In recent years, the gin world has exploded, with a host of distilleries making a huge range of gin styles. All over the world, new distillers are popping up and old established brands are being rediscovered by a new generation. Aside from brand names and distilleries, we thought we’d like to give a little explainer of what gin styles are out there, and what to expect from them. Of course there are sub-categories and outliers, and this is just a general overview, but these are the most popular styles you’re likely to find at your wine merchant or cocktail bar.
For reasons of clarity, we’re excluding flavoured gins or anything that could be described as a Jenever - nothing against these fantastic drinks, they’re just a little outside our remit.
(214 Bermondsey Bar, London)
London Dry is possibly the defining and most popular style of gin we see today. Juniper-forward, and with nothing added after distillation, this is the type of gin most drinkers are familiar with. There are of course many variations of the base style, but all can be loosely classified as a London Dry, with big, bold juniper flavours. Our very own Hidden Curiosities original is a London Dry, and complements the juniper flavour with a blend of five peppercorns, green cardamom, yuzu citrus, white mulberries, violet and lavender, with absolutely nothing added post-distillation. It’s a classic for a reason; nothing compares to the fresh and herbaceous punch of a London Dry Gin.
Navy Strength(Photo credit: The Gin Shelf)
Navy strength gin gets its name from the high proof it is bottled at; at a minimum of 57% ABV, a British Navy ship’s gunpowder will still catch fire if you spill navy strength gin on it! The high proof not only gives the drink strength and body, it gives a completely different flavour profile, allowing different botanicals to shine.
Our Aranami gin is a navy strength, judged the Best Navy Strength in England in 2020, and has powerful flavours of citrus to go with its light and fresh finish. A post-distillation of cherry blossom and salt leaves a faint marine aftertaste, smoothing the finish and letting the Japanese botanicals shine. Despite the strength, a navy strength gin is hugely versatile, and can be either used (with a judicious hand) as a base of a cocktail, or sipped neat over ice to appreciate the botanicals.
Old Tom(Oliver Conquest Pub, Whitechapel - Old Tom bottom left)
Old Tom, sometimes known as Bathtub gin, was once thought of as a poor man’s drink, with a more sugary flavour and a less refined air. As with many things however, what was once cuisine pauvre is now loved as a classic in its own right, and those attributes that people looked down upon have become defining features. Look out for a sweeter finish and a more pronounced liquorice flavour than in other gin styles.
Cask-Aged Gin (Blind Pig, Heswall - Cask Aged-Gin far right)
Cask-aged gin is what it sounds like; gin that has been distilled then allowed to rest and age in a barrel, infusing the flavour of the cask into the spirit. This lends notes of vanilla, nutmeg, smoke and spices to the gin, and often imparts a honeyed colour and richer texture. Think of it as whisky’s herbaceous cousin - while not aged quite as long as a good whisky, the barrel gives it a roundness and mellowness, while still retaining the fresh edge of a good gin. Four Pillars Aged Sherry Cask Gin is an excellent choice if you’d like to dip your toes into this style.
Thanks to the curiosity of modern distillers, there are many variants of the old styles available today. For example, New Western Dry gin is a style that relies heavily on North American botanicals, and has less of a pronounced juniper flavour than others. There are of course as many variations of this style as the older ones, and it’s a fast-developing field. New Amsterdam is a new gin with sweeter flavours, and Hendrick’s is a great example of new flavours being introduced into a classic recipe. Experimentation continues, and there are botanical flavours available that you might not have expected.
Try any of these as a base of a cocktail, with a good tonic, or simply sipped over ice to appreciate the similarities and differences in styles. Each one has their strengths, and while a London Dry in a G&T, or a navy strength on the rocks might seem most obvious, experiment and see what flavours you like. There is a whole world of gins out there, and there is something for every palate.