Strange how the squeak of a stopper or the invigorating susurration of the tonic bottle being cracked open can make you think. By the time you’ve scooped up a handful of ice cubes, you’re miles or even centuries away.
Consider, for example, that bottle of gin. Civilised thing, isn’t it? The delicate balance of botanicals, the unmistakeable whiff of juniper, the sophisticated ritual associated with the first strong, well-made drink of the evening. Not like beer.
Of course, beer has its place, but surely it’s a less refined one? More Marlborough Street than Mayfair, to put it in Monopoly board terms.
What, then, of Hogarth’s Gin Lane and accompanying Beer Street? Would these be amongst the dark blue of Park Lane or the brown of Whitechapel and Old Kent Road? Why should this excellent spirit ever have been associated with infanticide, starvation, madness, decay and suicide? It’s strong stuff, no doubt about it, but really? And since when, for that matter, was beer so synonymous with industry and thriving commerce? Profound questions, no error.
Whatever the answers, whatever the evils specific or general of the demon Drink, we can reassure ourselves that gin has at least a reputation for fostering innovation. And as that young thruster in the office is so fond of saying, fostering innovation is very much A Good Thing:
Simple pricing - Gin these days will vary in price from about £15 a bottle to somewhere north of £50, and then there’s all the Fever Tree you’ll need, plus a pound or two for limes. Gin shops in Hogarth’s time had two prices: ‘Drunk for a penny, dead drunk and straw to lie on for tuppence’.
The world’s first vending machine - Following the Gin Act of 1736, the Peelers started cracking down on gin shops. (The Government of the day – if one can credit the idea – saw an opportunity to tax something and to deliver a high-handed sermon at the same time. Extraordinary.) A couple of years later, the gin shops responded with a device called the Puss-and-Mew, so that drinkers couldn’t identify the jolly rogues who sold them their delicious gins. This from Read’s Weekly Journal, dated 18th February, 1738: ‘The old Observation, that the English, though no great Inventors themselves, are the best Improvers of other Peoples Inventions, is verified by a fresh Example, in the Parish of St. Giles’s in the Fields, and in other Parts of the Town; where several Shopkeepers, Dealers in Spirituous Liquors, observing the Wonders perform’d by the Figures of the Druggist and the Blackmoor pouring out Wine, have turn’d them to their own great Profit. The Way is this, the Buyer comes into the Entry and cries Puss, and is immediately answer’d by a Voice from within, Mew. A Drawer is then thrust out, into which the Buyer puts his Money, which when drawn back, is soon after thrust out again, with the Quantity of Gin requir’d; the Matter of this new Improvement in Mechanicks, remaining all the while unseen; whereby all Informations are defeated, and the Penalty of the Gin Act evaded.’
So it’s boo to beer and chin-chin to gin, we say.
(With thanks to The Futility Closet)