Elizabeth Gabay: How did punch survive the impact of the Gin Acts 1729-1751…
Posted on 03-09-2013
Between 1729 and 1751 Parliament passed a series of Acts raising the duty payable on cheap spirits in an attempt to control excessive gin consumption. The 1736 Act in particular sparked impassioned debate concerning alcoholic consumption. Health, crime and the financial importance of the Sugar Colonies were all issues raised. ‘Mother’s Ruin’ (gin), the drink of the urban poor and associated with crime, eventually declined in popularity. Punch, made with
the more expensive brandy, arrack and occasionally rum, was drunk by all classes and an ‘inspiration’ towards debate and conversation. Punch was also the subject of moral condemnation as seen in Hogarth’s ‘Modern Midnight Conversation’ (1732-33) which shows the drunken effects of consuming several bowls of punch. Using the evidence of debates, letters and recipes, I will show how the impact of moral judgement, stirred by the Gin Acts, led to the style of punch evolving during the eighteenth century, from the undiluted drink of the early 1700s, to the classic punch with a ratio of one measure of spirits to four or five measures of weak (water, milk or tea). In the early nineteenth century, gin resurfaced as a fashionable ingredient in punch.