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I was standing on a train platform recently, when I saw a woman carrying a tote bag bearing the words "I BLOODY LOVE GIN" in block capitals – each word on its own line, for emphasis.
I'm sure that woman does bloody love gin – I don't doubt the veracity of her bag's claim. We humans need to bloody love things to motivate us to drag our disgusting bodies from place to place. As such, I bloody love a lot of things: pasta, gossip, Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares. I also hate it when people can't leave others alone and just let them enjoy their crap: if someone you know is bang into TOWIE or the Kardashians, or anything else LBC callers dub "vapid" and "damaging to the very fabric of modern society", I say let them at it if it makes them happy and doesn't hurt anyone else.
But this bag. This bag represented a turning point for "gin culture" at large.
Gin merchandise at least used to try. It used to be "Somewhere It's Gin O’Clock", or "It's a Gin Thing", or "Forgive Me, I Have Ginned", or "Gin Made Me Do It", or "Don't Cry Over Spilt Milk, It Could Have Been Gin" – or even the especially harrowing "Home Is Where the Gin Is".
It used to be that people would attempt to slot "gin" into pre-existing twee phrases as a witticism. The sort of thing whittled into decorative pieces of wood that mums buy for each other at garden centres ('That's so Helen,' a mum is thinking right now, as she pops a "Let the Good Times Be-Gin" wall hanging into her Notcutts basket for one of "the girls"), or even printed on a tote bag.
But this bag, this lazy bag, had none of that. It was merely a statement – no pun or double entendre – with the expectation that the words "bloody" and "gin" would signify all you needed to know about the wearer. This, to me, was confirmation that we have reached the terrifying zenith of Gin As Personality.
I'm talking about the idea that "liking gin" has started to be viewed by many as an actual personality trait, like being kind, or funny, or a dickhead. Amy's a really good friend, Dylan's a bit of a twat and Samantha; well, Samantha loves gin – she's such a card!
Of course, being into gin isn't the only offender in this category: anyone who's used a dating app since university knows what to expect from someone who says they're a "citizen of the world" (what they mean: open, accepting; reality: regularly goes on Soho House mini-breaks around Europe because they're rich), or "loves animals" (what they mean: cute, sensitive; reality: photo with a sedated tiger from a three-week luxury safari).
The gin thing, though, is perhaps the most pervasive. People will merrily type out "Gin obsessive, 24, travelling x" in their Tinder bio, considering it all the information a potential date needs to know – and perhaps, at this point of Total Gin Saturation, it is.
What can we assume about the Gin Lover? A case study: they do poolside Instagrams from holiday with captions like "Today's office". They actually care about Royal Babies, and they buy things because they've seen Kate Middleton wearing them. They act the same way about tea as they do about gin – and I also feel like they think cat cafés are good?
Often – especially in London, where every other weekend some park is hosting a Gin Festival – they're also someone who's deeply invested in the experience economy. "Likes gin" is frequently shorthand for "has paid £50 to attend a gin brunch in Clapham more than once, but, like, not because they're morning drinkers – just in a fun way!" Indeed, fun is a crucial part of the Gin Lover's presentation – after all, with all that slogan merch how could you possibly be a bore? There's the "GYM? I THOUGHT YOU SAID GIN!" water bottle for spin class, and the gin and tonic car air freshener, both of which symbolise that even while you're doing all the things expected of you – exercising, working hard at a bank and playing harder at All Bar One of a Friday evening – you're doing them irreverently, always with one eye on kicking back and having a good time.
Maybe the Gin Lover is just trying to clutch at the sublime the same way the rest of us do when we order a comforting pizza or some commiseration jeans on a Wednesday evening, just to help us get through the week. They bloody love gin – which, within the confines of capitalist social performance, is as much a signal of relaxation and enjoyment as anything else we might bloody love. Following the doctrine of "let people enjoy things", being rankled by gin fetishisation and all the souvenir shop tat it involves simply comes down to taste.
This would be the end of it if gin didn't have other, worse connotations. Firstly, there's a certain simpering middle-class Englishness about the way gin is often framed. Think back to the bag. "I ruddy well will express my love of gin, and I'll use a Very British Swear Word to intensify that while I’m here! Good day to you!" the bag seems to cry, in clipped RP. Gin's whole cultural vibe has similar twee energy to the word "cockwomble", in that it gestures towards a type of proper-ness, of simultaneous English "eccentricity" and self-appointed superiority. To provide a practical example, it's the sort of Englishness that believed the Queen was "sassing" Donald Trump by wearing a particular bracelet when they met, and says so proudly on its Twitter account.
Secondly, there's gin's history. Gin and tonic is an undeniable product of colonialism, and while so much of what we think of as British culture sadly shares similar roots, there's no product that still bears the standards of empire quite like gin. Think of brands like Beefeater and Bombay Sapphire, for example, whose branding seems to deliberately conjure up mental associations about nationalism and former British colonies. The Phileas Fogg company, named after the protagonist of the 19th Century novel Around the World in 80 Days (a major influence on how 19th century Europeans viewed colonised areas) owns an old time-y gin "parlour" in London's Covent Garden, with a distinct "Victorian" theme. It's at best ignorant, and at worst knowingly euphemistic – and it's also far from the only establishment of its kind across the country.
This history is a crucial part of how we think of gin, and how it is framed in our cultural consciousness. In an ideal world, gin wouldn't actively hark back to shameful eras or refer to the most boring and performatively quaint aspects of English cultural identity. It would simply be a drink you can order in the pub or mix at home, to bloody love as you wish – rather than its own Boris Johnson-style personality cult, or words on a T-shirt in place of, you know, actual human traits.