Belfast Telegraph

Why Belfast gin fans should raise a glass to William of Orange

By Cate McCurry

When you are next enjoying your favourite gin tipple, make sure to raise a glass to King William of Orange.

Because without his patronage, the popular spirit would never have reached our shores.

It was King Billy's arrival from Holland - the home of juniper-flavoured spirits - that drove the popularity of 'Mother's Ruin' across Britain and Ireland and turned gin from a medicine to a fashionable drink.

But while Belfast prepares for a Gin Fest in June, for the Orange institution, William's main legacy is celebrated the following month - the battle, not the bottle.

A spokesman for the Orange Museum said very few Orangemen would probably be aware that King Billy is credited with popularising gin.

"However, there are many economic and practical reasons why gin became the tipple of choice," he said.

"It was reported with the arrival of William of Orange, it became an act of loyalty to drink Protestant Dutch gin rather than Roman Catholic French brandy, in the same way German beer was never popular during the two world wars."

As part of the conflict with France, William wanted to weaken his enemy's economy, so he imposed high taxes against French goods - particularly brandy, the most popular spirit at that time.

Gin, being grain-based, could be produced easily across England.

The Orange museum said that despite the link between the king and gin, they would not sell the tipple at their east Belfast museum.

The spokesman added: "We don't think the claim of William's connection to the increase of gin sales would encourage more people to join the hundreds of thousands who already celebrate King William - but how some people toast his memory could see a fall in brandy sales."

Gin has enjoyed a resurgence across the UK and Ireland in recent years.

Phil Ervine, director of Taste and Tour NI and the man behind the Belfast Gin Fest, believes the revival is because of presentation and quality gins.

The self-confessed gin geek said: "Holland is the birthplace of gin.

"Jenever - which is the predecessor to gin - was used to treat ailments but it was very unpleasant to taste so whenever they added juniper it made it flavoursome.

"When William of Orange came to power that's when gin consumption rocketed here.

"There's been a real surge in gin over the past five years and particularly the last three in Ireland. Gin has proved to be very versatile and everyone seems to like it.

"I think a huge part of the gin revival is down to attracting a much younger market."

The Belfast Gin Fest takes place on June 8 and 9 in the Elmwood Hall

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