As the market for gin grows, so to does the variety available for drinkers. To help you understand a little more about the history, and flavour profile, of different gins we’ve put together an overview of some of the more popular styles.
Part one covers London Dry, Plymouth, and Navy Strength. Look out for part two and a exploration of Sloe and Old Tom gins.
London Dry Gin
Before the invention of the Coffey Still in 1832, distilling gin was a messy business, and makers tried to hide the less ‘wholesome’ aspects by including lots of sweetness, whether it be honey, sugars, or an ingredient like liquorice and loading the drink with strong botanicals.
The genius of the Coffey Still allowed a consistent pure, cheaply made, grain spirit, meaning distillers no longer needed to mask inferior drinks. ‘Dry gin’ became the name for this clear, unsweetened, style and as the UK’s capital was the main source of dry gin, the name London Dry Gin was quickly added to common usage.
What defines a London Dry Gin is the distilling process. In the EU this means keeping to set regulations:
- A neutral base spirit of agricultural origin; that has already been distilled to over 96% ABV.
- (Re)distilled to at least 70% ABV.
- Only watered down to a minimum strength of 37.5%.
- No artificial ingredients.
- Only a minute amount of sweetener.
- No flavour or colour added after distillation.
- The predominant botanical must be juniper (as with all gins).
Conspicuously missing here is location. London Dry Gin can be distilled anywhere, with very little of it actually made in the capital these days.
London Dry Gins to try…
Dry gin allows more subtle flavours to come through, emphasising the distilled botanicals. These examples here produce wonderfully subtle, different tastes — showing the variety of botanicals in use.
- Sipsmith London Dry Gin is brewed in the city, a deliberate choice by Sipsmith to return the style back to its spiritual home.
- Beefeater 24 is a superior drink from Beefeater, who, until Sipsmith came along, were the only distiller making London Dry Gin in the capital.
Unlike London Dry Gin, Plymouth Gin is from where you would expect. The name is geographically protected in the EU, meaning only distillers in Plymouth can produce it. And there’s only one distiller in Plymouth actively doing so. Based on the London Dry Gin style, it has a different flavour profile from its blended botanicals.
Plymouth gin has the honour of being the base alcohol listed in the first known dry martini recipe.
Plymouth gin to try
Flavour-wise Plymouth Gin uses different blends of botanicals to London Gin giving a sweeter, more earthy character.
- Plymouth Gin is the classic spirit, made by Black Friar’s Distillery.
- If you want to try something else from the same distiller we offer their Plymouth Sloe Gin too.
The British Navy’s love affair with gin is so ingrained at one time it was legally mandated each boat carried a minimum amount on-board. What most concerned sailors was the strength of their gin, and they were determined to obstruct any nefarious attempts to water down their daily indulgence.
The gin was usually stored next to gunpowder (for some reason…), which gave a simple way of testing the drink’s strength. Take a small sample of gunpowder, spill a dribble of gin on it and try to light the mix. Only if the alcohol is 100% proof will you get a spark, anything less and you get nothing more than a damp squib.
Canny sailors knew this and regularly tested their gin. Anything less than 100% proof was rejected and gin guaranteed to be strong enough became known as ’navy strength’.
Putting 100% proof in modern terms, it equates to 57% ABV. So, where you see a gin advertised as navy strength you know it is at least this strength.
Navy strength gins to try
The higher ABV is achieved through less dilution, meaning navy strength gins are more robust with intense flavours.
- Hayman’s Royal Dock Gin manages to retain some of its lower-ABV sibling’s smoothness with plenty of juniper and citrus flavours.
In Part 2 of our guide to gin styles we’ll look at one of the oldest recipes around, along with a winter-warming speciality.