Gin is distilled primarily from grain (usually rye or wheat) and flavored mainly with juniper berries. Other botanicals can include anise, angelica root, cinnamon, orange peel, coriander, and cassia bark. All Gin makers have their own secret combination of additional botanicals, the number of which can range from as few as four to as many as fifteen.
Most Gin is initially distilled in efficient column stills. The resulting spirit is high-proof, light-bodied, and clean, but not yet flavored. The method of flavoring determines the two basic legal categories of Gin. Distilled gin is produced by re-distilling the initial base with juniper berries and other botanicals. Compound gin is made by simply mixing the base with juniper and botanical extracts without re-distillation, and is not as highly regarded.
There are four main styles of Gin:
- London Dry Gin is the dominant English style of Gin in the United Kingdom, former British colonies, the United States, and Spain. London dry gin is usually distilled in the presence of accenting citrus botanicals such as lemon and bitter orange peel, as well as a subtle combination of other spices, like licorice root, cinnamon, coriander, and nutmeg. London dry gin may not contain added sugar or colorants. As a style it lends itself particularly well to mixing. The U.S.’s best-selling Gin, Seagram’s Extra Dry, is a rare cask-aged Dry Gin. Three months of aging in charred oak barrels gives the Gin a pale straw color and a smooth palate.
- Plymouth Gin is relatively full-bodied (as compared to London Dry Gin). It is clear, slightly fruity, and very aromatic. Originally the local Gin style of the English Channel port of Plymouth, modern Plymouth Gin is nowadays made only by one distillery in Plymouth, Coates & Co., which also controls the right to the term Plymouth Gin.
- Old Tom Gin is the last remaining example of the original lightly sweetened gins that were so popular in 18th-century England.
- Genever or Hollands is the Dutch style of Gin. Genever is distilled from a malted grain mash similar to that used for whiskey. Oude (“old”) Genever is the original style. It is straw-hued, relatively sweet and aromatic. Jonge (“young”) Genever has a drier palate and lighter body. Some genevers are aged for one to three years in oak casks. Genevers tend to be lower proof than English gins (72-80 proof or 36-40% ABV is typical). They are usually served straight up and chilled. Genever-style gins are produced in Holland, Belgium, and Germany and traditionally sold in a cylindrical stoneware crock.
The best known of Gin-based mixed drinks is the Gin and white vermouth combination called the Martini. It is also often mixed with lime juice, tonic water, or other beverages.
Our pick: Plymouth English Gin