Having now decided that trying to make your own gin is far too much effort (and depending on how you go about it, questionably legal), the question comes about of what kind of gin you want. Long gone are the historical days of gin, with your only choice being whether or not you wanted a mixer. Now, thanks to craft distillers and a booming demand the market are awash with exciting variations of gin. We won’t mention any specific brand names, but we’ll try and give an idea of what to expect based on the flavour profiles typical of each gin.
Probably the most well-known style of gin, and the most readily available, London Dry is truly England’s national liquor. Unlike the name suggests, it doesn’t actually have to be made in London (although that’s where the style exploded into popularity). When ordering a gin in a bar the house bottle will almost certainly be a London Dry, and the gin section in any shop will be dominated by it. You can expect something that has a very clean juniper flavour, but with lingering hints of citrus. There is very little sweetness involved (legally you can’t add sugar and still call it a London Dry) and its taste is very refreshing and light on the palate. Perfect for a gin and tonic with a twist of lime.
You might remember this old school style from the history of gin section. The Dutch forefather to all modern gins, Genever is being brought back to popularity in England and appeals to people who love their gin but want to explore something that is very different. While modern gin uses a neutral spirit base (normally made from corn or barley) Genever uses a base spirit fermented from the malt. This malt flavour carries through into the final product, although juniper is still the dominant flavour. It is also a lot sweeter than modern gins. The profile is usually described as ‘whiskey like’ and can be a great introduction into the gin world for a whiskey lover, or if you feel adventurous can be made into a new and fascinating Old Fashioned cocktail.
Old Tom gins are the missing link between Genever and modern gin and saw their heyday during prohibition, being the gin of choice served in speakeasies everywhere. Although it fell out of fashion as London Dry began to dominate the scene, a few dedicated bartenders and distillers have very recently begun to bring it back based on personal accounts from the time. Modern Old Tom’s may not be 100% historically accurate due to the lack of actual recipes available, they still make for a delicious gin, especially for someone who doesn’t enjoy the dry taste of most popular gins. You can expect a sweeter flavour than London Dry, often with citrus and floral botanicals. A great choice for a Tom Collins cocktail.
New Wave Gin
Not technically a separate type of gin, but rather a stylistic grouping of many modern craft distillers. Rather than being dominated by the pine flavour of juniper, these new gins are typified by a complex botanical profile with juniper still present but not necessarily at the forefront. You can find cucumber, rhubarb, even chocolate flavoured gins in this classification and it’s a great way to introduce people who don’t like the strong ‘gin’ flavour to the world of gin. This category is the most diverse that we’ll talk about but can be the hardest to find. Craft distillers may not be the easiest to find in your local supermarket, but putting in the effort will be well worth it.
Not for the faint of heart, Navy Strength gin is distilled to a staggering 57% ABV. The name comes from its long association with the nautical world where the higher strength meant that it took up less precious cargo space without sacrificing alcohol content. In a time where daily rations of alcohol were legally required, this was taken very seriously, and the sailors would mix some of their gin with gunpowder and set it aflame to test its potency; it wouldn’t ignite if the alcohol content was lower than 57% and this qualification carries through to this day. Expect a similar taste to a London Dry that is amazingly smooth for its alcohol content. Its light and smooth flavour make a perfect choice for gin cocktails, while also leaving more room in the glass for extra mixers or flavours.
Unlike London Dry, Plymouth gin is required by law to be distilled in Plymouth. While this hasn’t led to world-beating popularity, Plymouth gin has a small audience who are very dedicated to its unique flavour. Plymouth gin is quite earthy compared to many styles but is still more dry than sweet. Perhaps not the most interesting type of gin, but if you find you enjoy it then you’ll never be disappointed as the strict regulation means that all Plymouth Gin is made in much the same way.
Sloe gins are exploding in popularity in recent years, and with good reason too. They are incredibly sweet and syrupy, and the flavour profile is most often described as ‘christmas-y’ (especially when combined with other berries or botanicals like cinnamon and clove). Perfect with soda or in a cocktail Sloe Gin is the ideal start for the drinker who claims not to enjoy gin… as long as you don’t tell them that technically it’s not gin. Sloe gins are almost always a gin-based liqueur of around 20% ABV, with a high dilution of the original gin with the sloe juice and sugar.
Not to be confused with some craft gins which use grapes as a botanical, true grape gins are a rare type which distils wine as a base. The flavour is heavily influenced by the choice of grapes but is still heavily infused with juniper notes. It’s rare that red wine is used as a base (the result of which would be more akin to a brandy) and typically there aren’t very many extra botanicals added. If you can find it, grape gin is a great way for the experienced gin drinker to branch out and push their horizons.