I’VE ALWAYS liked that old phrase, when life deals you lemons, make yourself a gin and tonic. It’s funnier and cheekier than the more insipid version, which advises you to make lemonade.
Refreshing and all as homemade lemonade can be, it just doesn’t have the same ability to take the edge off when things get a little rough.
Or so the logic goes. Personally, I’d prefer to drink after-shave than anything made from the juniper berry but you can’t have failed to notice that there’s never been a better time to drink gin. We are, it appears, in the midst of a gin renaissance.
A chirpy notice plopped into my email earlier this week to say as much and announce a “new weekly gin event” — a gin event? That one was new on me — where one might go along and have an after-work gin and tonic to celebrate Thirsty Thursdays.
Thirsty Thursdays were also new to me, but what harm, G&Ts would be €6 a pop and there would be “complimentary Italian-inspired canapé boards and DJs ’til late”. I’m assuming only the canapés were Italian-inspired not the DJs. All the same, it sounded like an invitation not be missed.
The clever marketing people also used the hook of the changing seasons to sharpen interest. Autumn, nay winter, seems to have arrived overnight but, never mind, the weekly G&T party will rock on all the way to Christmas with the aim of “loosening the tie on the corporate crowd”.
It is a little unfair to pick on one venue and its attempt at marketing a themed offering in September but that single example captures another trend – the ever-widening gap between the way alcohol is marketed and the real-life effects of drinking it.
The way the drink manufacturers tell it, it’s all bright lights, big city without the dark dawn and lingering hangover.
Nobody wants to wreck the G&T buzz, so you won’t hear much about what happens in the aftermath of Thirsty Thursdays. The Fear on Fridays doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?
But let’s not get carried away here. There might be no downside; just a pleasant memory of a few shared gins with colleagues. The tipple’s resurgence, the experts say, is due to a recent cocktail revival, the spirit’s flexibility, and the rise of the small distillery.
The gin market in Ireland is expected to be worth an estimated €50m next year and a range of gin-inspired events, from festivals and tastings to master-classes and tours, are attracting visitors and creating jobs.
That is all good.
However, it’s interesting that the drinks industry itself has referred to the growing grá for the juniper berry as the “second gin craze”.
Heaven forbid. Have we forgotten what the first gin craze was like? It swept the UK and London, in particular, in the early 1700s when, according to one account, an estimated 7,000 gin shops were turning Londoners into degenerate alcoholics.
There are many accounts of widespread alcohol addiction, violence and social devastation during a time that has been likened to the 1980s crack epidemic.
Gin cellars posted notices over their doors that read: “Drunk for a penny; dead drunk for two pennies; clean straw for nothing.” The clean straw was supposed to cushion you when you passed out in a drunken haze. A thoughtful add-on.
However, the public mood changed dramatically when, in 1734, a woman called Judith Dufour was hanged for killing her two-year-old daughter and selling her clothes to buy a quartern or quarter-pint of gin.
After the Dufour incident, gin became known as “mother’s ruin”. A public outcry forced the British parliament to introduce five bills to control the consumption of gin and restore public order.
Whatever happens at the aforementioned gin events, we can be fairly certain that it won’t lead to a moral panic, 18th-century style. To call the resurgence in the popularity of gin a “second gin craze” is a neat jingle, but it probably won’t end in complete social decline.
And yet, it seems that we could do with a little more of the public outrage that led to the introduction of those acts of parliament in the 1750s.
As Health Minister Simon Harris said last month, when it comes to addiction, alcohol is still the elephant in the room.
Part of the Government response will be to introduce the controversial Public Health (Alcohol) Bill this autumn. Prepare for a very testy debate and many arguments to say that the Bill will deprive the entertainment industry of millions in sponsorship and sound the death knell for small businesses.
Figures will be produced, no doubt, but those figures should be set beside these: More than 56,000 Irish people have been treated for problem alcohol use between 2009 and 2015, according to the latest Health Research Board figures.
How many countless others have bought into the joyful promise offered by happy drink events, and their ilk, only to find that alcohol very often does not do what it says on the tin?
The Alcohol Bill aims to introduce minimum alcohol pricing and a so-called booze curtain to remove alcohol from view in the same way that cigarettes have been taken off the shelves.
It’s a pity it doesn’t go further and put warnings on alcohol labels similar to the ones on cigarette packs, which carry unsettling pictures of the many adverse health effects of smoking.
For instance, next to a popular catchy slogan such as “Pour something priceless”, we might add a line to say that alcohol abuse costs the Irish State in excess of €3bn in healthcare and policing costs a year.
Or perhaps next to the clever “Remix yourself” slogan, this statistic: Three people die in Ireland every day due to alcohol.
The good news is that there is one slogan from a boutique gin supplier that needs no adjustment. It simply reads: It’s not for everybody.
No need to say more.
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