The History of Gin – A Botanical Saga

Fernie Distillers Prospector Gin.jpg

Character and integrity is formed from both the sum of one’s parts, and the narrative of one’s past.  Gin is a complex fellow and has a colourful history. As we proudly launch our first small batch gin, we feel that it is only fair to share the story of this wonderful elixir.  The gin we know today has countless faces and flavours, but has worn many other hats over the centuries too:

Gin the Doctor

900 years ago, distillation was invented in the Middle East, and gradually moved its way towards Europe.  When the Black Death struck in the 1300s, a distant predecessor of our much loved modern day gin began its journey as a wildly popular ‘medicine’, said to ward off the Plague.  Of course, using juniper to mask the taste of harsh raw spirits did nothing for bubonic pustules, but one would hope that it at least eased the mental anguish of its victims.

Gin the Soldier

In the 1500s, English soldiers fighting in Antwerp became enamoured with the calming effects of a local Dutch drink called ‘genever’, a re-distilled malt spirit flavoured with juniper berries.  Before charging into battle, the troops would galvanise themselves with a generous nip (or three) of ‘Dutch Courage’. Little wonder the war lasted 80 years.

Gin the Politician

When William of Orange took the English throne in 1689, he introduced heavy taxes on imported spirits from the continent, in an effort to weaken their economy.  At the same time, he brought in the ‘Corn Laws’, which provided tax breaks on spirit production in the UK. This catapulted the country into something of a distilling frenzy, culminating in the price of a pint of gin dropping below the price of a pint of beer (!).  

Gin the Disgrace

Predictably, the party got pretty wild for a while during the hazy ‘gin craze’.  But the hangover was one of the biggest in Britain’s history, and in a catastrophic lack of regulation, the effects of adding turpentine, sulphuric acid and other goodies to the distilling process became clear.  ‘Mother’s ruin’ wreaked havoc on so many minds and lives that the government was forced to act, clamping down on production by bringing in extortionate distilling licences. Almost overnight, dangerous gin production ground to a halt, but its reputation was in tatters.

Gin the Reformer

It took centuries for gin to fully recover its mojo.  The development of new distilling processes in the 1800’s produced a smoother spirit, and suddenly gin piqued the interest of the upper echelons of society and began its long road to redemption.  On the high seas of the newly created British empire, sailors favoured gin over beer, which would quickly spoil on long voyages. Thus gin earned its sea legs, and on the journey chanced upon exotic companions such as lemons, angostura bitters and quinine-based tonics.

Gin the Prospector

The delicate alchemy of botanicals forged by today’s master distillers is a far cry from gin’s inglorious past.  It is now a clean, pure spirit, enhanced by its rich and mottled story, which can be perfectly flavoured by the distiller or mixologist, or enjoyed in its most honest and raw form.  Fernie has been home to many prospectors over the years, from coal miners to ski hill pioneers to bootleggers. We hope that the classic but distinctive infusion of citrus, juniper and botanicals in our Prospector Gin will carve out a small but well-deserved place for Fernie, in the great history of the wonderful drink that is Gin.

ProductJillian RutherfordGin