It ruined mothers (and fathers) and was an early harbinger of binge-drinking Britain before falling out of favour – and flavour. But now gin is back, thanks to a crop of aromatic new concoctions fuelling the biggest gin craze since the days of William Hogarth.
New micro-distilleries are opening across Britain, in Dumbarton, Scotland, Skiddaw in the Lake District, and beyond. And old ones such as G&J Greenall are inventing "ultra-premium" new blends to cash in on the trend. Industry figures show sales at the top end of the gin market soared by as much as 145 per cent in the past 12 months.
No longer a drink just for grannies, the new concoctions are luring a younger crowd, with gin nights at specialist bars sold out weeks in advance. Julia Forte, owner of the Star at Night in Soho, which hosts the London Gin Club, said business was up by 50 per cent since she started selling only gin.
She credits Hammersmith-based Sipsmith London Dry Gin for kick-starting the trend back in 2009, when it became the first gin to be distilled in the capital for more than 200 years. Many others have followed, including a new gin this weekend from the London Distillery Company.
Warner Edwards, in Harrington, Northamptonshire, has recently joined the throng, and Christian Jensen, the distiller behind Jensen's gin, is about to open a new distillery in Bermondsey, south London, rather than contract out his distillation to the much larger Thames Distillers.
Jamie Baxter, an industry consultant whose own City of London Dry Gin debuted last month, said: "Gin was left behind by vodka but it is becoming trendy. Retailers are showing their support and stocking small-scale brands." He added: "The Government used to prefer a smaller number of larger distillers, so it wouldn't excise small stills but it relaxed its stance six years ago."
There is even a new gin museum, the Ginstitute, in Portobello Road, London, where gin buffs can learn about the ruinous amounts drunk by the 18th-century poor, and aspiring distillers can create their own fusions with combinations of botanicals, from coriander and orris, to liquorice and cassia bark. Not everything works: Jake Burger, self-styled gin instructor, pushes a glass towards me. "Sniff that, but I wouldn't taste it if I were you." I know the smell, but can't quite name it. "Worcestershire sauce. We were working on a Bloody Mary-flavoured martini, but it didn't quite work," he said.
More aromatic gins demand higher-quality mixers: a simple spritz of watered down tonic from a pub spray gun no longer suffices. New brands include 1724, made from quinine grown at 1,724m above sea level, Fentimans and Fever Tree, although Mr Burger said Waitrose own-brand was a perfect, and cheaper, substitute.
Although overall gin sales were roughly flat last year, figures from market analysts at Industry Wine and Spirit Research show volumes of premium gin grew by 43 per cent in the UK in 2011 to 487,000 cases – each containing 12 bottles, or 9 litres of the spirit.
Ian Hart, who ships his Sacred Gin to 14 countries, including Japan and China, saw sales soar by 250 per cent in the last 12 months. He credited the trend for locally made food and drink with helping to increase demand. "It's nice for people to have something produced locally," he added.