A wry view of life for the world-weary

Gin o’Clock – Part Fourteen


My exploration of the fascinating world that is the ginaissance continues with a look at Pink Gins, following the very welcome gift of a bottle of Gin Lane 1751 Victoria Pink Gin, for my birthday some weeks back. This thoughtful gift allows me to examine pink gin and a distiller whose name is redolent with the history of my favourite spirit.

Let’s deal with pink gin first. The expansion and protection of the British Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries was very much dependent upon the strength and expertise of the Royal Navy. The problem with being on board a ship, particularly a relatively small ship as they all were in those days, is that they lurch alarmingly in even the mildest of seas. For Homo Sapiens, principally a land lubber, this led to sea sickness. A high proportion of the crew down with mal de mer impacts the efficiency of the ship as a sailing and fighting unit as well as doing nothing to enhance the fragrance of the air.

In 1824 a German surgeon, Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert, attached to Simon Bolivar’s army in Venezuela , developed the recipe for a tonic which consists of concentrated bitters and took its name from the town in which it was first produced, Angostura. The bitters became commercially available and the British Navy discovered that the tonic was effective in treating sea sickness. The problem is that a slug of Angostura bitters tastes dreadful and to make it more palatable to the matelots it was served in a glass of gin which in those days was relatively sweet. The drink was brought ashore and by the 1870s was a firm favourite amongst the upper-class gin drinking fraternity.

One of the finest contrasting pairs of prints, at least from a drinker’s perspective, are William Hogarth’s Gin Lane and Beer Street, the former showing gin sots ruined by their addiction to the foreign spirit and the latter showing happy and healthy natives nourished by the ale of England. The prints were on sale in February 1751 and were part of the campaign to put a stop to the gin craze. To give an illustration of the extent of the problem a quarter of the properties in the parish of St Giles were gin houses. The Gin Act, passed in 1751, prohibited distillers from selling the spirit to unlicensed merchants and imposed high fees on those seeking to sell the stuff. Soon gin was beyond the pocket of the ordinary man.

Gin Lane’s pink gin uses a 100% pure grain base to which are added eight botanicals – juniper, orris root, Seville orange, star anise, cassia bark, angelica, Sicilian lemon and coriander. The bottle is stubby, almost an inverted bell with an ornate printed label in a pseudo-Victorian style. My bottle is number 5506. The stopper is a cork and to the nose it is has a peppery, spicy flavour. The spirit is clear with an orange, pink hue and to the taste the juniper is dominant but then the spices and citrus flavours of the orange and lemon also come into play. There is a tingling sensation to the drink and the aftertaste is predominantly one of juniper and spice. It was crisp and well balanced and very refreshing.

It was great to be able to extend the styles of gin I have at my disposal and to learn a bit of history along the way. Until the next time, cheers!


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