Gin comes to us from the Netherlands, where it has long been referred to as genievre, or “juniper” in Dutch. Gin is a grain-distilled, colorless liquor, flavored with juniper berries and other botanicals. And we luh-huh-of it. Although gin sounds like a straight forward spirit, it’s actually not. There are multiple styles of gin and a range of ingredients blended together to infuse the base spirit, and that means there are many expressions of what gin “is.” In addition to juniper (a botanical regarded as essential to gin as Mary was to the birth of Jesus), orange peel, cassia bark, angelica root, coriander, orris root, and licorice are among the many herbs and roots that can be mixed together in a gin recipe.
In order to understand which gin to use for certain cocktails, let’s discuss the 6 types of gin:
1. Genever: translates to “juniper” in Dutch. Genever is considered to be the ancestor of modern gin, and its mostly produced in Holland. The spirit is made by blending a triple whiskey-like distillate of corn, rye, and wheat, with a juniper-infused distillate. Please read our definition in the lexicon to learn more about genever and its similarities to gin and light whiskies. We love: Bols.
2. London Dry: The title does not refer to the origin of the spirit or where the distillery must be located. Believe it or not, this gin can be produced anywhere in the world, and must be made by using a neutral spirit base that is infused with a botanical blend unquestionably dominated by juniper, with the supporting botanicals playing a secondary role. By law, the gin must be free of artificial flavors and colors, diluted to 70% abv, and can only be dosed with .1 gram of sugar per liter after distillation. London dry is by far the most popular and widely consumed style of gin. In fact, many people probably assume that this is the only style of gin. It is certainly the most represented style in bars and liquor stores (think Beefeater, Tanqueray, Gordons). London dry is the style of gin to use in a martini, Negroni or gin & tonic. We like Martin Miller’s and Broker’s. Anchor Distillery’s Junipero Gin and Pacific Distillery’s Voyager Gin are examples of American-made London dry gin, so, see– the style doesn’t belong to London or England (all the previously mentioned gins are made in England). Although considering both San Francisco and Washington share London’s notoriously foggy atmosphere, one could see how that example isn’t very impressive. Someone please make a London dry gin in Africa so we can write about it and blow the minds of readers.
3. Plymouth: refers to a style of gin only made in Plymouth, England. As of now there is a single brand — Plymouth Gin — that produces this style. Plymouth Gin is made from 100% wheat based neutral spirit, without the addition of bitter botanicals, and is softer, earthier, and slightly less piney or junipery than London dry gins. There is only one brand to love: Plymouth Gin. We doubt anyone else will open a distillery there to compete with such a powerhouse, but it could happen.
4. Old Tom: an off-dry or sweeter gin that is created when barley malt or sweetener is added to dry gin. The style precedes London dry and was considered an essential liquor in the 1800s. But after London dry gins grew in popularity, Old Tom gins started collecting dust on the shelves of bars across the globe. Of course now that mixologists are creating bar programs based on classic cocktail recipes, Old Tom gins are receiving more recognition. Old Tom gins are slightly sweeter than London dry gins and usually drier than Genever. Also, Old Tom gins are more subtle and botanical, and not as aggressively flavored with juniper as London Dry styles. This is a great style for people who usually give you the stink eye when you pour them a gin cocktail. If someone gives you the “uhm, I hate gin” excuse, pour them a glass of Old Tom gin and convert those crazy kids. Seriously– convert them. We like: Ransom.
5. New Western/American: a class of gin created within the past decade by small, craft distilleries in the United States. Gins vary from brand to brand, so the style is less about providing expected, structured flavors, and more about encouraging innovation and experimentation. Every distiller approaches the process with curiosity and has one goal in mind– to create a “new” gin that expresses either a love of juniper or an appreciation for the subtleties of a botanical blend. Buying a New American style of gin can cause some anxiety because unless you’re familiar with the brand, it’s hard to know for certain whether the gin will fill your mouth with forest flavors or citrusy, herbaceous flavors, and that is why this style requires a little more research from the consumer. Luckily most labels do a pretty damn good job of describing how much juniper is in the mix, but you might have to occasionally whip out your iPhone while standing in the aisle of your favorite liquor store to do a little digging. No martini or negroni drinker wants to spend $35 on a bottle of unfamiliar gin only to get home and find out that the gin they’ve just purchased is stingy on the juniper. In the styles explained above, I’ve included tasting profiles that give you an idea of what to expect from each class: London Dry is dry (go figure) and has a strong juniper personality; Genever taste more like a juniper-infused light whiskey; and Old Tom is somewhere in the middle; but profiling New Western gins is a hard thing to do. However, in the spirit of generalizing a class of booze, let’s settle on an oversimplified description: most New Western gins favor showcasing a blend of carefully selected botanicals instead of mainly featuring juniper. Resulting spirits are less piney, more delicate, and great for mixing floral cocktails like the Aviation or the Bees Knees. We love: Aviation and St. George gins.
6. Sloe Gin: A liqueur made by steeping wild sloe berries found in the hedgerows across the English Countryside in sweetened gin. Try Plymouth’s Sloe Gin.
We like gin a lot. A whole, whole lot.