The Cheer of Beer; the Sin of Gin

A dry summer 2017.  Apparently so, given that Brits have drunk 35M fewer pints of beer this summer than last.  In part, beer’s decline has been attributed to a rise in the popularity of gin.  But haven’t we been here before?

In the late 17th century, a government supported gin trade created the conditions for a vortex of binge-drinking on a scale impossible even to begin to replicate on a modern-day hen’s night in Cardiff.  And, believe me, I’ve tried.

Early attempts to regulate the trade by means of the Gin Act 1736 failed.  It was not until the mid-18th century, and the publication of William Hogarth’s Gin Lane and Beer Street, that public behaviour began to moderate and, in all truth, the change was little due to Hogarth’s art, but more to do with poor grain harvests and subsequently increased gin prices.  Art may like to claim the moral high-ground but, in the real world, it is Economics, which is the great motivator.

Nevertheless, Hogarth’s two prints are important records of both a social history and of an early public health message, explicitly illustrating the maxim that beer is good and gin is bad.

400 beer street

400 gin lane

In the early and mid 18th century, the area of St. Giles in London was a notorious slum, where every fourth building sold gin.  Advance 250 years, and the area of St. Giles is a millionaire’s hotspot, where every fourth building sells gin.  Gin has been adopted as the tipple-of-choice of an aspiring elite and, as gin’s credit has risen, so beer’s has declined.  It has ever been the way.

Hogarth was an advocate of the merits of beer.  It is interesting to see in his two prints how the inhabitants of Beer Street are shown as being wholesome and productive, whereas the denizens of Gin Lane are derelict and corrupt.  Plus ça change.

© Beery Sue


Beery Sue gives a shout-out for a pint of beer in a world of gin.

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