Types of Gin
Updated: Jan 19
The types of gin that you are likely to find in a well-stocked bar or liquor store reflect the history of gin making. Each has its own story and unique flavor profile. Here are five common types that you are likely to encounter.
Genever – We developed an appreciation of genever a few years ago during a layover in Amsterdam, where we used part of our time to tour the Bols distillery, one of the oldest in Europe. The tour provides an excellent introduction to the history of genever and the distillation process. You end the tour with a complimentary genever cocktail of your choice.
Genever originated in the Netherlands. Although medicinal versions of the spirit were consumed in small pockets in northern Europe, it wasn’t until the mass production of genever in the sixteenth century that this precursor of modern gin was born. Genever is made from malted rye, barley, or other grains, which gives it a flavor profile closer to whiskey than what is typically associated with gin. Genever comes in two versions, both of which are popular in Europe and lend themselves well to mixed drinks: old (oude) and young (jonge). The distinction is not about age but about the distillation process. Old genever, because it is aged with more malted grain and has more sugar, has a more malted taste.
Old Tom Gin – Think of Old Tom Gin as the missing evolutionary link between genever and modern gin. When genever arrived in England during the seventeenth century, consumers did not enjoy the taste mostly because it was a crude version of the Dutch spirit. Sweeteners and other flavors were eventually added to the genever to make it more palatable, so much so that a gin craze — which some have compared to the crack epidemic of the 1980s — ensued. To curb the wonton drinking culture, the British government levied higher taxes and licensing restrictions, prompting the thriving gin scene to go underground—or more accurately, under wooden signs with a black cat (aka "old tom cat").
The recipe for Old Tom Gin was resurrected around 2007. This sweeter version of modern gin can be used to provide a twist to classic gin cocktails, such as a Tom Collins or a Martinez.
London Dry – Modern day gin begins as neutral spirit to which botanical ingredients are added during distillation or steeped in at a later stage. Flavoring, sweeteners, and coloring can also be added after distillation, such as in the process of making Old Tom. London Dry, however, is arguably the “purest” type of gin. By definition and regulations put in force in 2008, London Dry gin is distilled only with botanicals. No flavors, sweeteners, or colors are added after the distillation process.
Despite its name, London Dry doesn’t have to be distilled in London, but it was probably in the outskirts of London where the transformation of genever to the more modern gin occurred.
Our favorite way to enjoy a London Dry gin is in a neat martini, chilled over ice, and never shaken. (So much work went into distilling the botanicals, it would be a crime to disrupt them.) You can also enjoy a London Dry gin in a gimlet or gin and tonic.
Navy Strength – As its name suggests, strength is what distinguishes Navy Strength from other gins. Navy strength gin contains a minimum of 57.1% ABV (alcohol by volume) compared to a minimum of 37.5% for London Dry gin. The higher alcohol content allows more botanical oils and hydrocarbons to be dissolved, giving it a more intense flavor and punch. Navy strength is perfect for mixed cocktails where a more intense botanical essence is desired. Martinis are also great, but watch out for that extra alcohol content. It carries a wallop that, in excess, can knock out even the burliest of sailors.
Sloe Gin – For those who like things on the sweeter side, a cocktail made from sloe gin is an ideal choice. Sloe gins are technically not gins but liqueurs made from gin that has been infused with sloe berries. Sugar is also added. Sloe berries, or drupes, are members of the rose family. The fruit eaten on their own is terribly tart and astringent. However, when the berries are added to gin and sugar, their tartness gives way to a deep rich flavor. Sloe gins can be sipped neat (slowly, of course), but you can also them to given a unique twist to classic cocktails such as a gin fizz or Singapore sling.