Fifty Pounds Gin takes its name from one of the darkest times in Britain’s past and one of the most controversial in the history of Gin. When Dutch-born William of Orange took the English throne in 1688, England unwittingly (and unintentionally) began its descent into one of the first recorded drug epidemics – with Gin at the heart of it.
By the end of the 17th century, England was at war with France. To protect the economy and help the war effort, the government put a heavy duty on the import of spirits and lifted restrictions on domestic spirit production.
In the years that followed, continued legislation and other social reasons lead to the increased production. It didn’t happen overnight, nor was there a single moment that tipped the balance and lead to the swathe of poor quality spirits being made in the UK.
By the 1720’s the effects of cheap and poor quality spirits were devastating. Gin was blamed for misery, rising crime, prostitution, madness, higher death rates and quickly falling birth rates. If you are interested in further reading – in her book “Craze: Gin and Debauchery in an Age of Reason”, Jessica Warner offers numerous examples of the pandemic taking place through London and the horrors that unfolded.
In one notorious case, in 1734 a woman named Judith Dufour collected her two-year-old child from the workhouse, strangled him, dumped the body in a ditch and sold his new set of clothes for 1s and 4d to buy gin.
As public outcry grew, the government was forced to take action. The 1736 Gin Act taxed retail sales at 20 shillings a gallon and made selling gin without a £50 annual license illegal. In the next seven years, only two licenses were taken out.
Whereas reputable sellers were put out of business, bootleggers thrived. Bootlegged gin, which went by colourful names such as ‘Slappy Bonita’, was more likely to be flavoured with turpentine than it was juniper. At worst, it was poisonous, containing horrifying ingredients such as sulphuric acid (known at the time as Oil of Vitriol).
Thankfully this passage in Gin’s sometimes dark history came to end and by 1756, sobriety and reason prevailed once more. Fifty Pounds Gin is named after this infamous Gin Act, but fortunately for us all, it’s not a recreation of a recipe from that era and is of much higher quality.
Launched in 2010 and made at Thames distillery, Fifty Pounds Gin is made with a grain spirit base where the botanicals are steeped in this alcohol for at least two days, after which it is distilled. The exact botanical line is kept secret but thought to contain 11 in total. The first eight are relatively common – Juniper, angelica root, coriander, liquorice root, grains of paradise, lemon, orange rind and savoury. Interestingly, while savoury is less spoken about, it has become a part of quite a few gins in recent years, as it is a favoured botanical of Thames Master Distiller, Charles Maxwell (who also makes other gins for different owners). The three other botanicals are a fiercely kept secret although to taste our guess is that nutmeg and cassia bark seem likely candidates for two!
Made in batches of around 1000 bottles at a time, Fifty Pounds Gin is a London Dry Gin through and through. AT 43.5% the aroma is classic with lemon and piney juniper coming to the fore. To taste, Fifty Pounds Gin is more assertive – Juniper is followed by coriander, rounded citrus and angelica. With a long finish (which is why we think nutmeg), the flavours carry well.
The bottles are inspired by the first gin bottles to have been created, known as case gin. Each bottle bears the individual distillation batch number, together with the year that it was distilled. It’s a nice touch and the wide necked bottles are both eye catching and continue the historical background.
With an on-trade focus for 2015 planned and continued exports to Spain and other countries, volume looks set to grow steadily for Fifty Pounds Gin. As always in a highly competitive Gin market – it rests to be seen if it has the provenance and authenticity to make an impact. Charles Maxwell and Thames distillery are highly regarded as both authentic and of impeccable pedigree so they can indeed rely on this as a trump card. However, the third party nature of contract distilling and the fact that Thames make over 70 other gins who claim the exact same provenance and expertise as Fifty Pounds, nullifies any point of difference for the brand.
Fifty Pounds Gin’s strongest card to play is its packaging combined with it’s clever use of an iconic moment in the history of gin. Both are very cool. With a bit more transparency about its contents and how it’s made, a more up-to-date website, a more active social media presence – essentially, a bit of love – the gin could establish itself quite easily. Without that, much like the Gin Act it is named after, it could well fade to the archives of the history, all-be-it with much less infamy.
Fifty Pounds Gin makes for a good gift as both the bottle design and the gin it contains are really good quality. Hopefully, with the renewed interest in the brand and ambitions to grow it in the UK and US to match the impressive visibility in Spain, Fifty Pounds Gin should be a gin that many will get the pleasure of treating themselves to.
For more information about Fifty Pounds Gin, visit their website: fiftypoundsgin.co.uk
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