Gin Time Capsule

A Toast to the Future: Curating a gin time capsule for generations to come

Join us as we look to the future with eyes brimming with nostalgia and explore the idea of creating a Gin Time Capsule.

As the popularity of gin shifts, we discuss the importance of curating a collection of literature, recipes, anecdotes (and actual gin samples) today in order to ensure future generations can fully appreciate this transformative decade in the spirit's long history...

As the UK gets set to raise a glass to toast the upcoming coronation, an intoxicating sense of nostalgia has set in. I’ve seen communities put bunting up in across street lights with engineering precision, others defying the limits of gaffer-tape one flag at a time, while others have just displayed red white and blue knickers out the window. Oddly, the latter seems to better capture what it currently means to be British... 

You can’t turn a corner without a shop flogging Union Jack print napkins or commemorative ceramic cups, and my inbox is a fiasco of coronation release pitches and themed cocktails. 

I’m not a royalist, but I’m no grouch either – an excuse for a moment of joy and a party is always welcome. Especially when it’s accompanied by a bank holiday.

It’s made me wonder about the idea of eras though. The way ups, downs, cycles and trends are oversimplified in time and bookended by big events. Scandals either grow in time or get lost as revisionist history re-writes a simpler narrative.

Gin as a spirit has had many twists in its story and its history entwines with that of the nation. For example, the 18th century ‘Gin Craze’ era filled with debauchery and death is what many will have heard of, but look at the history of London and you’ll see that the capital is literally shaped by the spirit. There’s Juniper Crescents, underground train stations, famous cricket grounds and all. 

Spirits Beacon Watermark
"I think future history books will soon have another chapter to discuss – Gin’s Golden Era – as I think it’s now come to an end. "

The recent Gin-aisance will be marked by the decade spanning from the London Olympics to the Coronation. There's an ironic symmetry given neither event bears influence on the trends that shaped the rise or fall of the spirit in 70 years apart, but if this timeline is true - it'll be a poetic final hoorah for Gin; The last time gin was popular was widely regarded to have come to an end when Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1953. 

I’ve also been inspired by the fetishization of royal events. The pomp. The tat. 

There is so much memorabilia, and the idea of commemoration in the moment seems cross generational. There's even collectors and for all those interested in telling the future history of this event, it seems that the best time to gather the relevant materials and equip yourself with all the subtleties of the subject matter is now. 

It’s made me wonder – should we be putting together a Gin Time Capsule? 

It would be a fitting way to mark the changing of the guard (Gin is dead, long live…. Whisky?) and build a bridge for future generations. Should we try to communicate the true essence of this period of gin’s history to future drinkers by recording it holistically and at a time where that full picture is available to us?

If we wait too long and it’ll be hard to do as accurately. But if you did, what would you put in a time capsule for a generation to rediscover in 60 years? Time to pick up my curator's clipboard…

Curating a gin capsule – printed matter.

I’d start with a veritable library of gin literature. Articles never quite ever die off online so no doubt they’ll be around for internet historians to plunder, but burying books in a capsule seems like the time-honoured way to preserve information so why break with convention?

There’s a good dozen that have been published in the past decade that tell gin’s history as it is known today. How it evolved from Medieval times and all the genres available have been thoroughly explained. A selection of these will help link much older books about the spirit and act as steppingstones for those seeking the original documents that have long been in the archives of museums. 

After all, the role of a time capsule is to help prevent the loss of all knowledge, not just limited to the past 10 years. 

Same goes with recipe books, recording the way cocktails evolve is a big part of understanding why some spirits were popular and what they tasted like in context. They showcase the preferences of an era and the way drinkers expect it to be served. This may seem odd but look back at the turn of the 20th century classics and the types of ingredients, the doses (and even the way ice is considered), and you realise how fast society moves over one hundred years. 

But in this capsule, I’d argue the story of the era needs telling too. 

Why gin rose up as the trendy spirit, what happened from 2000 to now and the confluence of factors that created the ‘Gin-aisance”. Often, you can tell a lot more about an era through the anecdotes of a first-hand account than you can by the retelling of history years later.

My Gin Distilled book covered some of the modern history, while the Gin Annuals combined trends of specific years, interviews and snapshots of people, brands, and their short-term aspirations. So many other publications also did the same, and curating cuttings of a selection would form the basis of a rich archive where it’s possible to understand the context and mindset of the era by future generations.

I think it would be interesting to commission a dozen essays about the era specifically. Written with intent and as a conscious act of preservation.

They could cover insight from a few commentators, words from people who sold it, bartenders who served it and distillers who made it. The essays would be filled with anecdotes of life through the prism of gin and how the two intersect. Hopefully, future readers would get a glimpse into the passion and camaraderie that has defined the UK's golden era of gin consumption.

Moreover, I’d add a smattering of cocktail menus, advertising posters and a focussed multi-media assemblage of gin event merch, memorabilia and point of sale display items. 

It all sounds trite now – each item so pointless and small, but it’s by bringing together the dozens of little things that you can tell the full picture of a movement in all of its complexity. Would you honestly believe someone if they said there were gin baubles, advent calendars, drinkable snow globes and entire ranges of gin flavoured condiments if you hadn't seen it yourself? 

These visual mementos will serve as a testament to the creativity and innovation that has fuelled our era. No doubt they will seem like absurd contraptions and odd gatherings to a generation whose lives will be as different to ours as when we compare ourselves to those from the Victorian era. 

A liquid history

A gin capsule wouldn’t be complete without actual bottles and actual gin.

The easiest would be to build a collection of miniature 375ml bottles spanning fifty of the best gins and representing each style. Space for full sized offerings will no doubt be in short supply in a capsule that needs to be entombed… 

Sure, flavours may fade in time, oxidisation would occur in some but with the right preservation techniques, so much of that liquid history would be safeguarded for others to re-discover in years to come. And what a tasting that would be!

I’d also try and showcase the incredible diversity of flavours and styles in more detailed ways than just via commercially available expressions. I’d commission a group of distillers to collaborate to create two gins of each of the genres that we know today (London Dry, Old Tom, Navy, Flavoured etc.), and bury detailed recipes with it. 

That way not only would the liquid be there to inspect, but the way distillers today think about flavour, the process they use and the techniques employed would be recorded. 

No IP would be infringed and as an educational tool, it would be an immense preservation of knowledge for all to access the likes of which has never been done to date. Trust, me, I’ve looked! So many of the old recipes from bygone eras don’t make sense as you don’t have the full picture of how it was made, so you have to guesstimate so many circumstances. That’s if they are not all shrouded in proprietary information that further obfuscates matters. 

Digital recordings

Through the magic of hard drives, we can record a treasure trove of further information about what has happened, what was written and what’s been made too. 

Beyond capturing what’s out there and spare an endless trawl of internet archives (or smirking at what a future generation might think about ‘hard drives’ and their bemusement of the archaic devices humans once needed), commissioning some fresh archival work will be key to bring this era alive. 

I'd suggest commissioning things like photo portraits of the distillers, 360 degree recordings of bottles to give high definition and consistent inputs to compare each visually. Why not extend that to documentaries or short films about the gin industry or the cocktail scene. Why not try to build a wealth of media to offer a more in-depth look at the social and cultural context of the era? Each digital addition would help build a magnificent display exhibition for a curator to work off when they open the capsule too!

Gin Archives for the next generation

The combination of all of these materials would allow drinkers of 2100 to connect with those of us long gone, and help continue the complex story of a spirit that has already spanned millennia. 

It would tell the true story of Gin. One of camaraderie and dreams distilled in liquid form. Of people and their lives, livelihoods and the way they were championed by entire communities. Gin as a spirit is the direct result of human decisions and it is the spirit that best reflects the human condition – our creativity, artistry and aspirations. This has never been more true.

During the 18th Century Craze, gin was a means to an end. It was the end for many too if you go by the depictions of Hogarth’s Gin Lane or the court transcripts of the time... By the 19th century it was intrinsically linked to industrialisation and historic figures (and fortunes).

A time capsule would help future drinkers understand that for the start of this 21st century era, gin was about so much more than flavour. The spirit reflected so much more of society than people realise, which is why its light has shone so bright over a decade.

I hope that if a gin time capsule ever came to be made, when it’s exhumed in the future they marvel at the creativity, craftsmanship, and love that an entire generation had for gin. It reached absurd levels of fanfare and brought so much joy. I hope they too see that same enthusiasm for it in their present day as well.

I suppose the only question not asked here so far, and the only future not imagined is who can help put such a project together..?

By Olivier Ward

25 April 2023