What is gin? And what are the different types: London Dry, Navy, Old Tom, Pink, Sloe
Gin is a distilled spirit flavoured with the juniper berry and other natural herbs and spices.
The English have been making gin for centuries – ever since the Dutch-made jenever appeared here in the 17th Century. Gin used to be a sweet drink (sugar and other flavourings were used to hide the rough taste of the alcohol). But since the 19th century, dry gin has been the most popular type of gin. During the last few years, many new small and specialist distilleries such as York Gin have been established. These new distilleries (part of the ‘Second Gin Craze’ or ‘Ginaissance’) have significantly raised the standards of English gin. Sweetened ‘gin’ has also made a comeback – with some of these drinks (including many ‘gin liqueurs’) not really tasting of juniper - the current accepted definition of what gin actually is. Gin has never been uncontroversial. And so the debate will continue to rage into the future.
What is London Dry gin?
First of all - you don’t have to make it in London for it to be called ‘London Dry’. Distilleries all over the world produce London Dry gin – including the York Gin distillery, 200 miles north of London. London Dry does have to be dry, though. The London Dry method of producing gin was perfected in the first half of the 19th century with the invention of the Coffey still, which allowed good quality gin to be produced much more easily than before. London Dry isn’t allowed to have any flavours added after the initial distillation. It must also be at least 37.5%ABV. The cheaper gins tend to be around this strength. York Gin London Dry is a whole 5.5% points higher than the minimum – at 42.5%, we found our ideal strength.
What is Navy Strength gin?
‘Navy Strength’ has come to be recognised as a higher proof gin than a company’s standard gin. It averages at around 57%. This is apparently the strength at which gunpowder can still be fired if it gets soaked with gin. There are lots of myths and fables and legends about the origins of Navy Strength gin – we’re not convinced about any of them. One thing we are sure of – York Gin Outlaw Navy Strength won a Double Gold at the San Francisco Spirits Competition, making it one of the best gins in the world.
What is Old Tom gin?
Old Tom gin is a sweetened gin - originally popularised in the Victorian era (19th Century) it was a way to disguise the - often questionable - quality of the drink. Today it is a far better drink - and a well-respected category of gin. We slightly sweeten our London Dry gin with a sugar syrup from the Michelin-starred Star Inn, Harome to make our Old Tom gin. This contains the Yorkshire Rose as well as other herbs from their kitchen garden. It’s a good one, winning major awards, including Best English Old Tom at the World Gin Awards 2020.
What is Sloe Gin?
The sloe is a red fruit – a relative of the plum - which flavours gin or neutral grain sprit to make Sloe Gin. The process also involves adding sugar. Sloe Gin has to be at least 25% ABV. It’s essentially a deep red liqueur. We haven’t made a sloe gin yet. But it is a very popular drink, especially in the winter.
What is Pink Gin?
Traditionally, Pink Gin was specifically a Plymouth gin with a dash of Angostura bitters and a lemon peel garnish. It later came to mean a gin, bitters, tonic and ice. Today, you can easily make your own by adding Fever-Tree Aromatic tonic (which contains angostura bark) to your gin – this makes it pink. Add lots of ice and a lemon peel in a hi-ball glass.
In the last few years, though, ‘pink gin’ has more generally come to be recognised as something quite different: a gin that’s sweetened with sugar and coloured pink with fruit. Some of these gins stretch the definition of what ‘gin’ actually is. But they are undoubtedly popular.
What is a gin liqueur?
It does appear that anything that calls itself a ‘gin liqueur’ is a gin liqueur. Lots of companies are producing sweet alcoholic drinks, putting the word ‘gin’ on the label – and selling lots of bottles. Whether they should be calling these drinks ‘gin’ at all is a live debate. These drinks are less strong than proper gin, which must be at least 37.5% ABV. They usually hover around the 20% mark.