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.
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.
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.