It is said that Gin was invented around 1650 in Holland by Dr. Sylvuis, also known as Franz de la Boe, and was a Professor of Medicine in the city of Leyden, Holland. Originally concocted as a medicinal remedy for kidney disorders.
The Early Years.
He used neutral grain spirits flavoured with the oil of juniper. He called it genever after the French term genievre meaning juniper. By 1655 it was already being commercially produced and English soldiers serving in the area took a liking to the spirit.
In 1689, William of Orange, Dutch consort to Queen Mary of England, banned imports of French brandy and levied duties on German spirits, guaranteeing a market for Dutch spirits in England. At the same time, the distilling trade was opened to locals who began procuring 'Dutch Courage'.
Making gin at home was positively encouraged under the reign of William and Mary, as gin was probably safer than the drinking water on offer at the time, and where taxes were low and made gin less expensive than ale, so it's growth and popularity was assured, however it became a scourge on the poor and it's abuse followed, depicted in the famous engraving by William Hogarth in 1751, Gin Lane.
In 1751, The Tippling Act was passed by Parliament - the beginning of the end of 'Gin Madness'. The act eliminated small gin shops and left the distribution of gin to larger distillers and retailers. Within a few years consumption was down to 2 million gallons per year (down from 11 million gallons in 1750!) and the quality of gin then improved. Gin was on its way to becoming a gentleman's drink.
The Gin produced around that time was the forerunner of what was known as Old Tom's Gin which was heavily sweetened. In the 1870's Dry Gin was introduced and it took on respectability in England once again. Finer establishments served "Pink Gins" (served with a dash of Angostura bitters), and the cocktail age dawned in England. About the same time prohibition began in the U.S.
The Gin and Tonic.
The ubiquitous gin and tonic came about as an effective medicinal long drink to fight the onset of malaria for the British troops travelling to the east where the 'acquired' taste of quinine in tonic was off-set by the gin.
Over the past decade, gin has grown enormously in popularity, and number of brands in the marketplace has exploded, partly due to many new producers coming to the market as set-up costs are low and it's production fairly straight-forward.
The trend is now morphing more toward flavoured gins and its growth in the drinks industry is set to continue unabated.