Gin and Tonic

What is gin and what are the different types of gin?

Juniper berries for use in all types of gin
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Before we go any further in this series, I think we need to look at the basics. What is gin and what are the different types of gin? Yes, there are different styles of gin, although what most of us are used to is all the same style. In this post, we are going to work to define what gin is and explore some of the different types of gin.

(Hero Image attribution MPF, Juniperus communis cones, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Gin defined

The US government defines gin as follows:

“Gin” is a product obtained by original distillation from mash, or by redistillation of distilled spirits, or by mixing neutral spirits, with or over juniper berries and other aromatics, or with or over extracts derived from infusions, percolations, or maceration of such materials, and includes mixtures of gin and neutral spirits. It shall derive its main characteristic flavor from juniper berries and be bottled at not less than 80° proof. Gin produced exclusively by original distillation or by redistillation may be further designated as “distilled”. “Dry gin” (London dry gin), “Geneva gin” (Hollands gin), and “Old Tom gin” (Tom gin) are types of gin known under such designations.

It does mention the proof being a factor in what defines a gin, but the other defining characteristic I see in this definition is the juniper berry. No matter the types of gin, juniper berries is key.

Juniper berries in gin

Juniper is that characteristic pine flavor that we all know to be synonymous with gin. The regulations state that regardless of the type of gin, juniper should be the predominant flavor. Most of us do not have these berries growing in our backyard, so if you are interested in what they actually taste like, Juniper Berries can be ordered on Amazon.

This is the same brand that I ordered for making my own rustic gin that we will feature in a future post.

Other aromatics

That definition also talks about ‘other aromatics.’ Coriander is almost always considered a staple of gin aromatics. There often is a citrus element (lemon, lime, or grapefruit rinds) to a gin. Cinnamon, cucumber, savory, anise, ginger, and licorice root are other fairly common ingredients to gin. Then, there are several other items that are not really widely known spices, roots, or other witchcraft that add flavor.

As you can tell, there really is quite a lot of leeway in what can add flavor to your gins, but juniper is the commonality.

Types of gin

The US legal description mentions a few styles and types of gin, but there are others. I am going to focus on four and mention two others. The three mentioned in the definition above (London dry gin, Geneva gin, and Old Tom gin) and then I will also look at compound gin, Plymouth gin, and Navy Strength gin.

Geneva gin

Geneva gin is the precursor to the London Dry gin and the grand pappy of all gins. And it seems that there are many ways to spell it …. Jenever, genever, geneva, Dutch gin, or even peket. It has the juniper taste profile and there are even sub categories within this style of gin. The video and article here dives a bit deeper into this specific style and sub styles.

London dry gin

This is the gin that probably is in your liquor cabinet. If you drink Hendrick’s or Beefeater, you are looking at a london dry gin. For this definition, I must look to the EU regulations on a definition, as the style does not seem to be designated in US law. EU law states

  1. London Gin is made in a traditional still by re-distilling ethyl alcohol in the presence of all the natural flavourings used (these are often called botanicals). The other things that make London Gin especially different are the following: The ethyl alcohol used to distill London Gin must be of a higher quality than the standard laid down for ethyl alcohol. The methanol level in the ethyl alcohol must not exceed a maximum of 5 grams per hecto litre of 100% volume alcohol.
  2. The flavourings used must all be approved natural flavourings and they must impart the flavour during the distillation process. No flavourings can be added after distillation. The use of artificial flavourings is not permitted.
  3. The resultant distillate must have a minimum strength of 70% abv. Further ethyl alcohol can be added after distillations provided it is of the same standard.
  4.  A small amount of sweetening may be added after distillation provided the sugars do not exceed 0.5 grams per litre of finished product (the sugar is not discernable and is added to some products purely for brand protection purposes). No sugar will be added in a London Dry Gin.
  5. London Gin cannot be coloured. The only other substance that may be added is water, which is used to reduce the alcoholic strength to a drinkable level.

Old Tom gin

Old Tom style of gin is the sweeter, less botanical version of the London Dry gin. It seems that there are no real rules surrounding this style (although it must still adhere to US law in the US). Maybe not quite as juniper forward and distilled to end up with a sweeter product.

I was able to sample Ransom’s Old Tom Gin and my favorite local liquor store, Bottle Barn, and it was a treat. It definitely had Ransom Old Tom Gin at Bottle Barna sweeter, almost whiskey like, taste. It still was juniper forward and I really enjoyed this gin!

Compound gin

All of the other gins have been ‘redistilled.’ Either the botanicals have been placed in the liquid that was distilled a second time or vapors ran through botanicals to impart that gin flavor. There is no redistillation needed in compound gin.
All that needs to be done is to add the aromatics directly to a neutral flavored alcohol and give her some time. This style of gin making may attract some fairly bad practices (yeah…. In the really olden days, they added turpentine to base vodka to give the gin flavor), but it doesn’t need to be that way.

I am really excited to take some vodka and turn it into my own rustic version of gin. That would fall under this type of gin.

Plymouth gin

This is gin that is produced in Plymouth, England. Currently, there is only one distillery making gin in Plymouth…. so… the style is narrowed to one company. What is it called? You guessed it… Plymouth. There is a nice little video on the website that gives some details about the company and origin. I have not tried this gin, but my understanding is that there is also a taste difference between Plymouth style gin and London dry.

Plymouth has a softer juniper flavor and is not bound to the sugar restrictions of London dry, so it may be sweeter.

Navy strength gin

The other styles of gin could all maintain the label “navy strength.” This designation basically means that it is stronger than other gins. There also is a navy strength rum. There is an interesting story to go with it, however.

Back in olden days, the British Royal Navy would test the alcohol levels of a spirit by mixing it with a certain amount of gunpowder. It was only deemed appropriate enough for purchase if the concoction lit on fire when ignited. While a fairly unscientific method, the number that made this happen was 57% alcohol. So, if it were 57% or stronger, it was Navy strength.

And while the term “navy strength” is a fairly recent marketing tactic, this methodology was true.

There you have it. Base alcohol. Juniper. Other stuff. BOOM, Gin! I hope that I have helped bring forward some awareness to the different types of gin and look forward to exploring the gin and tonic with you further.

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3 Comments

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    The fascinating origin and storied history of gin - Ramshackle Pantry
    June 4, 2017 at 4:07 am

    […] What is gin and what are the different types of gin? […]

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    Lucy Pieper
    June 23, 2017 at 3:41 pm

    Mmm…gin. My favorite is Blue Sapphire. I find that people either love or hate gin . . .the lovers think it sweet, limey and floral. The haters tend to think it tastes like pine needles and air freshener. As long as it’s not bathtub gin . . I’m in!

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