Gin has a long and fascinating history throughout which it has greatly evolved since people first started making it. Today, there are several different ways that gin is typically made. However, they have a lot in common and often use the same ingredients.
In this guide, you will learn how gin is made as well as its ingredients, and the different varieties currently available:
Simply use the links above to jump ahead or scroll down to read out entire detailed guide.
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What Is Gin Made Of?
If you ever wondered what gin is made from, it usually starts as an unmalted cereal-based ethanol extracted via distillation similar to Russian vodka. However, it will go through another distillation process in order to attain its distinctive flavour.
All gin is actually re-distilled and it may even undergo this process twice or three times on some occasions. During the re-distillation, the ethanol is exposed to a specially selected assortment of herbs and spices that will impart their flavours.
Referred to as botanicals, they come into contact with the alcohol in a number of different ways.
However, the main botanical ingredient used is juniper while coriander is equally as common. Furthermore, gin may feature other ingredients including cubeb berries, yarrow, caraway seeds, orris root, angelica root, citrus peel, and elderflower.
How Gin Is Made
As we hinted above, there are different ways to expose the alcohol to the botanicals. We will therefore break down the two most popular processes to give you an idea of how gin is made.
Steeped Botanical Distillation
The first and most traditional method for producing gin is achieved by steeping the botanicals in a pot still with the base spirit.
The length of time that the ingredients are left is decided by the master blender. In some cases, the aromatic solution is distilled immediately. However, it can sometimes be left to steep for 48 hours or more.
As mentioned in our introductory guide, this is the most traditional method, which is often employed by England’s heritage London Dry gin brands.
Nevertheless, a lot of other distilleries continue to use this technique while also employing others to create their own distinctive flavours.
Vapour Infusion Distillation
A more modern approach to producing gin is the technique whereby the botanicals never come into direct contact with spirit in its liquid form. Instead, the botanicals are placed in baskets in the still at specific heights.
As the distilled vapour rises through the still, it passes through the various herbs and spices, which impart their aromas. This way, the botanicals are essentially steamed rather than steeped. Consequently, the condescend spirit features a much more subtle and refined flavour.
Finally, some distilleries may even use a combination of both techniques in order to produce their distinctive flavour. For instance, Hendrick’s Gin will distil two separate batches using each technique, which are then combined into a final blend.
Whatever the chosen approach, the result is a strong spirit of typically no less than 70% ABV. This is then diluted only with water to the desired level.
Typical Alcohol Volume Percentage
Interestingly, different varieties of gin have their own legal requirements. In order to earn their titles, distilled and London gin must consist of a minimum 37.5% ABV. Meanwhile, the USA defines gin as a liquor produced by distillation with at least 40% ABV.
As a result, gin will commonly be around 40% ABV and occasionally slightly higher depending on its type or style.
Different Types & Varieties Of Gin
As you may have gathered from its long history, there are many varieties of gin that exist today. Although some are indeed rare and may not always fit under gin’s various legal definitions, they have their own traditions that are worth mentioning.
London Dry Gin
London Dry gin is undoubtedly the most popular variety of gin. According to regulations, its predominant flavour must be juniper. However, brands may have varying flavours by using different accompanying ingredients.
Furthermore, it’s produced exclusively by re-distilling ethanol of agricultural origin, which results in a spirit of at least 70% ABV . However, it may be distilled multiple times if the blender chooses.
No more than 0.1 grams of sugars per litre may be added for sweetening, which is how it has earned its name in contrast to Old Tom gin described below. Similarly, London Dry gin may not feature any additional ingredients including colourants other than water.
First launched by the Plymouth distillery in 1793, this variety of gin is indeed technically very similar to London Dry. However, it focuses less on the juniper in favour of an unctuous blend of roots.
As a result, its flavour profile is dominated by earth and citrus while the juniper notes are quite subtle.
Plymouth distillery’s exclusivity with the term was protected with a special status for centuries. However, it relinquished this right in 2014 to allow others to employ it given the renewed interest.
Navy Strength Gin
Despite gin’s association with the navy, the term is ironically quite recent. In fact, it was introduced by Plymouth distillery in 1993. Nevertheless, it does have historical origins.
As there were no ways of testing alcohol strength before the 19th Century, the Royal Navy would mix the spirit with gunpowder and try to set it alight. If it didn’t catch fire, the Navy wouldn’t purchase it out of fear of being being conned.
Years later, this would be discovered to be precisely 57% ABV and the Navy continued purchasing it out of tradition. Today, distilleries will often use this term to describe stronger than average gins, which are between the mid-forties and mid-fifties..
They’re a preferred choice among bartenders who believe that the botanical flavours are particularly prominent even when mixed down.
Barrel Aged Gin
A relatively recent practice, some distilleries have turned to ageing gin in casks to produce a more mature and woodier flavour. However, rather than essentially becoming akin to whisky, the result is a darker, oak-infused gin with a greater botanical presence.
A contemporary term used to refer to jenever, gin’s aforementioned predecessor, which is still produced today.
The key difference between gin and jenever is that the latter will use malted grain rather than cereal grains. As a result, it’s darker with a lighter body and greater botanical flavour profile.
Learn more about it with our dedicated jenever guide.
Old Tom Gin
London Dry gin’s forerunner, Old Tom was particularly popular during the 18th Century. Although it faded into obscurity by the 20th Century, the renewed interest in gin has given it something of a renaissance.
A product of the gin craze, it was heavily sweetened to mask its foul flavour. Today, Old Tom is often flavoured using honey or sugar with an increased use of sweeter herbs and spices.
Nevertheless, the contemporary version is not objectively sweet and only slightly more than London dry. In fact, the result is very similar with the typical juniper flavour profile.
Contemporary & International Gin
The renewed interest in gin has led to a great number of craft-style independent distilleries producing their own unique concoctions. Contemporary distillers free themselves from the confines of regulatory traditions, which allows them to experiment with different botanical ingredients and grains.
Sometimes these styles are referred to as “contemporary” or “international” with “New American Style Gin” also being used occasionally. However, not all contemporary gin comes from the USA with many fascinating concoctions being produced throughout Europe and around the world!
As the 21st-Century Gin Boom has often been credited to Hendrick’s Gin, many brands are seeking unusual and original flavours. While some will pursue alternative techniques such as vacuum distillation, others will concentrate on exotic combinations of ingredients.
Conversely, the most significant contemporary gins have used their own local herbs and spices as way of expressing their cultural identities. Consequently, the new trend for gin has produced some exciting and unique blends that have even inspired cocktails that showcase their flavours.
Now that you have learned all about how gin is made, why don’t you check out some of our related spirit guides?