So far in the 18th century drinking in England had almost entirely involved fermented liquors, such as ale, cider and beer that were produced by relatively natural processes. Early on, the discovery of how to produce distilled liquors or spirits was learned. "Distillation depends on the fact that if a liquid containing alcohol, such as wine, is heated and the resulting vapor condensed, a purer and more powerful form of alcohol is produced, though unpalatable until flavoring ingredients have been added" (7) As a result of this new man-made process, it was later suggested that spirits were "unnatural", while beer and wine were not. Fermented beer was made by God, while spirits were made by man.
This sentiment was reflected in the arts as well. One of the most well know artist of this time was William Hogarth, and his works Beer Street and Gin Lane. These works show loathsome neighborhoods and violence amongst citizens as a result of the consumption of gin.
In 1688 King William III and some English soldiers in the Low Countries introduced gin to England. "In the alcohol 'family' gin stands close to absinthe and aquavit, which use different flavoring agents, and not far removed from vodka, which is based on potatoes" (9) English gin became very popular after 1690, when the government tried to make a market for low-grade corn unsuitable for brewing. The government heavily increased the duty on imported spirits and opened the spirit industry to the public, without any license or control.
Within a few years, 7,000 dram-shops sprang up all over England. As brewers tried to protect their trade, the number of ale-houses also multiplied. By 1740 more than 15,000 of the 96,000 houses in the capital sold drink, about 9,000 were gin-shops. Despite all the evidence that the 'free gin' policy had failed, the government did not act immediately. The new duties and taxes that had been imposed on manufacturers and retailers were avoided. The gin-shop owners would sell their drink under fancy names like 'Cuckold's Comfort', 'Ladies' Delight' and Knock-me-down', a mixture of hot spiced ale and punch.
In 1736 the famous Gin Act was implemented. It imposed a prohibitive duty per gallon on the retailer and raised the cost of a spirit license. This legislation led to riots in the streets and the gin trade simple went underground. As a result, in 1743 the government loosened the restrictions of the earlier law and passed acts that permitted the gin-shops to abide by the same rules as the ale-houses. As the 19th century rolled in the focus of legislation shifted to containing the moral danger in drinking, instead of the economic concerns of the earlier century (10)