The History of Gin and its Medicinal Origins

It’s a hot day, you’ve worked up a good sweat while cleaning the house, tending to the garden, or maybe you just want to have something to drink while you’re relaxing. Gin is famous worldwide, from a satisfying Gin and tonic to fancy cocktails. However, Gin has a fascinating history, so today, I will dive into the origins of this fantastic spirit.

Gin was first used as medicine by monks and alchemists across Europe in the 13th century. Gin made its way to England during the 17th century, introduced as a Dutch and Belgian liquor used for medicine. Gin rose to popularity after a ban on French brandy was put in place in 1688 by William of Orange during the Glorious revolution.

Naturally, Gin’s entire history can’t be covered in two or three sentences. Usually, you’ll find that Gin is used in combination with other drinks to create a much more satisfying cocktail. Let’s dive deeper into the origins of Gin, what it’s made from, and how it has evolved and changed across history.

Where does Gin come from?

Gin arose in the 13th century as a medicinal drink in the Netherlands and Belgium, with the name of Jenever. Jenever was made from the distillation of malt wine and herbs. Usually, with some juniper mixed in. This combination gave the drink a strong flavor. Juniper and other spices were specifically chosen because of their supposed medicinal properties to heal the human body.

In the 16th century, Gin began to rise in popularity. During this period, Gin spread to Southern France and many other European countries. It was believed to have medicinal benefits for gout, gallstones, and stomach problems.

In the early 19th century, British officers in India were given quinine medicine. To help dilute the bitter taste of quinine, they added their gin ration, water, and sugar to make a cocktail easier to consume. This Gin mix was the first appearance of the world-known cocktail, Gin and tonic.

In the 18th century, London had over 7000 shops selling Gin and other spirits. Gin began to grow in popularity and lead to a rise in the number of drunks. Eventually, a ban on many spirits was put in place, and Gin saw its price artificially inflated by the prohibition in the hope of reducing alcoholism. However, this ban soon created riots, and illegal selling by distillers ensured that the drink would become a mainstay in the world of spirits.

Who is the Inventor of Gin?

Mad scientist

It’s believed that Dutch doctor Franciscus Sylvius de la Boe was the inventor of Gin and did so in the 16th century. He was the first person to make Jenever (Gin) using Juniper berries, which soon became a medicinal drink. However, as Jenever became more widely known, it was simply used as a spirit of its own.

Only when the Gin migrated to England that the name Genever, or Jenever, was changed to Gin. Due to Gin’s high alcohol level and affordable price, it naturally became trendy. Thousands of distilleries sprouted across England and Europe, making their own variations of Gin.

What is the Oldest Gin in the World?

The oldest Gin in the world is Booth’s Gin. The Booth family started distilling Gin in 1740, and the established date is printed on each bottle. Making Booth’s Gin the oldest Gin in the world.

Plymouth Gin is considered to be the oldest gin distillery that is still in its original location. Originally known as Black Friars Distillery, it’s located in Plymouth, on the exact location where the Dominican Order monastery was built in 1943.

Of course, there are much older jenever distilleries in the world that far outrank any gin distillery found anywhere in England or Ireland. As far as we can trace, the House of Bols Cocktail & Genever Experience is the oldest jenever distiller in the world, founded in 1875. This distillery is the oldest currently active producer of Gin’s father.

Why is it called Gin?

The exact origin of the word can be tough to trace. What is known is that Gin derived from the French word genièvre, Genever, or Jenever, the last two being dutch, with a combination of ginepro. Ginepro is the Italian word for Juniper. The combination of these words and the infusion of Juniper ended in the naming of Gin. You may also refer to Jenever as a Gin, but this only applies to Jenever containing Juniper.

Gin has also been referred to as Mother’s Ruin. Gin got this extremely nasty nickname because of its effect on the peasantry of the United Kingdom. Water was generally not safe to drink because of the inadequate waste systems of the time, and as such, people preferred to drink either beer or distilled drinks. Gin was extraordinarily cheap and addictive, which caused many families to suffer from this spirit’s abuse and alcoholism.

What is a Dutch Gin?

Dutch Gin, or Jenever, is a Juniper flavored liquor made in the Netherlands, Belgium, and adjoining areas in northern France and northwestern Germany. Jenever liquor is regulated by the European Union and cannot adhere by the same name if produced in other countries. Jenever can have varying levels of alcohol as well as a broader taste range than Gin.

Jenever liquor is still made to this day and will have different tastes, smells, and uses depending heavily on the berries and herbs that they are infused with. People often think that Jenever is an imitation of Gin made by other countries when, in fact, Jenever paved the way for Gin’s success. You should be aware that if you go to a jenever distillery, you will find different tastes as you would find in a winery.

The most famous town in Holland for making Jenever is Schiedam, where you will find many distilleries still actively making the drink.


Gin is an old spirit descending from an even older father, Jenever, and has gained popularity throughout the world. Gin has been used in more ways than many could imagine, from medicine to various cocktails. Gin has evolved in distilleries, with many of them experimenting on infusing herbs and creating countless varieties and flavors for this spirit.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed this post.

John Antunes

My name is Johnny, and I love Gin. I'm also a software engineer with a passion for technology and blogging.

Recent Posts