Gin is a flavoured spirit, but gin is not just juniper flavoured vodka. EU law prescribes that gin can only be a spirit with the following characteristics: 37.5% ABV, the main flavouring must be juniper, and last but not least, base alcohol must always be made from something natural such as wheat, barley, rye, molasses, potatoes or grapes.
Despite these stringent legal requisites, there are still several different types of gin. We have chosen six of the most famous and popular gins. Below you will discover all the differences among these six types of gin.
London dry gin
London dry gin is probably the best-known gin type, and contrary to what is often assumed, it doesn't have to originate in London or even in the United Kingdom. London dry gin doesn't have a specific place where it’s made.
The hallmark of a typical London dry gin is its distinctive, natural juniper note. Some connoisseurs claim that its taste is peculiar compared to classic dry gin.
The London dry gin variety is subject to the strictest manufacturer specifications in the gin sector: artificial flavours cannot be added during the distillation phase; ethanol must only be of agricultural origin and must have an alcohol content of precisely 95%; botanicals may only be added at the beginning of the distillation process – in any other gin variety, these additives may be added at any time during production and distillation.
Dry gin has many similarities to the highly esteemed London dry gin, but dry gin is in a class of its own and deserves a closer look. Dry gin is the opposite of sweetened 'Old Tom' (see below). Does dry gin only stand for dryness? No, even though this is its main characteristic and, at the same time, its most remarkable similarity to London dry gin. It makes a lot of sense to look at the two product categories side by side, because they share more than just the term dry.
For example, it is essential for both types of gin that not much sugar is added. There is even a ban on added sugar, but this is not always observed. For example, a small amount of sugar of 0.1 to 0.5 g per litre can be noticed in some varieties. In addition, both spirits must be distilled at least twice. In addition to the prohibited or only moderate addition of sugar, the distillate must be enriched with botanicals. These are parts of plants of all kinds — the leaves, flowers, seeds, fruits, fruit peels, bark, roots, twigs, spices, or herbs. Only one component is prescribed as mandatory for both types of gin: the juniper berry, which gives the spirit its name.
Unlike London dry gin, not all botanicals have to be used together, and a gradual flavouring is also possible. It has also become common to soak the botanicals separately in alcohol and let them macerate before distilling them together. Furthermore, with dry gin, it is possible to use three or even more distillation processes and select as many or as few ingredients as desired from all over the world. Sometimes the botanicals are exotic, while in other cases, they are classic, which leaves a lot of freedom in terms of aroma and flavour.
Another difference between dry gin and London dry gin is that dry gin is not quite so natural – it is not lawfully forbidden to enrich the distillate with ‘nature-identical’ flavourings. Furthermore, it is allowed to add food colourings to a dry gin. For instance, you can treat yourself to a glass of blue gin or coloured in hues of pink or orange. This brings life into the event, colour into the bar or home bar and exciting possibilities for new cocktails and long drinks.
Speaking of cocktails: dry gin is ideal for mixing alcoholic drinks and for the world-famous gin & tonic. The same applies to London dry gin, of course. As far as the alcohol content is concerned, it must be 37.5% ABV or more. Internationally, 40% ABV is popular, although the English or British are particularly fond of gin with 47% ABV and there are still versions with higher drinking strength of up to 60 or 70% ABV to be discovered.
As already described above, London dry gin may allude to the English capital London, but it’s not necessarily tied to London. The production site of London dry gin can be anywhere in the world. But Plymouth Gin is inextricably linked with the English city of Plymouth and benefits from a protected designation of origin – Plymouth gin may only be distilled and bottled in Plymouth by Plymouth Gin Distillery. The distillery – located in the Barbican district – was opened at the end of the 18th century and also goes by the company name The Blackfriars Distillery.
The location of production and the distillery are not the unique features of Plymouth Gin. Plymouth Gin is considered not quite as dry as London dry gin, yet it is not as heavily sweetened as the lovely Old Tom gin. Plymouth Gin is available in a standard bottling with an alcohol content of 41.2 % vol. – slightly above the average of 40 % and below the British favourite of 47 % vol.
Another characteristic of the gin from Plymouth is that it is not only moderately sweet but also full-bodied. Even though juniper berries and coriander seeds are the dominant ingredients in this type of gin, Plymouth Gin owes its smoothness and hint of sweetness to the fact that The Blackfriars Distillery focuses on roots in its botanicals - the roots give a more earthy flavour and a rounder, softer taste to the gin. Agricultural neutral alcohol is used, which is aromatised by triple distillation with specially selected botanicals.
Old Tom gin
Old Tom Gin is the opposite of London dry gin. With the latter, it is strictly forbidden to add sugar or any other additives after distillation or at all. Even with dry gin, which is classified as dry, the addition of sugar has no place. But it is another story with Old Tom gin, where sugar is the be-all and end-all. In addition to the sweetening, Old Tom gin is characterised by its alcohol content, which must be at least 37.5% ABV. In almost all cases, the gin is distilled, usually twice. The basis for this is agriculturally produced neutral alcohol. As with dry gin, this ethyl alcohol is flavoured with botanicals. Unlike London gin, these botanicals do not have to be added all at once and not all during the second distillation process.
How did Old Tom gin get its name? This type of gin has a very intriguing history. Let's explore it briefly here.
Old Tom gin first appeared in England in the 18th century. It wasn't long after discovering Dutch Genever's recipe that the English became so intrigued with the juniper spirit that they continued to develop it. In that period, a large amount of gin was produced, and even though it was of poor quality, it was consumed with such enthusiasm by the working classes that its excessive use almost paralysed them.
With the Gin Act of 1736, the UK government imposed a high license fee for gin. Because of these high taxes, gin production and consumption flourished underground. A majority of pubs and taverns in England were able to continue selling it only secretly. A few of them built a black cat statue (‘Old Tomcat’) outside their buildings to show that gin could be bought secretly. The clever idea behind the black cat statue was that customers could throw coins into the cat's mouth, and then a ‘bartender’ would pour gin through a lead pipe into the building, which would flow to the cat's paws. The illegally produced gin could then be drunk outside without attracting attention. In addition, the practice of adding sugar to gin was introduced very early in the process, perhaps to reduce costs and because gin was distilled without authorisation and control.
As the Gin Act was repealed and the situation normalised, normal gins began to circulate and London Dry Gin almost completely replaced Old Tom gin – it was soon considered frowned upon to sweeten the juniper spirit and thus somewhat conceal its dry juniper notes.
Only a few years ago, Old Tom gin experienced a renaissance, largely thanks to a handful of English producers. No distilleries outside the UK produce it, although it has since gained a foothold on the world market.
While Japan is perhaps better known for its whiskey and some other more traditional alcoholic beverages such as sake or shochu, gin is also popular in the land of the rising sun.
Gin was the first Western-style spirit to be produced in Japan. Historical records indicate the Dutch trading enclave on Dejima island in Nagasaki Bay introduced gin to the country during the Edo Period (1603-1867). However, due to bans on importation over the following centuries, gin was not widely consumed until recently.
In 2016, The Kyoto Distillery launched the first craft gin made with Japanese botanicals called Ki No Bi (‘The Beauty of the Seasons’) and Roku Gin was launched in 2017.
It’s common for Japanese gins to be crafted with neutral grain spirits like shochu or whiskey, but some distillers use sweet potato instead of sugarcane. Gin created in Japan has a distinct oriental flavour and is made by hand-selecting and harvesting native botanicals.
While western gins carry various tones of juniper, aniseed, lavender, orange, rosemary and other ingredients, Japanese gin typically is made using fewer ingredients and, importantly, using Japanese native botanicals: sakura (cherry blossom), hinoki (Japanese cypress), gyokuro (a variety of shade-grown green tea), sansh (an indigenous peppercorn similar to the Sichuan peppercorn), and a variety of indigenous citrus fruit.
Reserve gin is one of the ‘unofficial’ gins. As we already mentioned above, the EU spirits regulation in Europe regulates what exactly may be called gin and how it must be designated. Reserve gin is not one of them but has nevertheless established itself as a category of its own. Some producers also call reserve gin with the alternative name of ‘aged gin’.
Reserve gin is a gin that has been stored in a wooden barrel after distillation for a certain amount of time. The reserve gin’s production does not differ in most steps from the production of other types of gin. The ingredients, first and foremost the juniper, are macerated in neutral alcohol to take on the aroma of the so-called botanicals. The mixture is then packed into the still and distilled. The unique feature in the production of reserve gin is the storage: the gin is stored in wooden barrels. There are neither specifications for the duration of storage nor the wooden barrel to be used.
Not all reserve gins are the same in terms of taste – gins differ from distiller to distiller. When tasting, you should also pay attention to how long the gin has been stored — the basic rule: the longer, the more intense the aroma of the wooden barrel.
Another criterion that determines the taste of the reserve gin is the wooden barrel itself. There are no limits to the distiller's creativity here. Gins that have been stored in neutral wooden barrels, wine barrels or sherry casks are common. And it is precisely these aromas that you will find in the gin.
The difference between rye whiskey and bourbon whisky is in the mix of grains used in fermentation, known as the ‘mash bill.’ Under US law, rye must have a mash bill of 51% rye or higher, while bourbon must have a mash bill of 51% corn or higher.
There’s nothing quite like a mulled wine, whether it’s outdoors at a bustling Christmas market, or sat in front of the fireplace in your snug new Christmas slippers. But mulled wine isn’t the only option. So why not try a cup of mulled gin if you haven’t already?