Learn how to separate a London Dry from a New Western with this spotters guide to different types of gin.
I think it’s safe to say that we all love gin…but what sort of gin? Did you know there are several different types of gin? We probably are all aware of London Dry Gin but do you know the difference between that and a Plymouth Gin or an Old Tom or even a New Western?!
Never fear – at Gin Explorer we’re happy to help and present to you the ultimate guide to differing gins!
London Dry Gin
Let’s start with the one we’ve all heard of, London Dry Gin. Confusingly, this doesn’t have to be made in London, it can be made anywhere in the world. The name merely refers to a style of gin that was popularised in London during the original gin craze. There’s a few rules distillers have to abide by which are written in the EU Spirit Drink Regulations Feb 2008 and these include: the minimum alcoholic strength is 37.5%ABV, it must not contain any artificial ingredients, must be flavoured exclusively by natural botanicals, and must only contain a small amount of sugar. London Dry Gin is typically dry, meaning it has a predominantly bitter taste and is heavily flavoured with juniper.
Plymouth Gin is (at least at the time of writing) one of only three gins with a PGE, meaning it can only be made in one place, Plymouth. Plymouth Gin is only made by one distillery, Black Friars distillery in Plymouth, which is the oldest distillery in England and has been making gin since 1793. Plymouth Gin is still dry but much less so than London Dry Gin, with a more earthy feel and softened juniper flavour.
Navy Strength Gin
Very simply, Navy Strength Gin is any gin (but normally a London Dry) bottled at 57% ABV. We’ve written a whole blog about Navy Strength Gin before but, briefly, the name comes from old Navy regulations which specified that any spirit on board needed to be at least 57% ABV. At this concentration, even if the spirit were spilt on gunpowder, it would still light.
Navy Strength Gins are generally made to the same recipe as the distillery’s standard London Dry but diluted less before bottling. Depending on the gin, this either means they have much more of an alcoholic burn, or the extra strength carries forward more intense botanical flavours.
We made a reinvented Gimlet cocktail with a Navy Strength Gin recently.
New Western Gin is an umbrella term used for all new styles of gin that have come over from further afield such as America or Europe. Examples include past box favourites X Gin and JJ Whitley Elderflower. New Western Gins are controversial because the distillers that create them are looking to create a gin that moves away from the focus on juniper and instead wish to highlight another common botanical. However, gin, by law, must have juniper as the dominant flavour.
For some people a gin that tastes mostly of elderflower, with juniper as a supporting player, isn’t a gin at all. But, others welcome the innovation and creativity that New Western gins are bringing to our bars and glasses.
Old Tom gins aren’t the easiest of gins to find in shops or bars these days, but in Georgian London it was the spirit of choice. Sweeter and spicier than a London Dry, the recipe dates back to the 18th-century England where it would often be served neat or in a Tom Collins cocktail. The name comes from a story that is, probably, not true but still good fun. When attempts were made to crack down on the number of home stills and properly tax gin many distillers went underground, literally, hiding their stills in basements. The only clue that gin was sold here was a statue of a black cat, Old Tom. Put a penny in his mouth, wait a moment then pump his tail and a serving of delightful old tom gin would tumble out of the pipe he was perched on.
Strictly speaking, Genever isn’t gin, but it is a juniper-flavoured spirit that definitely inspired the creation of gin. Made from a base of malt grains, Genever has a darker colour and traditionally the base of Genever had a high percentage of Malt Wine (15%-50%). It is the traditional liquor of the Netherlands and Belgium and again, EU law stipulates that it can only be made in The Netherlands or Belgium.
Genever is where the term Dutch courage comes from. The spirit was commonly drunk by Dutch soldiers and, witnessing this behaviour, British soldiers attributed their fighting prowess to the qualities of the spirit.
Genever is almost always drunk neat and ice cold. It has the maltiness of a whisky but, instead of smokiness, a peppery flavour from the juniper. For a great example of a classic genever we recommend Braeckman Oud Jenever Kiekendief.
Take gin, add sugar syrup and let fruit, or some other ingredient, infuse into the gin. Voila, you’ve made a gin liqueur. In theory, one could make a gin liqueur out of just about anything and there are varieties flavoured with chocolate, star anise and even violets.
The most common flavours for gin liqueurs are probably rhubarb, elderflower and sloe. Made with infused sloe berries, sloe gin is almost a category in itself. Sweet, syrupy and redolent with almond and cherry flavours it makes a delightful winter warmer. Our favourite is past box star Addingham sloe Gin.
There are a few other varieties which we’ll save for a part 2. For now, though, what is your favourite variety of gin?