The history of The Gin Guild 


“Drop as rain, distil as dew.”

I’ve come across The Gin Guild many times in my role as Gin Lover One for Ginblogger, its name popping up in news stories, seminars – online ‘Ginposiums,’ legal advice; even radio shows – in fact, anything to do with gin: from cradle to ‘grave’ (my copa glass).  So I decided to take a closer look, and what I found is fascinating … here goes …

The Gin Guild was incorporated by the Worshipful Company of Distillers, one of London’s traditional Livery Companies, by Royal Charter in 1638.  Its historical role was to hold key responsibilities for the control and regulation of early gin distillers.

“We have a unique, historical link to the gin industry and its historical heart – London.  The City remains fundamentally important to gin as the category becomes prominent across the world.”

The Worshipful Company of Distillers aims, via the work of The Gin Guild, to be at the heart of the distilling industry to provide and facilitate a wider opportunity for those involved in the gin industry, whilst at the same time reflecting and including many of the historical traditions of the City of London.

There were two main threads which led to the granting of a Royal Charter to the Worshipful Company of Distillers’ by King Charles I in 1638.  The first is regarding the life and career of the founder, Sir Theodore de Mayerne, while the other was the political background in England at the time of the granting of the Charter.

Born in 1573, Theodore de Mayerne trained as a physician and became a personal physician to Henri IV of France until 1610, when King Henri was murdered following which, as a Huguenot, de Mayerne fled to the safety of England.  His reputation following meant he was soon serving British royalty and foreign dignitaries, and was reputedly the most expensive doctor in London – he was knighted in 1624.

But before this, a Royal Charter to the Apothecaries was granted after de Mayerne supported their claim to the distilling of herbs, flowers and fruits for minor ailments.  A monopoly over distillation at the time was held by the Grocers’ Company; and so supported by de Mayerne (with the benefit of his royal connections), his Charter was granted in 1617.

Then, in the mid-1630s de Mayerne turned his attention to obtaining a Royal Charter for the distilling of spirits for general consumption.  In this he was supported by Sir Thomas Cademan, who was also a Royal Physician, and Sir William Brouncker, a Royal Courtier.  The Charter created a “Body Politique and corporate” to govern the “Trade Arte and Mystery of Distillers of London” and was dated 9th August in the 14th year of the reign of Charles 1.  Cademan was appointed the first Master.  The Charter gave the Company control over the area within a 21-mile radius of the cities of London and Westminster, with power to regulate and supervise the production of spirits and liquors.  Nowadays, the Company no longer exercises such powers but focuses on charitable distributions, including educational scholarships and bursaries.

There are currently 110 City Livery Companies, each numbered according to precedence, primarily based on the date of foundation. The Distillers’ Company is ranked number 69.  Their motto is “Drop as rain, distil as dew.”