Gin for beginners
by Dylan Whitsett
If you're like me, gin can be a bit of a mystery. London Dry? Navy Strength? And just what the heck is a botanical!?
Well, fear not – I have delved into the lore of gin and found the answers to these questions and more!
Probably the most well-known style of gin, a gin calling itself London Dry does not mean it hails from the land where the sun don't shine. London Dry means that this gin is unsweetened and dry. It's usually heavy on juniper (a citrusy/black peppery berry) and other botanicals (like coriander) and generally combined with a bittering agent like quinine.
Now, the quinine story is an interesting one. Quinine is an extract from the cinchona root, which aids in the treatment and prevention of malaria. It was discovered by British troops in India that mixing their medicine with gin and sugar made it go down oh so smooth. Thus a primitive version of gin and tonic was born.
Botanicals are herbs, seeds, berries, and roots. These add interesting flavors to the gin. Coriander, citrus peel, cinnamon and its sibling cassia bark, cardamom, ginger or nutmeg are some common examples.
Old Tom is another style that you're likely to encounter. Luckily, it's a pretty simple style of gin to understand. Old Tom is just a sweeter and maltier style of gin. Simple as that!
Navy Strength is like Old Tom, very easy to understand. This stuff is strong with a capital "S". Gin artisans do try very hard to ensure that the natural flavors of the gin and its botanicals shine through, but be careful with it! I recommend using this style for mixed drinks when you want to taste the gin in them.
Like other spirits, gin is an acquired taste. It can be intimidating to break out of a rut and try something new; but if you look deep inside yourself and find the courage to make the attempt, you may find your next favorite spirit.