It is a slight mystery. The Irish and the Scots had their whisk(e)y.The Scandinavians have aqua vitae. The French have among other things -- brandy, so why is there no native English spirit? Certainly with the abundance of West country cider or even the alcoholic perry, the English should have been able to make something that very closely resembled Calvados -- the Norman apple brandy.
The reason that makes the most sense is gin and William III. Gin is a Dutch invention and the English discovered it during the 30 years war in the low countries. It gave them a certain amount of Dutch courage.
When William III took the English throne after the Glorious Revolution in 1688, he decided to encourage the drinking of gin. Then in the 1720s there was an abundance of grain and the government of the day allowed them freedom of distillation -- the result was Gin Lane and all the harrowing results from Hogarth's pictures happened. The failure of the grain crop in 1759 resulted in a government rethink.
Because gin was a lower class drink, there are more cant slang words for gin during the Regency than any other drink. It is later in the century that gin begins to be drunk with quinine tonic and goes up market to become gin and tonic. G&T was of course drunk originally merely for medical purposes...
Anyway, it is one explanation and makes a certain amount of sense.
One interesting fact I uncovered was that the alcohol smuggling in the North East during the Georgian period mostly centred around Dutch gin. And this leads very neatly into looking at smuggling -- that oh-so English pastime that still captures the imagination. Anyone else like Dr Syn and the Scarecrow?
My wip continues. Yesterday, I had to bite the bullet and move chapters about, but it does read better and makes far more sense. And it is far better to do this BEFORE, because my editors being my editors would surely tell me to do it AFTER. My editors are like that. They tend to home in on those parts of the wip that I have gone -- well maybe... and thankfully they do, because it does end up stronger...