.

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Stephen B permalink
    January 19, 2012

    And the little old lady who prefers Gin was the nation’s favourite advert of 2011:

  2. Laura permalink
    January 20, 2012

    The original Bond Martini did have gin in it, it also had vodka in it

  3. kirsty permalink
    January 22, 2012

    …another interesting possibility for the ‘mother’s ruin’ epithet was gin’s use to induce abortions, or so i heard.

    significant, much….

  4. July 13, 2012

    Gin is enjoying widespread appeal and enjoying it isn’t about testosterone-fuelled machismo, but about elegant sophistication. Gordon’s just cottoned-on to that and changed their marketing campaign to reflect their target demographic.

    There is a certain stigma around gin though. I remember an old friend of mine’s reaction when he heard that gin had become my favoured tipple; he said “There was me thinking that gin was the tipple of choice for us gentlemen of a certain persuasion”.

    I do wonder how much of the misfortune of Gordon’s is down to Ramsay and how much is down to the plethora of new (and better) gins hitting the market.

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS