Gin is officially now the UK’s favourite spirit, with sales reaching a record breaking £1.9bn in 2018.
There are a plethora of styles available on the market to suit every taste, with new entrants appearing all the time, but what exactly is gin and how is it made?
What is Gin?
Technically, to be called gin, a spirit must be predominantly flavoured with juniper. If there’s no juniper, you’ve essentially got a flavoured vodka.
How is Gin made?
According to the legal definition, to make gin you must start with a neutral base spirit of agricultural origin (usually grain based, but can also be from potatoes, sugar or grapes), which is then redistilled in the presence of juniper and other botanicals. Some producers make their own base spirit, while others buy it in from an outside source.
The redistillation process takes place in a still, where the flavour is added to the base spirit. This is done by either ‘steeping’ the botanicals or via ‘vapour infusion’. In the traditional steeping method, the spirit and botanicals are added together to a pot still and heated so that the essential oils are released from the botanicals.
The vapour infusion method is different, as here the spirit and botanicals never come into direct contact. Instead the botanicals and juniper are placed in a basket above the spirit. As it’s heated it evaporates and passes through the botanicals, this infused vapour then condenses as it cools and turns back into a liquid.
In both cases, water is then added to dilute the gin to bottling strength.
What are botanicals?
Pretty much any flavourings can be added to gin, this includes herbs and spices, flowers, fruit, nuts, roots and seeds. After juniper, other commonly used botanicals are lemon and orange peel, coriander seeds, angelica, cinnamon and cardamom. The variety of flavours used is astounding, and each producer will have their signature style.
There are several recognised categories of gin, each with their own production methods and defining characteristics. Here are some of the most common styles found today.
London Dry Gin
Despite its name, London Dry Gin doesn’t have to actually be made in London. However it does have other rules to follow! For example, it must be at least 37.5% ABV and predominantly juniper flavoured.
Also, there is a limit on how much sweetner can be used and most importantly, no flavours can be added after distillation. This is the gin to pick for a quintessential gin and tonic.
Unlike London Dry, Plymouth Gin must be made in Plymouth, where today only one distillery remains. It is sweeter than London Dry and has a distinctive earthy flavour that comes from the use of root botanicals like liquorice and orris. This was the original gin for a martini and was a favourite of Winston Churchill no less!
Old Tom Gin harks back to a bygone age where sugar was added to gin to make it more palatable. These days it’s done very much by choice, producing this sweeter style. It is the classic gin to use when making a Tom Collins cocktail (the actor Tom Collins was apparently a big fan of Old Tom).
As more and more producers experiment with flavourings and botanicals, there are a growing number of flavoured gins available. These spirits are dominated by a single flavour, for example rhubarb, sloe and elderflower are all popular choices. The flavour is generally added after the distillation process and these gins often take on the colour of their main ingredient.
Pink gin falls into this category, once flavoured with angostura bitters, they are now more likely to take their colour from fruit like rhubarb or raspberry. These gins give you the green light to experiment with cocktails and different flavoured tonics and mixers. Many also go down well when added to a chilled glass of prosecco.
Navy strength is stronger than London Dry or Plymouth gin at 57% abv. It takes its name from when Navy sailors were paid in alcohol. They would check they hadn't been fobbed off with inferior booze by dousing their gunpowder in the spirit. If the gunpowder still lit they would have proof it was the proper stuff!
Let’s the fun be-gin!
Such is the innovation and dynamism in the gin market today, many modern spirits don’t fall into any recognised category.
There’s never been a better time to experiment with gin. Whether you’re a budding mixologist or just want to discover the best gin and tonic, discover hand-crafted British gins at Winebuyers.com - delivered direct from the distillery to your doorstep.
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