Gin is a distilled alcoholic drink that gets its primary flavor from juniper berries. It originated as a medicinal liquor made by monks and alchemists across Europe during the Middle Ages.
It later became a commerce item in the spirits industry. Nowadays, it’s part of many basic bar drinks in establishments around the world.
Do you know the history of gin and what it’s made from? There are many different styles and types of gin. A bartender or mixologist should know the differences in making an optimal mixed drink with gin.
Read on to learn more about gin and how it evolved to become the alcohol in your Negroni and Gin and Tonic recipe. You’ll learn some facts about gin that the best bar books and mixology classes don’t cover.
History of Gin
Gin became popular in England after the introduction of Genever, a Belgian and Dutch liquor used as a medicine. After the Glorious Revolution in England (1688) succeeded under William of Orange and his wife Mary II, gin gained widespread popularity.
When England restricted imports of French brandy, it became the national drink. The appeal of gin gradually spread across Europe and the rest of the world.
Today, there are many gin brands with different styles and types, and you can find cocktail drinks containing gin on bar menus everywhere. Successful bar and restaurant operations keep a sufficient supply of gin in stock for making gin cocktails.
What Is Gin Made From?
Gin is produced in different ways from herbal cocktail ingredients, accounting for a wide range of distinct styles and brands. The one ingredient all gins have in common is juniper berries.
Gin initially comes from a grain base, usually wheat or barley, before producers add botanicals and water. Spirits must have a predominant flavor of juniper berries to be categorized as a gin.
In addition to the grain and juniper berries, producers add botanicals, herbs, and spices to give it a distinctive flavor. Citrus, rosemary, and seeds are common botanicals that make up the ingredients of gin.
Types of Gin
There are three main types of gin: distilled gin, redistilled gin, and compound gin.
Distilled gin comes from a mash or fermented alcohol base. It's similar to the technique for whiskey production. Redistilled gin comes from the second distillation of a neutral spirit.
Distilled and redistilled gin both receive their flavors from an infusion of fresh or dried juniper berries and other botanical ingredients. These are the two most common types of gin found in the United States. If you manage a bar, you probably stock one or both of them.
Compound gin is the third type of gin, which is less common and cheaper. This is a mixture of a neutral spirit with juniper berry extract or essences to achieve flavoring.
If you’re starting a bar, you’ll want to learn the differences and hire bartenders who are knowledgeable about different types of gin.
Styles of Gin
There are several styles of gin available to enjoy on their own or to mix with other ingredients. Several combine with other additives to produce some of the most popular cocktails, including a martini and gin and tonic.
But what are the similarities and differences between each style of gin? Read on to learn more about each one.
Genever is the original style of gin that dates to the 16th century in the Netherlands. It’s like whiskey in that the grains are malted. The grain starts to germinate, then the process is stopped to give it a robust flavor. Juniper and botanicals provide flavor for Genever gin, but less so than other types.
Genever distillers create a malt wine spirit as the predominant flavor of the gin. They let the grains ferment for around five days before turning them into a mash. Next, the distillers add botanicals, including juniper, cloves, caraway, ginger, and nutmeg.
The main difference between Genever gin and other types of gin is that the predominant flavor isn't juniper. It has a distinct taste with less citrus and more earthy qualities. Genever gin has a rich flavor and taste, meaning it goes well with similar-tasting cocktails like an Old Fashioned.
London Dry Gin
London Dry Gin originated in England, but worldwide distilleries produce it nowadays. This is commonly used for a Martini recipe or a Gin and Tonic recipe and the one most people associate with gin. Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire, and Tanqueray are London Dry and popular brands for call liquor.
London Dry Gin has potent juniper flavors and fresh citrus notes. This is why a lemon twist brings out the citrus notes of a Martini. Some London Dry Gins include fresh or dried citrus peels before distillation that provide the citrus highlights.
The term “dry” in London Dry Gin means there aren't any artificial flavors added, only the natural flavoring from the botanicals. Other types of gins with a sweet taste likely contain licorice.
Unlike London Dry Gin, which distilleries produce worldwide, Plymouth Gin exclusively comes from the city where it received its name. Plymouth is a southern coastal city in England where it originates before becoming a prime example of how to ship alcohol to outlets worldwide.
Plymouth Gin is like London Dry Gin in some ways but sweeter with more citrus elements. Typical ingredients include juniper, cardamom, dried orange peels, coriander seeds, orris root, and Angelica root. The latter two are the reason it recalls earthy elements.
The brand is proud of its appearance in The Savoy Cocktail Book, one of the best classic cocktail books. Harry Braddock published the book in 1930 and featured 23 gin recipes that included Plymouth Gin. This exposure allowed the brand to stand out at a time when many competitors were entering the market.
Old Tom Gin
At the beginning of the 18th century, early versions of Old Tom Gin were known as bathtub gin because they came from residential homes. During those days, it had a reputation for having poor quality and taste. People often added sweetening ingredients like licorice to boost its flavor.
Old Tom arrived in the middle of the 18th century with a standardized sweet taste. The brand got its name from the street term for this style of gin.
Nowadays, distilleries manufacture it and present a higher quality and better taste. Producers use licorice when distilling it to boost its sweetness, but it doesn't taste like licorice.
Old Tom Gin is sweeter than other gins and has a more robust flavor than London Dry Gin. This fact makes it ideal for use with bitter types of alcohol and older recipes from the 19th century and early 20th century.
Navy Strength Gin
Navy Strength Gin got its name from its popularity with the British Royal Navy and from its high alcohol content. Navy Strength Gin has an ABV (alcohol by volume) of 57% compared to London Dry Gin’s average peak of 40-45% ABV.
The British Royal Navy fleet preferred Plymouth Gin but wanted a more potent version. Manufacturers used an ABV calculator method to produce gin with a higher alcohol content for them. As they say, the rest is history.
New Western Dry Gin
Distiller Christian Kogstad and bartender Ryan Magarian co-founded Aviation Gin in 2006, but no name existed for their style of gin at that time. Magarian came up with the moniker New Western Style Gin.
They created a style of gin without a dominant juniper flavor. Instead, it emphasized the botanical ingredients traditionally added to gin. Some distillers have introduced new ideas for combinations with this style of gin.
The name New Western Gin didn't intend to refer to a geographical location. It was a means to describe and categorize the style of gin with a toned-down juniper influence. The number of distilleries adopting this style has grown over the last decade.
Frequently Asked Questions About Types of Gin
Is Gin Stronger Than Vodka?
The average ABV for gin and vodka is similar at around 40%. Many more popular brands have an ABV in the 40-45% range. However, Navy Strength Gin has an ABV of 57%, and some stronger vodka brands go as high as 95%.
Is Gin Sweet or Bitter?
Gin is generally not a sweet liquor, despite the botanicals and other sweet ingredients (like licorice) used in its production. There are sweeter variations of gin, such as Plymouth Gin, but gin isn’t regarded as a sweet-tasting alcohol.
Can You Drink Gin Straight?
Yes, you can drink gin straight. Some people prefer to drink gin without adding anything to the drink. Add a few ice cubes to a rocks glass. Pour the gin and add a lime wedge. If you’re drinking gin (or any liquor) neat, you want to choose a high-quality brand that provides a good taste.
Gin Straight or Gin Cocktails
Gin isn’t exactly a pain or hangover cure, but early versions of it provided medicinal relief for people in Western Europe. It evolved over time to become the version you can order at your favorite bar or restaurant.
However, gin is also included among the best alcohol for shots. You can enjoy gin on its own or use it as an ingredient for your favorite spring cocktails. Either way, sample some of the types and styles of gin and choose a bottle or two to include in your home bar essentials.