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Origins

Types of Gin

Types of Gin

We spend a lot of our time around spirits – drinking them, mixing them, reading about them, and discussing them in wonkish detail. And if we had a dollar for every time we sat next to a stranger who, upon learning we work with spirits, began a sentence with: “I’m just not a [insert misunderstood spirit here] person”? Believe us, reader, when we say we could pay our rent with that money.

This series is an antidote to all those false starts and bad first impressions. Because the best counter to a bad hangover is sticking to good alcohol in the first place.

First up: gin. Most of us had an improper introduction to this beautiful botanical spirit – what we on the AMASS team fondly refer to as, ‘gin-cidents’. But if you’re not taking the time to appreciate all the exciting products coming out of gin’s recent renaissance, what are you doing, really?

Do you know what type of gin you’re drinking? If not, you’re in good company – many of us here at AMASS HQ couldn’t tell you the difference between a London Dry and a Dutch Genever when we first joined. And the answer that follows doesn’t exactly simplify it. Gins can be classified by a range of factors including, but not limited to: how they are distilled, what additives are included in the final product, concentration, geographical origins…  there are even categories based on original distillation vs. redistillation. For the purposes of this article, however, we are going to focus on four popular types: Dutch Genever, London Dry, Old Tom, and Modern.

Dutch Genever

The first — and OG – style of gin is the Dutch Genever (also referred to as Dutch Gin or Holland Gin). And it seems that there are many ways to spell it: Jenever, genever, Geneva, Dutch gin… the list goes on. Rather than starting with a neutral grain spirit, a genever starts its life cycle much like whiskey, with a malted grain blend of malted barley, rye, and corn. This grain mix is mashed down and fermented to create the gin’s base. The soft yellow spirit is then macerated with botanicals – most importantly juniper, but also the occasional hit of fennel which increases the spirit’s darker tones. This particular process lends itself well to barrel-aging, as opposed to English gins, which undergo a very quick distillation process. The resulting spirit has many similar characteristics to vodka, albeit with more earthy and malty notes.

London Dry Gin

This is the gin that probably is in your liquor cabinet. If you drink Hendrick’s or Beefeater, you’ve got a London Dry Gin in your glass. This style is the most familiar as “gin” and most widely available is a style called London Dry Gin. Curiously, a London Dry does not have to be made in London; instead it’s defined by getting its juniper flavor from neutral spirits (grain alcohol) re-distilled with botanicals. London Dry Gin must contain only natural ingredients and only a very small amount of sugar; no additional flavorings or colorings may be added after the distillation process.

Old Tom

First created in England in the 18th century, Old Toms are characterized by sugar in the re-distillation process that makes this style of gin sweeter than a London Dry. Old Tom Gin is often referred to as the missing link between Dutch style Genever (or Jenever) and London Gin. Lighter and less intense than Genever, Old Tom gins are on the sweeter side and get their flavors from malts or added sugar. Old Tom Gin waned in popularity and production over the years, but the recent cocktail renaissance has led to its revival, as independent producers have delved into the history of gin and rediscovered its long-lost recipes. One of the most elusive gin styles, Old Tom is an excellent gin for whiskey drinkers who crave heavier undertones in their liquors.

Modern Gin (AKA Western Style or New Western)

Modern Gin (also called New Western Style Gin) can be made anywhere in the world. It downplays the inclusion of juniper berries in favor of a variety of other botanicals including citrus peels, coriander and even rose, cucumber and lavender. This fresher, experiment-driven category appeals to drinkers who previously avoided the gin category because of juniper’s piney notes. Because of its wide variety of aromas and flavors, modern gin has been a popular option for modern craft cocktails and helped support the spirit’s recent revival.

Early Gin History

Early Gin History

We spend a lot of our time around spirits – drinking them, mixing them, reading about them, and discussing them in wonkish detail. And if we had a dollar for every time we sat next to a stranger who, upon learning we work with spirits, began a sentence with: “I’m just not a [insert misunderstood spirit here] person”? Believe us, reader, when we say we could pay our rent with that money.

This series is an antidote to all those false starts and bad first impressions. Because the best counter to a bad hangover is sticking to good alcohol in the first place.

First up: gin. Most of us had an improper introduction to this beautiful botanical spirit – what we on the AMASS team fondly refer to as, ‘gin-cidents’. But if you’re not taking the time to appreciate all the exciting products coming out of gin’s recent renaissance, what are you doing, really?

From Genever to Gin

Although ‘gin’ is said to have been invented around 1650 by Dr. Franciscus Sylvius in the Netherlands, this early iteration still would have been classified as genever (which literally translates to ‘juniper’) – not gin as we know it today. Gin has its origins in Dutch genever (also known as Holland Gin or Dutch Gin) which was originally created by distilling malt wine and adding herbs to make the harsh tasting beverage a little more palatable.

The date that genever was renamed to gin is unclear, but the first written reference of the actual word ‘gin’ was in 1714 in Bernard Mandeville’s The Fable of the Bees; in the book, ‘gin shops’ had already been proliferous and gin had become a part of the fabric of culture at the time. By the mid-17th century genever production was widespread in the Netherlands and Flanders.

Though the spirit originates in the Netherlands, its reputation today is that of a very proper English drink. Dutch Jenever became popular in England during the late 1700s, after Dutch king William of Orange took the English throne in 1688. The British government allowed gin to be distilled without a licence around that time, and as a result Gin became more popular than beer with over half of all the drinking shops in London serving mostly gin – leading to a Gin Craze so disastrous, it was referred to as ‘Mother’s Ruin.’

Mother's Ruin

Once gin crossed the Channel into England, it quickly became the drink of choice for the very poor. The average person could not afford French wine or brandy, so gin became the poor man’s drink with some works receiving gin as part of their wages. Gin consumption (and often, overconsumption) rapidly increased; in London alone, there were more than 7,000 dram shops and 10 million gallons of gin were being distilled annually in the capital.

The government decided that the tax must be raised on gin but, as any casual student of history might predict, the tax had the opposite of its intended effect. The implementation of the tax put many reputable sellers out of business and cleared the way for bootleggers, who sold their wares under such fancy names as Cuckold’s Comfort, Ladies Delight and Knock Me Down. Overnight, gin sales went underground with dealers, pushers and runners selling their illegal hooch into a black market.

In 1736 a Gin Act was passed which forbade anyone to sell ‘distilled spirituous liquor’ without first taking out a licence costing £50. This in turn led to a surge in various social problems, to which the government responded by passing a series of Gin Acts which imposed higher taxes on producers and retailers. In the seven years following 1736, only three £50 licences were taken out but the black market continued to thrive.

The government was forced, once again, to confront the perpetual drunkenness and debauchery in the capital. The new Gin Act raised the duty on drink and forbade distillers, grocers, jails and workhouses from selling the popular spirit. The new act proved effective in curtailing gin sales and consumption fell dramatically through the rest of the eighteenth century.

What Even Is Gin?

What Even Is Gin?

We spend a lot of our time around spirits – drinking them, mixing them, reading about them, and discussing them in wonkish detail. And if we had a dollar for every time we sat next to a stranger who, upon learning we work with spirits, began a sentence with: “I’m just not a [insert misunderstood spirit here] person”? Believe us, reader, when we say we could pay our rent with that money.

This series is an antidote to all those false starts and bad first impressions. Because the best counter to a bad hangover is sticking to good alcohol in the first place.

First up: gin. Most of us had an improper introduction to this beautiful botanical spirit – what we on the AMASS team fondly refer to as, ‘gin-cidents’. But if you’re not taking the time to appreciate all the exciting products coming out of gin’s recent renaissance, what are you doing, really?

What is gin?

So what is gin? Who is she? At its most general, European law defines gin as: ‘…a juniper-flavored spirit drink produced by flavoring organoleptically suitable ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin with juniper berries.’ Here in the U.S., the government defines gin as, “a product obtained by original distillation from mash, or by re-distillation of distilled spirits, or by mixing neutral spirits, with or over juniper berries and other aromatics, or with or over extracts derived from infusions, percolations, or maceration of such materials, and includes mixtures of gin and neutral spirits. It shall derive its main characteristic flavor from juniper berries and be bottled at not less than 80° proof.” So yeah. It’s a lot.

Legal definitions aside, what all gins must have in common is the juniper berry. However, it’s important to note that there is no specific ratio or amount of juniper that is required by law. The definition merely states “predominant flavor of juniper,” which leaves plenty of room for other fun greens. Other common botanicals favored by distillers include coriander, citrus peels (bitter orange, lemon, grapefruit), angelica root and seed, licorice, orris root, nutmeg, and anise, to name a few. AMASS Gin, as you may already know, contains 29 botanicals that represent the city of Los Angeles from a structural (palate) and philosophical (sociocultural) argument.

In the simplest terms, gin is made by infusing a neutral spirit with a variety of botanicals (which must legally include juniper berries). The specific variety and proportion of these other botanicals is often what distinguishes gin brands and their flavors from one another. While gin typically has a higher proof than vodka, its complex flavor profile (which can be herbal, floral, citrus or a mix of them) make it an accommodating cocktail base.

If you forget anything we mention in this article, remember this: A spirit can only be called gin if it contains juniper.

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