Here’s a fact for you. Technically, gin could be described as juniper-flavoured Vodka. Gin purists will be baying for my blood for saying that – understandably, because gin is so much more complex and exciting than that – but in the meanest terms it’s true.
There are several ways you can make gin. All start with the same thing – a neutral spirit (which is, essentially, what vodka is). You can then make basic gin by adding essences or flavourings to this. It might not be particularly complex, smooth or deep, but if it tastes of juniper it’s a gin.
Thankfully, there are better ways to make gin. A more advanced method is creating a cold-compound gin by steeping neutral spirit in botanicals to infuse the spirit. This method produces gins ranging from the simple to the exceptional. An excellent example to try is Prof. Cornelius Ampleforth’s Bathtub Gin. The name is apt – this method of cold-compounding harks back to the days of prohibition and rum-runners, making dodgy spirits palatable by soaking botanicals in a bathtub. And fret not – this is as far from dodgy as you can get!
Distilled gin is where you take the cold-compounding concept one step further by putting all the botanicals and spirit into a still and firing it up, redistilling the neutral spirit with botanicals to infuse and bind the flavours.
Variants of this include vapour-infusion, the distiller hangs a basket of botanicals in the swan’s neck of the still so that the vaporised spirit passes through, infusing as it does. Williams Chase, Bombay Sapphire and Hendricks all use this method.
If you stop here, you can call it a London Dry Gin – such as Sipsmith. If you add something to the gin after distillation (other than cutting it to strength with distilled water) then it ceases to be a London Dry and is instead a Distilled Gin.
It’s easy to think that means London Dry is the best quality of Gin, but that’s a trap. It’s simply a style. Hendricks add cucumber distillate and rose petal essence after distillation, so it’s not a London Dry. Gordon’s gin adds nothing after distillation so it is a London Dry. Tanqueray 10 blends a distillate of citrus separately from the other botanicals, so it isn’t.
Oh, and London Dry gins can be made anywhere. Unlike Plymouth gins, which can only be made in Plymouth – and there’s only the one, the eponymous Plymouth Gin. And then there’s Old Tom – more on that later.
Many gin makers have decided that the London Dry category is too restrictive for their creativity and passion to craft the best, most interesting, and enjoyable gin they can.
First up to our new line of craft gins is Rokeby’s Half Crown gin. This is a London Dry style, distilled in small batches in a traditional copper pot still. At 40.6% ABV it carries a huge whack of piney juniper, with fresh citrus notes and some coriander seed spice. Attractively priced, it’s a craft spirit you can take to a party and be proud of your choice.
Brecon Botanicals Gin weighs in at a premium 43% ABV. This little number comes from the award winning Penderyn Distillery, and uses water from the beautiful Brecon Beacons National Park. It’s got a really spicy cinnamon note on the finish, but as you’d hope the real punch comes from juniper, supported by coriander, nutmeg, licorice and angelica with a citrussy twist. For me, this is a Martini Vodka – and it’s smooth enough to enjoy neat with a few ice cubes!
A personal favourite of mine comes from a wee distillery around the back of The Royal Dick at Summerhall in Edinburgh. Pickering’s Gin is a small batch gin based on an old 1947 recipe. Summerhall Distillery is home to Gert, a small 500 litre still, and has a unique, custom-designed bain-marie heating system. This evens out the heat so the botanicals get a gentle treatment, coaxing out all their subtle flavours.
The result is a phenomenally silky gin, loaded with piney, earthy, and herbacious wonderment. I love the huge whack of citrus and clove that hits after the juniper, and a gentle caress of lavender on the finish rounds off what is an unquestionably excellent gin. Plus it’s from Edinburgh, so I get to taste a little bit of home every time I take a sip.
Finally, a bartender’s delight: Hayman’s Old Tom Gin. Old Tom styles are the predecessor to Dry Gin styles, and are slightly sweeter in style. It’s smooth and full-flavoured, with a rounder and far softer character than Dry Gins. Using a recipe from the 1870s, Hayman’s has a wonderful lick of ginger spice and orange zest with echoes of violets, rosewater and star anise behind pine-tree juniper. This is the gin to go to for a Tom Collins.
Interestingly for the drinks historian (or geek), the original Martini cocktail would have been made with an Old Tom style of gin. The origin of the Dry Martini is nothing to do with the amount of vermouth in the drink, but the style of gin used – a London Dry rather than an Old Tom.
You can find our range of Gins on majestic.co.uk – many of our stores stock gins made locally, and there’s often a bottle or two open to try!