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Distil my beating heart The Much-Lamented Death of Madam Geneva The 18th-century Gin Craze Patrick Dillon 354pp Review To establish a personal connection with the 18th-century gin trade you have only to look at the label of your own supply Beefeater Booth Gordon Tanqueray All descend from the first companies of distillers who having grown very rich on gin understandably and on the whole successfully resisted attempts to limit its consumption Distilling had its origin in alchemy Eventually it was discovered that you could add flavours to the raw spirit and make it drinkable Its early use was primarily medicinal but from about the time of the Restoration one drank it for fun if that is the word The English had acquired a Dutch king who encouraged the recreational use of gin as distilled from 1572 on by his compatriot Bols Compounding the spirit with say juniper berries or aniseed though that later became very un-English provided a beverage desirable in itself and also an economic benefit since it was distilled from the produce of native agriculture rather than from the grape Later the government enthusiastically supported English farmers by banning the import of brandy but smuggling made it available to those who could afford it - which was one reason gin was the drink of the poor and brandy that of the rich Patrick Dillon has researched the history of the 18th-century gin craze in admirable detail His material is serious history but his manner is rather slangy and his tedious insistence on personifying gin as Madam Geneva is enough to drive one to drink At the height of the craze London in any case not a salubrious city was full of back-street dram shops and pedlars selling pennyworths Illicit stills competed with the big distillers - in 1726 there were 1500 stills in London and 6287 places where gin was sold much of it adulterated with turpentine alum and sulphuric acid
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