What is Gin?
Gin is a clear re-distilled grain spirit that gains its woody, grassy, fruity and spicy flavours from infusions with seeds, berries, herbs and roots. The botanicals are either steeped in the mash before distillation or filtered through the vapour using distillation. Juniper is the only legally required botanical but other common botanicals include coriander, citrus peels, orris and angelica root, cinnamon and its cousin cassia, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg and ground almonds. However, in the current ‘gin boom’ a huge range of botanicals are being used to produce modern twists on the traditional drink.
London Dry Gin
The most widely available gin style is London Dry Gin. London Dry Gin doesn’t actually have to be made in London. London Dry gins tend to be flowery and aromatic with the botanicals being added during the 2nd or 3rd distillation. The vapours from these flavouring agents reach the alcohol as they pass through a specialised still with an attachment called a gin head.
Dry gins are the most common gins used in cocktails and are preferred for making the Dry Martini.
The Dutch style of gin and noted as being the first gin style, Genever is distilled from a malted grain mash similar to that used for whisky. Generally, genevers have a drier palate and lighter body. Some genevers are aged for one to three years in oak casks.
Old Tom gin is a slightly sweeter version of London Dry. After being the most common style of gin in the early 19th century, Old Tom was out of fashion for a long time. However in recent years it has been making a comeback and has become popular again.
Old Tom was the original gin used in the famous Tom Collins cocktail.
Compound gin is not redistilled: flavourings are added to a neutral spirit. In some cases, the gin is made simply by infusing juniper berries.
The term 'navy strength' was coined in the 1990s as a marketing terms. However, the story of navy strength gins began on Royal Navy ships when the British Royal Navy would measure a spirits’ strength by igniting it. When the spirits and gunpowder (stored in the same cargo hold) were accidentally spilled upon one another, the gunpowder was still usable. Today, navy strength gins are highly regarded and tend to be bottled at 57% ABV. The style is popular for cocktails as the spirit maintains its gin characteristics.
By definition, Sloe Gin isn’t a type of gin. It's a liqueur made with gin and sloe berries. Sloe berries are a relative of the plum and grow on thorny shrubs, and have a sharp, astringent taste similar to blackcurrant that can only be tamed with alcohol. Sugar is also required to extract the flavours from the berries.
Every gin has its own flavour profile and the distiller will often will suggest garnishes to finish your gin. The recommended garnishes will either match with the gin's key botanicals or contrast and balance them. However, there is no correct choice of garnish for a gin - it all comes down to your personal preference.