(London) Dry Gin

Overview:

London dry gin, or dry gin, refers to the familiar crisp, juniper-forward style of gin that you get any time you order a Gin & Tonic. It is what you would typically use in any classic cocktails like the Martini and Tom Collins. They're called "dry" because many older styles of gin like genever and old tom used to be sweeter and/or fuller bodied. So when dry gin came onto the scene, it was simply distinguishing itself as not sweet.

On this page the terms London dry gin and dry gin are more or less interchangeable.  But it's gray area and I've drawn the lines myself, more on that across the page.  Broadly speaking, a London dry gin is more likely to be a straightforward, traditional dry gin, whereas the gins simply labeled as dry gin may sway from that model somewhat by using unconventional botanicals.   London dry also has to meet a few technical distinctions, which are outlined below. Incidentally, none of them have anything to do with London.  Despite it name, London dry gin can be made anywhere, the style just originated in England.  

Like all gins, these dry gins are neutral spirits infused with botanicals, principally juniper. ​You can read a lot more about gin botanicals and how gin is made on the gin main page

London Dry Gin vs. Distilled Gin vs. Compound Gin

Officially speaking, a London dry gin must have all it's flavors obtained exclusively from “natural plant materials” with no additional flavorings or essences added, natural or artificial.  If a gin does have other additives, it is called a “distilled gin”. This doesn’t make it an inferior product.  Hendricks for example, which is a lovely gin, has cucumber and rose essences added post-distillation, and is therefore classified distilled gin.  However, if a gin uses only essences and flavorings and no natural botanicals, it is called a compound gin, and is generally considered to be lower quality.  Think bathtub gin.

Classifying the Styles

You may be wondering what separates the dry gins deemed as "less traditional" below, from the modern new Western gins that have their own section on another page.  Admittedly, it’s a bit confusing, because there’s no specifically outlined difference between the styles.  They can all be interpreted differently.  The wording on the label is pretty much up to the producer.  Even the technical specifications for London dry have nothing to do with the botanicals used, outside of juniper. 

 

So which section I decided to place each gin in is purely based on my evaluation of their flavor profile and how they work in cocktails.  The gins in the new Western section I find come off quite differently than traditional gins in cocktails, and feel they should be thought of that way.  Whereas all the gins on this page are generally in the same ballpark and I think can be used as a classic dry gin.  But this is just how it see it. One could argue that some of the gins on this page should be in the New Western section, and that some of those gins should be included here.  And that's totally fair.  The good news is, you’re the bartender, and are free to use any gin, in any way you want.  

Recommended Brands  - All these gins are have varying flavors of pine, citrus and spice.  The biggest deviations from brand to brand are in the proof (more proof = more flavor), how strong the juniper is and the presence of any other non-juniper botanicals. They range from sharp and herbaceous to light and floral, and everywhere in between.

Classic London Drys - These are all excellent choices for the workhorse gin in your bar.  Many of them are widely circulated and should be easy to find.

 

  • Tanqueray -  The gin for gin lovers.  This is my go to, particularly for Gin & Tonics and shaken, refreshing cocktails.  It’s high proof, 47.3% ABV, and extremely juniper forward. The more premium Tanqueray 10 is also fantastic. 

    • Botanicals: Juniper, angelica root, coriander and liquorice root. Note no citrus peels!

 

  • Plymouth* - Elegant, nimble botanicals and a floral hint. A perfect Martini gin.  

    • Botanicals: Juniper, coriander, lemon peel, sweet orange peel, angelica root, orris root, cardamom.

 

  • Beefeater - All things considered, price, proof (47% ABV) and balanced flavor, it's hard to do much better than Beefeater.  The juniper flavors are a middle point between Tanqueray and Plymouth, and it's more affordable than both.  The offshoot Beefeater 24 adds grapefruit peel, Chinese green tea and Japanese Sencha tea for an intrguing, slightly fruiter, departure.

    • Botanicals: Juniper, coriander, liquorice root, orris root, seville orange, lemon peel, angelica root, bitter almond.

 

  • Bombay Dry - Subtler like Plymouth, because of it's lower proof, but with botanicals more indicative of Beefeater. A great an affordable dry gin. The well known Bombay Sapphire is not my personal preference because it's less herbaceous, though many love it for that very reason.

    • Botanicals: Juniper, coriander, liquorice root, orris root, lemon peel, angelica root, bitter almond, cassia bark.

 

  • Gordon’s - The economy option of the bunch and Britian's top selling gin. It's 80 proof so on the whole it's lighter, maybe not the best choice for a martini, but a very solid gin at an unbeatable price. 

    • Botanicals: Juniper, coriander, angelica root, orris root, liquorice root, lemon peel, orange peel.

 

  • Ford's - A gin from the 86 Co. and cocktail industry legend Simon Ford. A perect balance between elegance and assertiveness at a solid proof.   One of the best.

    • Botanicals: Juniper, coriander, angelica root, orris root, jasmine, cassia bark, lemon peel, bitter orange peel, grapefruit peel.

 

  • Reiger's Midwestern Dry Gin - A new dry gin from J. Rigerer & Co. of Kansas City with help from Tom Nichol, the former master distiller of Tanqueray. It's full of the all traditional botanicals, and reminiscent of Tanq's pointed juniper character but it's a bit rounder overall with a decadently rich texture.  Wonderful.

    • Botanicals: Juniper, coriander, angelica, licorice root and orange peel.

 

  • Junipero - The folks at Anchor distilling were one of the first American gins to throw their hat in the ring back in the 90s.  As the name suggests, this is a full on juniper extravaganza, in the best way.

    • Botanicals: Juniper, the rest are undeclared.

Less Traditional Dry Gin (No Less Delicious) - These all deviate somewhat from the classic style in compelling ways.  But they still function (beautifully) like dry gins in cocktails, and that is how I use them.

 

  • Oxley - A newer delicious gin, if a little on the pircey side, but you get what you pay for. They distill in a vaccum so the botanicals are extracted by pressure, not heat, so no cooked flavors come through.

    • Botanicals: Juniper, coriander, angelica root, liquorice root, vanilla, meadowsweet (rose family), lemon peel, orange peel, grapeftuit peel, cassia bark, cocoa nibs, grains of paradise, nutmeg, orris root.

 

  • Old Raj - Made in Scotland and very high proof, 55% ABV, almsot navy strength territory.  Big juniper and citrus, and little saffron which gives it a yellowish hue. Delicous and a great option if you're looking for a different, and high octane Martini.

    • Botanicals: Juniper, coriander, angelica root, lemon peel, orange peel, orris root, cassia bark, almond, colored with saffron.

 

  • Martin Miller's Westbourne Strength - Along with the usual juniper flavors, there's a melon-y like quality (from cucumber essence added post distillation) that's sets this gin apart in very tasty fashion. It's excellent in negronis.  If you're a fan of Hendrick's, you'll like this. Be sure to get the Westbourne Strength, 45.2% ABV.

    • Botanicals: Juniper, coriander, angelica root, orris root, lemon peel, orange peel, lime peel, cassia bark, nutmeg, cucumber essence (post distillation).

 

  • Botanist - A Scottish gin made by the Bruichladdich distillery (the single malt page) that is notable for it's subdued softer top notes and deep, varied  complexity that includes fruits, flowers.  which is come as no surprise when looking at the roster of 22 botanicals. It starts out like a typical London dry but ends up reading like an apothecary's grocery list.

    • Botancials: Juniper, coriander, angelica root, lemon, peel, orange peel, liquorice root, orris root, cassia bark, peppermint, thyme, tansy, wood sage, sweet cicly, mugwort, meadowsweet, red clover, lady's bedstraw, lemon balm, hawthorne flower, heather flower, gorse flower, downy birch, chamomile, downy birch, apple mint, water mint, spearmint.

 

  • Cotswolds - Named for the pictureesque area outside of London where it is made, this mostly follows the classic dry blueprint, but dials up the spice in a big way, mainly from the addition of black pepper, as opposed to the more common cubeb pepper.   It shines brightly in all the classics.

    • BotanicalsJuniper, coriander, angelica root, lavender, bay leaf, grapefruit peel, lime peel, black pepper, cardamom.

Navy Strength Gin

Navy Strength Gin is a high proof gin typically made in the London Dry style, bottled 114 proof, or 57% alcohol.  It's called Navy Strength because it was often used on ships and, as the story goes, at that specific level of alcohol you could spill it on gun powder and still light it.

 

Higher proof gin just means more booze and more flavor.  I like to use it to make 50/50 Martinis, as in equla parts gin and vermouth.  It's also a nice way to give a lighter cocktail a little backbone, like a spritz or champagne cocktail.

 

Recommended Brands 

  • Plymouth Navy Strength - Just high octane Plymouth, what's not to love?

    • Botanicals: Juniper, coriander, lemon peel, sweet orange peel, angelica root, orris root, cardamom.

 

  • Perry’s Tot - Made by the folks at New York Distilling Company who also make Dorothy Parker (New Western gins).  This is a more unique Navy Strength with the addition of from wildflower honey from NY State.  It's great for cocktails.

    • Botanicals: Juniper, corianderorange peel, lemon peel, grapefruit peel, angelica root, cinnamon, anise, cardomom and wild flower honey

 

  • Hayman’s Royal Dock - Same company that makes Hayman's Old Tom, this is one of the best gins I've ever had, in any style.

    • Botanicals: Juniper, coriander, orange peel, lemon peel, angelica root, orris root, cinnamon, nutmeg, anise.

*Former Category: Plymouth Gin

The town of Plymouth, England used to possess a "Geographical Indication" that designated any gin made there as a separate category: Plymouth gin.  100 years ago Plymouth brands were known for a heavier, maltier style that was sort of like a hybrid of London dry and genever. But today the the only brand that reamins is Plymouth gin, which was resurrected in 1998, and it is very much a London dry style.  So in 2015 the owners decided not to refile for the GI, so Plymouth is no longer a category.  At that point it was just a category in title only and no longer essential to their brand.  But the gin is still great!

 

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tom@socialhourcocktails.com Brooklyn, NY

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