Gin’s history has plenty of swashbuckling, sword-fighting and booze smuggling to go around – but you might not know that women, along with drinking it, have played a pivotal role in the history of our favourite spirit. In fact, you can trace the history of gin through these fascinating females.
QUEEN ANNE (1665-1714)
History hasn’t always been kind to Queen Anne, the last and arguably most tragic of the Stuart monarchs, but gin lovers can thank her for the development of gin distillation in England.
Anne was the sister-in-law of William of Orange, a Dutch prince who brought genever with him to England when he claimed the throne from Anne’s father. At a time of conflict with France, brandy was unpopular; the juniper-based spirit nicknamed ‘Dutch courage’ was a natural replacement.
Queen Anne herself was a fan of gin, popularising it amongst the British people, and her government ministers were partial to a tipple, too. In fact, they reduced taxes on the distillation of spirits and allowed unlicensed distillers to make gin, letting cheap, potent gin flood a market once dominated by expensive French brandy.
JUDITH DUFOUR (EXECUTED, 1734)
As gin became cheaper than beer and brandy, it became England’s go-to spirit – especially for the working classes, who used cheap gin to dampen their hunger pains, stave off freezing temperatures and forget the economic brutality that ruled their daily lives.
The scale of gin consumption sent ‘respectable’ England into a panic, dubbing the working class passion for gin a ‘craze’ and decrying the moral bankruptcy encouraged by ‘mother’s ruin’. The name of Judith Dufour, widely believed to be the inspiration behind Hogarth’s famous ‘Gin Lane’, became a byword for the chaos of the Gin Craze.
Dufour was a poor woman accused of strangling her toddler, leaving his body in a ditch and selling his new clothes, which had been provided by a workhouse, for an ounce of gin. She was hanged in 1734, and moral outrage over her case and others like it led to a crackdown on the distillation and sale of spirits known as the Gin Acts. The gin craze was well and truly over
ADA COLEMAN (1875-1966)
Commonly considered one of the greatest mixologists of all time, Ada Coleman was also one of just two women in history to work as head bartender at the world-famous American Bar at The Savoy Hotel, within earshot of the bells of St Martin’s.
The daughter of a golf club steward, Coleman was offered a role as a bartender at 24 – the upward age limit for barmaids at that time. But her talent for mixing and inventing cocktails was impossible to ignore, and she worked her way up the ladder. By 1903 she was leading the bartending team at The Savoy.
During her illustrious career, Coleman served the likes of Mark Twain, Charlie Chaplin and Marlene Dietrich. But it was for comedic actor Charles Hawtrey that Coleman devised her most famous creation: the Hanky Panky, a combo of gin, vermouth and Fernet Branca still served all around the world to this day, cementing gin’s reputation as the go-to cocktail spirit.
DOYENNES OF DISTILLING (2010 – PRESENT DAY)
Women are widely acknowledged as the driving force behind the new boom in craft gin, but you may not know that talented women are also distilling some of our favourites.
Rachel Hall at Lighthouse, Tina Warner-Keogh at Warner Edwards and Kirsty Black at Arbikie are just three of the women making stunning gin around the world. From New Zealand to England to Scotland and beyond, this new breed of female distillers is taking the spirits world by storm. Long may it continue!