What’s in a name? And, what’s in a glass?
Why do some cocktails require very specific brands of spirits? And how are they all supposed to be different, even though they taste so similar?
Here’s another common spirit that you see in every bar, cocktail den and DIY liquor cabinet out there — gin, of course! Here’s how gin is made and, of course, how the most popular kinds differ from each other.
Popular types of gin
What is gin?
How does one explain or describe a spirit in writing? Because — and let’s be honest — this would be a much more enjoyable tale with a hands-on demonstration at a sample cart like they have in Costco.
Alas, we’ll do our best.
If you’ve ever tried to describe gin to someone or have had it explained to you, you might have heard the phrase “juniper flavored vodka” or “botanical flavored vodka” being tossed around. And, surprisingly, that’s not a bad way to put it.
Like vodka, gin is made from fermented grains like barley, wheat, corn or rye. That base spirit is highly alcoholic and, in many cases, resembles vodka, though it can also be any high-ethanol mixture. To become vodka, that spirit would undergo a myriad of filtrations and distillations to boil the liquid down to its purest form, but the mixture heads to a pot still instead for gin.
At the still, the alcohol is steeped with juniper berries and other botanicals, like rose, coriander, almonds, licorice, cinnamon, orange peel, lemon peels and more. For a gin to truly be considered a gin, though, the predominant flavor has to be of juniper berries.
Once the mixture has been flavored to the manufacturer’s specifications, water is added back into the mixture to bring the gin to an appropriate alcohol content for bottling.
Why is it called gin, you ask? Well, we actually have the French to thank for that, since the name came from the French word for “juniper,” genévrier.
London dry gin
Popular brands: Beefeater, Gordon’s
London dry is the gin of all gins — as in, it’s what most people think of when they want a gin-based cocktail. It’s definitely one of the more popular kinds of gin, though it’s not necessarily restricted to London, or even England!
To be considered a true London dry, a gin must be made with natural flavors only, and any botanicals used must be introduced at the beginning of the distillation process. The spirit base — or ethanol mixture — must be made from farm-harvested grains (no lab-grown grains) and the resulting fermented mash must have an alcohol level of exactly 95%. These rules and regulations result in a drink that’s as natural as it comes and is made from only the best and freshest ingredients.
Popular brands: Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray
Dry gin is similar in many ways to the London Dry, with exceptions in the production process and in the required quality of ingredients.
Whereas London Dry gin has to have all the botanicals added in the beginning, dry gin production allows for addition at various points in the process, and not necessarily at the same time. Dry gin also doesn’t require the botanicals to be fresh, so extracts and infusions (and also food colorings!) can be substituted for fresh flavors.
Old Tom gin
Popular brands: Booth’s, The Liberty Distillery, Jensen’s, The London Distillery Company, J. Wray and Nephew Ltd.
Both London dry gin and regular dry gin have a strict no-sugar-added policy where there is generally less than 0.01 ounces of sugar per quart of prepared gin. Old Tom gin, however, has no such restrictions.
Old Tom gin came about after the Gin Act of 1736 in the United Kingdom, which placed a high tax on gin. More and more people started making their own gin concoctions at home — in sinks, bathtubs, barrels, buckets and the like — and they used sugar and honey to not only sweeten the dry spirit, but to aid in the fermentation process.
The businesses that sold this illegally-produced gin would advertise their supply by placing a statue or sign of a black cat outside their establishments so that people would know that the “old tomcat” meant cheap gin. Thus, the name!
Popular brands: Plymouth Gin
Unlike London dry gin which, ironically, can be made anywhere in the world, Plymouth gin can only be found in the town of Plymouth, England. And not just that, but it’s also restricted to a single distillery in Plymouth that also happens to be the oldest distillery in the country!
Plymouth gin is a good middle ground between London dry, Old Tom and dry gin. It’s not too sweet, it’s not too dry and it uses a carefully-selected combination of botanicals and roots to create a unique flavoring to its juniper base. Taste-wise, Plymouth gin has more of a focus on earthy and root-y flavors like orris root, angelica root, coriander seed and green cardamom which give the drink a well-rounded and smooth flavor.
Popular brands: By The Dutch, Bols, Rutte, Filliers, Zuidam, Old Duff
This gin is believed to be the oldest style of gin, dating back to 16th century Holland where, according to historians, a malt-wine tonic was sweetened with juniper berries and used as a medicine.
True genever — named for the Dutch word for “juniper” — can only be made in the Netherlands, Belgium and in certain parts of France and Germany. It’s not as juniper-forward as other gins, though, and many varieties have a more malty and nutty flavor dominating the palette. Nevertheless, genever is both a gin and not a gin, as its unique flavor profile makes it a whole palette of its own and is hard to substitute!
Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/tom69green