In London, gin comes roaring back

Not for the first time, I’m confused. My search for a gin distillery has led me to a quiet residential street in West London. Can this really be the place? I check my dog-eared A-Z map again. Yeah, this is right: The garage in front of me — little more than a lean-to, really — is the spot.

This is the home of Sipsmith, the first copper-pot distillery to open in London in almost 200 years. This is where London’s recent gin revival began....

It’s a great story, not least because London, home of the world’s most popular gin style (London Dry), is so inextricably linked to the juniper-infused spirit. The city’s residents have been knocking the drink back in varying quantities ever since the end of the 17th century, when William of Orange arrived from the Netherlands bearing muscular Protestantism and a drink called Jenever. William’s obsequious courtiers soon began drinking Jenever, and his thirsty subjects followed suit. By the middle of the 18th century, everyone was drinking gin, and plenty of people were making it: One house in every four in the City of London reputedly contained distilling equipment.

This was the era of “Gin Madness,” and it didn’t end well. The drink became so cheap that it represented a serious health hazard, at least if you believe William Hogarth, the British artist who produced a very famous and frequently reproduced etching called “Gin Lane” in 1751. The image illustrates the multitudinous ill effects of drinking gin: Most notable is the central image of a mother, her face grotesquely aged and her legs scarred due to malnutrition, who in her gin-addled stupor is allowing a child to fall from her lap to its likely death....

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