It was branded the "principal cause of all the vice and debauchery committed among the inferior sort of people", according to magistrates in 1721. Perhaps not politically correct, but the comments carry a grain of truth given the scale of consumption, with Londoners drinking around two pints a week. Gin was cheaper than beer, cleaner than water, and the fastest ticket to oblivion then known to man.
Technically speaking it was only rectified into gin by the city's distillers who bought most of their raw spirit from Scotland, chiefly from Lowland industrialists such as the Haigs and the Steins, whose whisky was panned by Robert Burns as "a most rascally liquor". The tradition lives on, and today Scotland supplies more than 70% of Britain's gin, though the quality has definitely improved.
While whisky has flip-flopped over whether to use its provenance to promote itself, gin has stayed largely aloof. Gordon's and Tanqueray hail from Diageo's giant Cameronbridge factory in Fife, but most people would assume they come from London since every bottle carries the words "London Dry Gin". In truth this only refers to the process – whereby the juniper, citrus peel, angelica root and other "botanicals" are added during distillation and not afterwards.
There has been a resurgence in gin-making north of the Border since Hendrick's was launched by William Grant & Sons 10 years ago. This crisp, cucumber-infused spirit comes in a fancy brown bottle – packaging that belies the gin's origins; a sprawling, industrial grain distillery up the coast from Girvan. Among those following in the wake of Hendrick's are Caorunn, a spicy gin distilled at Balmenach distillery in Strathspey, and The Botanist from Bruichladdich on Islay. There is also Alex Nicol's award-winning Edinburgh gin, Darnley's View, a small-batch gin from the Wemyss family in Fife, and now Gilt, the latest creation from Ricky Christie.
Despite being brought up in whisky with a father who was a blender who built The Speyside distillery in Kingussie, Christie's first solo venture in distilling was Valt single malt vodka in 2006. It was a time when fortunes were being made from vodka. Two years earlier the late American drinks baron, Sidney Frank, had sold Grey Goose to Bacardi for $2.2 billion just seven years after inventing it.
Gilt gin is distilled in the Vale of Leven near Loch Lomond. With a rampant, silver lion etched on the bottle, it wears its credentials with pride. "We have centuries of distilling expertise and after all those years making Scotch there is no reason why we can't make an excellent gin," says Christie, who describes himself as "the pinball wizard who plays by sense of smell".
Having over-indulged in the past – an occupational hazard – he doesn't drink at all. Yet armed with just his nose he has produced an impressive London dry-style gin made from malted barley like his vodka, which adds texture to the clean, bright botanicals dominated by juniper. "It is not too floral or exotic," says Christie. "It's a gin for every occasion." For stockists visit gordonandmacphail.com.
Darnley's View Gin
£27-£28, Luvians, Villeneuve Wines, Royal Mile Whiskies (40%)
With the juniper less dominant than in some gins, other botanicals shine through including elderflower, which lends a floral and fruity element to this pine-fresh spirit conceived in Scotland, though produced by a small craft distiller in London.
Edinburgh Raspberry Gin £16-£18 (500ml), John Lewis, Royal Mile Whiskies, Peckham's (20%)
If you want to explore gin beyond the usual confines try this release from the Spencerfield Spirits Co which marries Perthshire rasps and Scottish juniper to great effect. Mix it with lime juice, ice and soda or use it to spice up a glass of fizz.
Panalto Douro White Reserva 2011
£7.99, Majestic Wine (13%)
Historically Portugal's Douro valley has been too hot to produce anything but gutsy reds for fortifying into port. But with modern, cool fermentation and careful handling it can make elegant whites like this one, which has a gentle nose and melon and peach-like fruit.