A Basic Introduction to Gin

Exploring the Aromatic Differences in Gin

Pouring Bombay Sapphire Gin over ice for a Gin & Tonic.
Pouring Bombay Sapphire Gin over ice for a Gin & Tonic. frytka / E+ / Getty Images

Gin was created by Dr. Franciscus Sylvus, a Dutch chemist, in the 16th century as an attempt to cleanse the blood of those suffering from kidney disorders. Sylvus named his creation genièvre, French for juniper. Mass production of gin in England soon followed as King William III used his grudge against France to ban expensive liquor imports from that country and made gin affordable for the masses.

How is Gin Made?

Gin is a light-bodied, liquor made of a mash of cereal grain, usually corn, rye, barley and wheat that has few congeners. The main flavor and aroma notes are contributed by juniper berries. Other botanicals that are often used in gin include coriander, lemon and orange peels, fennel, cassia, anise, almond and angelica.

Gin ranges between 80 and 94 proof and manufacturers cannot, by law, qualify their gin by age.

London Dry Gin

London Dry is the benchmark of quality in the world of gin. The flowery and aromatic characteristics of this type of gin are a result of botanicals added during the 2nd or 3rd distillation. The vapors from these flavoring agents reach the alcohol as they pass through a specialized still with an attachment called a gin head.

Dry gins are often preferred for making Martinis and are the most popular style used in cocktails.

Plymouth Gin

Plymouth Gin is a clear, slightly fruity, full-bodied gin that is very aromatic.

This style of gin originated in the port of Plymouth on the English Channel, but only one distillery, Plymouth, Coates & Co., has the right to produce Plymouth Gin now. A few cocktails like an Admiral Benbow and Douglas Fairbanks Cocktail specifically call for Plymouth Gin.

Old Tom Gin

Old Tom Gin is a sweeter version of London dry gin.

Simple syrup is used to distinguish this old style of gin from its contemporaries and many include notes of citrus. Old Tom was the original gin used for Tom Collins and the gin of choice in the 19th century.

Not too long ago, Old Tom Gin was unavailable in the United States and could be found almost exclusively in the United Kingdom. In recent years, however, there have been a number of U.S. distilleries that have been producing this gin, which is ideal for mixing into the oldest of cocktails.

Genever

Genever, or Schiedam gin, is the Dutch and Belgian version of gin, which predates and inspired all other gins. It was first distilled in the Middle Ages for medicinal purposes and was the original gin used in many of the classic American cocktails of the 19th Century.

This variety is distilled from malted grain mash similar to whiskey and tends to be lower proof (70-80 proof) than it's English counterparts. Genever is often aged in oak casks for 1-3 years and comes in two styles. Oude (old) Genever is the original style with a straw hue and is relatively sweet and aromatic, while Jonge (young) Genever has a drier palate and lighter body.

New Western Dry Gin

The name "New Western Dry Gin" (or "New American Gin") began to be used in the early 2000's to describe a number of new gins that have pushed the boundaries of the spirit's definition that relies on the dominance of juniper.

In this era, many American craft gin distillers released gins that concentrated on flavors other than juniper and brought up the question of whether these brands could technically be called gin.

The New Western Dry Gin moniker was adopted by the majority of the bartending community worldwide to distinguish these gins from more traditional gins.

Brands included in this style are Hendrick's (cucumber-forward), G'Vine (grape-forward), Dry Fly, Aviation (fruity, floral), and Small's. These gins are produced with modern cocktails in mind and have a great appeal to consumers who are not fond of a heavy pine in their gins.

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