5 kinds of gin, really?
When most people think of gin, they think of England. It’s the classic, buttoned up English drink with hints of Empire, straw hats and times past. But you couldn’t be more wrong.
While it is true that the English adapted and popularised this juniper juice in the 18th century, its origins are not British at all, but Dutch. Before it hit our shores, a drop of Dutch Courage (gin) was administered to calm the jagged nerves of those about to go into battle. The Brits liked this Jenever gin and wanted some for themselves. But they altered forever the rich, almost smoky taste of the original by adapting the recipe. The result is what we now think of as traditional English gin styles, such as London Dry, Old Tom and Plymouth gin.
The gin revolution begins
Now, fast forward to the 2010s, when the good people of Barcelona spotted a way of pumping up the style and invented the copa of gin (otherwise known as the Gin Tonic). For the first time, gin and tonics were lovingly complemented with garnishes, herbs and exotic fruit to bring out the drink’s deeper aromas and flavours. Once these gin pioneers had kick-started the gin revolution, small batch distillers and mixologists started to reappraise this extraordinary drink.
A decade later, there are more than 250 craft distilleries in the UK alone cranking out exceptional gins. Craft distillers are pushing the boundaries of mixology further than ever. Spain is not far behind with hundreds more dotted around the country. And Germany is a big player too. Even the Japanese are on the bandwagon!
How many have you tried?
This is where it all began. Genever gin is the forerunner of modern gin. First heard of in 16th century Holland it is much maltier and more savoury than contemporary gins. This is due to the fact that it is distilled from malt wine spirits instead of neutral grain. It also works really well in a gin old-fashioned. Originally, Genever was made by distilling malt to 50% ABV and then adding herbs to disguise the bitter taste, but it’s got much better since then. These days, there are two main types: Jonge Genever (Young Genever) has a neutral taste with a slight aroma of juniper and malt wine. The second style is Oude Genever (Old Genever), aged in wood and with a maltier, smokier taste that is more reminiscent of whisky.
Contrary to popular opinion, London Dry gin doesn’t have to come from London. Or even the UK. It is simply the name of a style that originated there in the aftermath of the genever wave. It is a very juniper forward style (as you would expect) and generally has citrus, angelica root and coriander as its other key flavours. Often bottled at high proof levels, this gin is great for cocktails, which is why it has become one of the most widely known gin styles on the planet. This style became dominant and originally became known as Dry Gin to contrast it with its sweeter cousin, Old Tom. London Dry gin has some additional rules to regular distilled gin. It must be flavoured exclusively with distilled natural botanicals. No additional flavourings can be added after the distillation process. In fact, nothing can be added except for neutral spirit, water and a maximum of 0.1 g of sugar per litre.
A sweet style that developed in the 19th century this gin got its name from its secret history. In order to avoid paying taxes on gin, a certain Captain Dudley Bradstreet from London started selling bootleg gin. He advised people to look for it under the sign of the cat, where he had cleverly placed a lead pipe attached to a funnel on the inside. Customers would put money in the slot and he would dispatch their gin down the pipe directly into their glass, bottle (or even mouth!). Over time, the practice caught on and others started to change their door knockers or signs to feature an Old Tom Cat. Old Tom gin is a sweeter, maltier gin and is sometimes barrel-aged for flavour. It has become a classic ingredient for bartenders and mixologists around the world because it is such a versatile cocktail ingredient and features prominently in classic cocktails such as the Tom Collins.
Smoother than its London relative this is generally produced in the south of England and is a lower strength gin than its big city neighbour. Juniper is less dominant in Plymouth gins, making it a great gin for drinking neat or in a Martini. Plymouth gin can only be made at the Plymouth Gin Distillery in the beautiful South West of England and pops up frequently on bartenders shelves all over the world. It has a long history, dating back to that late 18th century. It is the only gin to have its own geographical indication and is still made in the oldest operating gin distillery in the world. This classic gin is still produced in an ancient still that has been operating for 150 years and it has a subtle, full-bodied flavour which avoids any bitter botanicals. The result is a an earthy tasting gin with hints of orange and cardamom and a soft, smooth finish with a hint of spice. There are two versions of Plymouth gin – the original (41.2 ABV) and their Navy Strength version (which comes in at a hefty 57% ABV).
The gin revolution that blew in earlier this decade has resulted in a contemporary international selection that could have only been imagined a decade ago. Now, contemporary gin makers are dispensing with tradition and experimenting with new flavours and techniques that are challenging everything we thought we knew about this traditional drink. From the UK to Spain and from Japan to Latin America there’s something for everyone – you are only limited by your imagination.
Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)
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