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What is gin?
Though you may know gin best as the bottle collecting dust at the back of your grandfather’s bar cart, gin is a mixology staple. The fragrant alcoholic beverage is famous for its intensely piney aromas, but gin is so much more than that. From Martinis to Gimlets, gin is the star ingredient in a long list of popular cocktails, and one of the most popular mixed drinks in the world, the Gin and Tonic.
In order for a spirit to be considered a gin, there is one flavoring ingredient that must be present. Juniper berries. The fruit of the juniper tree, juniper berries are incredibly aromatic. The deep purple berries are responsible for those piney notes we so often associate with gin.
How is gin made?
To make gin, first the distillers make a base spirit. For the most part, that base spirit is made from grain, but there are some fruit-based gins out there, like the gins from The Spirit Guild or New Alchemy Distilling. Sometimes, that base spirit is no different than what they’re bottling as vodka.
Outside of juniper berries, a gin gets its flavor from a carefully selected collection of botanicals. There are three main methods distilleries will use to impart the botanicals’ flavor onto the spirit: steeping method and vapor infusion.
The steeping method is as straightforward as it sounds. Distillers will steep their botanicals inside the spirit. Not only does this method impart rich, delicious flavors. But this method can also lend some color to the spirit that hints at the incredible flavor to come.
Unlike the steeping method, during the vapor infusion process the botanicals never come into direct contact with the spirit. Instead, the botanicals are placed in gin baskets in the still. As the base spirit evaporates it passes through the basket the spirit collects and adopts all of those wonderful flavors.
Some distilleries go the extra mile and combine these two time-tested methods.
What are all these different kinds of gin?
There’s a whole lot of different styles of gin out there. Each with their own unique flavors and profiles that lend themselves to different types of drinks. Here’s a quick guide to the most popular kinds of gin.
London Dry Gin – If you have minimal associations with gin, London Dry Gin is probably what you’re picturing. Famed for its punchy aromas, dry body, and strong notes of juniper. There is a stipulation to the London Dry designation. No artificial flavors or botanicals can be added after distilling. Meaning, a London Dry wouldn’t be made using the steeping method.
New American Gin – Sometimes called New Western gin, New American Gin is a more modern rendition of the classic spirit. Instead of being dominated by the flavors of juniper, this style of gin lets the supporting botanicals and ingredients into the spotlight. Different floral tones and citrus notes are popular flavors that pop up in New American Gin.
Navy Strength Gin – This gin moniker doesn’t refer to the flavors within the gin, rather the proof. Navy Strength Gin is bottled at at least 114 proof. The gin style gets its name from the old naval tradition of igniting their gin rations to prove their strength.
Old Tom Gin – This is the sweeter side of gin. Old Tom Gin is famously associated with the Tom Collins cocktail. To attain the sweet flavor, distillers will use sweet botanicals or even add some sugar.
Barreled Gin – This style feels fairly straightforward. Barreled Gins are treated like whiskeys. Rested in varying styles of oak barrels, Barreled Gins have added layers of nuance, including woody oak.
Popular gin cocktails:
There are plenty of options when it comes to gin cocktails. If you’re ready to get started making gin drinks at home, here are a few popular gin cocktails to start with:
Martini – The martini is probably one of the most popular drinks in cocktail history. Traditionally garnished with an olive or lemon twist, Martinis combine gin and dry vermouth. If someone orders a dry martini, serve it with a little less dry vermouth.
Gimlet – Made with just two ingredients, a gimlet is generally equal parts gin and sweetened lime juice, like Rose’s. It could not be easier to make. Swap out the gin for rum, and you have a daiquiri. Or use vodka for a vodka gimlet.
Negroni – This Italian cocktail is equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and a bitter aperitif, like Campari. The Negroni is a spirit-forward cocktail. If there’s a bourbon fan in the house, trade the gin for bourbon and make a Boulevardier.