What is Gin?
Gin is a rather complicated spirit, in that there are few qualifications required to call the drink gin. The tie that binds all gins together is that regardless of where it comes from, who made it, or other ingredients, all gin contains one common ingredient: juniper berries.
Gin traces its history back to herbal remedies of the Middle Ages, and many say it is derived from the much older Dutch drink called jeniver. Gin can credit its expansion in popularity to William of Orange, as it grew quite popular in the British isles.
Great Britain endured a period called the “Gin Craze” in the late 1600s and early 1700s, with gin shops almost equaling the number of coffee shops in the area. Gin began to develop a bad reputation as heavy drinking and alcohol related deaths surged during this period.
Gin managed to maintain some level of reputability throughout its many infamous moments, including an appearance during the American prohibition as lawless folks made a variation called “bathtub gin”. Now, gin is regaining popularity as a niche drink with many new and craft distilleries producing unique gins around the world.
Regional Styles of Gin
Like many spirits, there are several styles of gin available, each presenting a different character or flavor profile. If you are interested to learn more about how gin tastes, check out the blog article titled, “What Does Gin Taste Like?” There you will find a simple breakdown on what to expect from gin, regarding taste.
- 1London Dry Gin: Surprisingly, London Dry Gin does not have to made or distilled or bottled in London. However, it must follow the guidelines listed below.
- No artificial flavors or colors may be added
- Original distillation, before dilution, must be 70% ABV minimum
- Only minimal sugar, water, or neutral grain spirits may be added after distillation
- 2New American or Western Gin: Named after the region it started, these gins are now made everywhere in the world. Typically made in a craft distillery, the juniper flavor takes a backseat to citrus notes.
- 3Old Tom Gin: An often sweet gin that is the namesake of the classic Tom Collins cocktail. It is being recreated by many craft distilleries.
- 4Plymouth Gin: Similar to London Dry varieties, the law requires anything called Plymouth Gin be made in Plymouth, England.
As usual with spirits, gin is governed by several laws and requirements, depending on where it is made. The European Union, United States, and Canadian Food and Drug Regulation all stipulate certain requirements of gin makers. The EU is by far the most strict and specific, breaking gin down into four categories:
- Juniper Flavored Spirit Drinks
- Distilled Gin
- London Dry Gin
How Gin Is Made
There are three classic methods of producing gin. Pot distillation is the oldest form, featuring a neutral pot distilled grain mash fermentation that is then redistilled with the aromatics that provide the taste.
Column distillation came about after the creation of the Coffey still, and features a two-step process. First, grain is fermented and distilled to a high proof. Then, the aromatics are added and everything is distilled again in a pot still.
The final method is a bit borderline when discussing distilled gin. Some would disagree that this method produces a gin at all. Compound Gin is a neutral spirit that has been flavored with either essence or natural flavoring. Generally, gin is made utilizing one of the first two traditional methods.
The Many Ingredients of Gin
Outside of juniper berries, gin can contain any number of aromatic ingredients. Here is just a selection of popular ingredients that may impact the flavor of the gin you choose.
- Citrus (often lemon, grapefruit or orange)
- Roots (orris, angelica, licorice)
- Cassia Bark
Gin Brands Information
|Tanqueray||England||$22||London Dry Gin||Standard|
|Beefeater||England||$18||London Dry Gin||Budget|
|Bombay||England||$22||London Dry Gin||Standard|
|Seagram’s||USA||$12||Traditional Dry Gin||Budget|
|New Amsterdam||USA||$11||Traditional Dry Gin||Budget|
|Plymouth||England||$30||Traditional Dry Gin||Standard|
|Gordon’s||USA||$13||London Dry Gin||Budget|
|Piger Henricus||Canada||$45||Traditional Dry Gin||Premium|
|Boodles||Scotland||$21||Traditional Dry Gin||Standard|
|Monkey 47||Germany||$69||Modern Gin||Premium|
|The Botanist||Scotland||$40||Traditional Dry Gin||Premium|
|Bulldog||England||$25||London Dry Gin||Standard|
Factors Impacting Gin Pricing
As you can see, gin can vary widely in price. Gin pricing goes from low cost (budget), to middle of the road (standard), to special occasion levels (premium). Why is there such a variety if all gin uses juniper berries? There are several reasons gin varies in cost. Let’s examine a few reasons some gins cost more, or less, than others.
Many of the higher end gin prices are driven by unique, difficult to source ingredients. For example, the most expensive gin on the list above, Monkey 47, boasts its rare ingredients from a region known as the “Black Forest”. Also, featuring “exotic Asian botanicals”, the rarity and exclusiveness of the ingredients drive the cost of this gin.
Unlike other spirits that require an aging process, most gin features a limited or nonexistent aging period. Thus, the age of a gin is rarely highlighted, unlike whiskey varieties. Some gins are aged up to six months, which could create some pricing impact, but most are not as the flavoring process happens during distillation as the botanicals are added to the process.
Gin has seen a resurgence recently, even reclaiming a spot on the throne as the preferred martini ingredient. Along with this resurgence has come an influx of smaller, craft style distilleries producing unique gin products with premium ingredient lists. The smaller production capabilities combined with high-end ingredients lends to higher prices at the point of sale.
Choosing Your Gin
Gin is unique in that there are so many different flavor profiles and combinations of ingredients. It can be a challenge to nail down a “favorite”, as almost every single gin tastes different. With such a diverse flavor profile, gin more than any other spirit requires a trial and error method of choosing. Choosing your preferred gin is simple enough: try as many as you can. While there are a variety of prices out there, it is best to use your palette to judge and not a simple price tag evaluation.