WHAT IS GIN?
Gin is a spirit which derives its predominant flavour from juniper berries (Juniperus communis). From its earliest origins in the Middle Ages, gin has evolved over the course of a millennium from a herbal medicine to an object of commerce in the spirits industry. Gin was developed on the basis of the older Jenever, and became popular in Great Britain when William of Orange, leader of the Dutch Republic, occupied the English and Scottish thrones with his wife Mary. Gin is one of the broadest categories of spirits, represented by products of various origins, styles, and flavour profiles that all revolve around juniper as a common ingredient.
English or Dutch?
This is a source of confusion for some, so lets try to clear it up. Gin as we know it today; a distilled, pure, clear spririt with juniper flavour was developed in London around the 17th century. Where some confusion comes in, is this was undoubtedly influenced by the Dutch spirit jenever, another juniper flavoured spirit.The key difference is jenever was made from distilling malt and juniper (and other herbs) was added to make it more palatable, along with it’s purported medicinal properties. This led to jenever being sold in pharmacies and in its early years being treated as a medicinal drink.London gin was developed as a distilled, clear spirit, which had juniper flavour added. To add further complexity, there are several types of gin which we’ll come to later.Today old (oude) and young (jonge) jenever are still popular in Holland and Belgium, the young being closer to gin, while the old is closer in style to the original jenever.
Types of Gin?
So you’ve seen the back shelf in your favourite bar and are a little confused by all the different types of gin available. You need a quick guide to what they all are, so here we go:
Old Tom was popular in 18th century England and has sometimes been described as the ‘missing link’. It traditionally sits somewhere between the malty Dutch jenever and the drier London based gins that followed.It is therefore sweeter than London gin, but drier than jenever. While it’s not common to find, it’s making somewhat of a resurgence thanks to Hayman’s, Both’s, Secret Treasures, Jensens, Ransom, Master Of Malt and very recently Tanqueray.
London Dry is the most popular style of gin around today. Unlike its name suggests the vast majority of ‘London Dry’ is produced outside of London itself. It’s referred to as ‘dry’ due to the lack of sweetener (less than 0.1g per litre) and traces back to the era when column stills first came into use.A column still allows for a much purer spirit distilled to a higher abv (at least 70%) content. London dry may not have any artificial colourants and no additional flavours can be added after the distilling process. This results in a clean, crisp spirit which showcases the botanicals added during the distillation process.As long as a gin conforms to these requirements, it can be labelled ‘London’ gin and is therefore not geographically restricted.
Unlike London gin, Plymouth gin is protected by its geographical status. Mostly for this reason, there is only one current Plymouth gin…’Plymouth Gin’.Closely associated with the Royal Navy, it was a tradition for newly commissioned vessels to receive a “Plymouth Gin Commissioning kit”, a wooden box containing two bottles of navy strength Plymouth gin and glassware.More recently Plymouth Gin, which has a slightly sweeter more floral flavour than London, became popular in the Victorian era. 23 gin based cocktail recipes in the Savoy book of cocktails name Plymouth Gin specifically and the first recorded recipe for a dry martini called for the ‘Navy Strength’ Plymouth Gin.
Technically Sloe Gin is not a gin at all, but rather a gin based liquor.The gin is infused with sloe berries for at least three months in a bottle before sugar or syrup is added for sweetness.
Distilled gin and London Dry are produced in much the same way. The key difference is where London Dry is unable to have flavours added after distillation, Distilled gin does allow for flavour to be added after distillation. London Dry is therefore considered be many to be the pinnacle of distilled gins.
Aged gin is less common, although growing in appreciation, as craft and boutique distilleries do. Gin is generally not an aged spirit, however, there’s a growing array of barrel aged gins out there.Unlike other barrel aged gins, whisky being most thought of, gin does not do well from spending a lengthy amount of time in barrels.Most aged gins spend less than two years in the barrel. Don’t be surprised by the ‘honey’ colour of a barrel aged gin!