Other Styles of Gin

Genever, Old Tom, New Western

Genever

Genever/Jenever - pronouced juh-NEE-ver or JEN-uh-ver, both are used, I use the latter - is the ancestor of dry gin, and is really it's own spirit cateogry, rather than a variant of gin.  It originated around the 16th century in the Low Countries of the Netherlands, Holland and Belgium where jenever is the Dutch word for juniper.  Like old tom gin, up until the last decade it had been largely unavailable in the U.S. after prohibition.  Though in Europe it has maintained more common.

 

Genever is very different from the dry gins we’re familiar with today and can be a little strange for newcomers. It’s sort of a cross between an dry gin and an unaged whiskey.  The primary ingredient is malt wine, which is not a actually a wine, but a full bodied, aromatic spirit that has a distinct yeasty, bread dough-like character and is less herbaceous less than a dry gin.  The malt wine is combined with a neutral spirit in varying ratios which determines how strong the flavors are.  There are different styles which are listed across the page. 

 

England created their dry, botanical focused spin on genever in the early 19th century with the help of column distillation’s invention., which was invented around then. But it took awhile to catch on. In  fact, at the height of the cocktail's golden age in the late 19th century and early 20th century, genever was much more popular than London dry gin.  In the oldest cocktail books many gin recipes call for genever, or as I was sometimes called, dutch gin or holland gin.  The Tom Collins is actually the offspring of the genever based John Collins. 

 

Genever's pivotal role in cocktail history alone at makes it a worthy addition to any serious bar.   And while it may be an acquired taste for some, it’s unusual flavors are unlike anything else in the spirits world. Once acquired, nothing can take its place. 

Recommended Brands:

 

Unaged - These are basically a softer, less herbaceous version of a London Dry, not super sweet like a liqueur.  

 

  • Hayman’s Old Tom Gin - My go to unaged Old Tom. Clean, a little sweet and liter on the sharp aromatics.  I use this a lot, and the base of my personal creation, the Green Giant.

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

 

  • Tanqueray Old Tom - Like Hayman’s, but not as sweet.

    • Botanicalsjuniper, angelica root, coriander, liquorice root, sugar. 

 

  • Anchor Old Tom - Interestingly, stevia is the sweetener here.

    • Botanicals: Juniper, liquorice root, star anise, stevia and others undeclared.

 

Styles and Production Details

Today genever is primarily made in Belgium and the Netherlands, though small parts of France and Germany have specific permissions as well.  The malt wine is made from a mixture of malted barley, rye, and either corn or wheat.  It is fermented for up to a week and distilled in pot-stills, both of which contribute to it’s heavier, robust flavors, and then redistilled with the botanicals.  It is then combined with a the neutral grain spirit which is column-distilled. Small amounts of sugar are also permitted.

 

There are three basic types that are determined by the amount of malt wine content it contains.  The more malt wine, the more intense it will be.  Less, and it becomes more neutral tasting.  These can all be barrel aged.

 

  • Koenwijn (grain wine) -  At least 51% malt wine.  The most intense style.

  • Oude (old) - At least 15% malt wine, and may contain a maximum of ¾ sugar per liter.

  • Jonge (young) - Less than 15% and may contain maximum of ⅓ oz sugar per liter.  The lightest style.

 

To clarify, the Oude (old) and Jonge (young) styles do not refer to aging.  Oude is just an older style, while Jonge was developed more recently at the beginning of the 20th century.  The aim was meant to cut costs and appeal to the growing popularity of lighter spirits.

 

Old Tom Gin

Old Tom Gin is a sweetener style of gin that was very popular in pre-prohibition days of the 19th and early 20th centuries.  It is sometimes looked at as the bridge between genever and London dry and is an excellent ingredient to have in your cocktail arsenal.

 

Old Tom shows up in a lot of old cocktail recipes, including the Martini’s ancestor, the Martinez and many early Tom Collins recipes.

So when bartenders were mining old cocktail books for inspiration during the cocktail revival in the early 2000s, demand for the style grew. Old Tom gin has made quite a comeback in the last decade.  Now several gin brands make both a dry style and old tom style gins.  Like a rum that offers white and aged bottlings.  The range in style is wide.

 

The defintion of what makes an old toms is faintly outlined to say the least. Sugar was added cover the rougher edges of the spirit. They were also sometimes stored in barrels.   Some are sweetened London dry gins, others are barrel aged which gives the a yellow/amber tint.  Most of the old toms today are in thge aged camp because it's distingushes the style more from a dry gin.  

Barrel aged -  These derive their sweeter flavors from the barrel. They are spicy, robust and act almost like their own individual spirit cateogry in cocktails.

 

  • Ransom Old Tom - The prime example of a barrel aged Old Tom. Very strong herbaceous and spicey flavorsd that border on medicinal, in a good way.  This is a very intruiging alternative in classic gin cocktails.

    • Botanicals: Juniper, coriander, orange peel, lemon peel, angelica root, cardamom. Aged in ex- pinoit noir barrels for 3-6 months.

 

  • Greenhook Old Tom -  A lovely aged old tom with a great balance between barrel and botanicals. That doesn't overwhelm.

    • Botanicals: Juniper and "far east" spices. Aged for 1 year in bourbon casks and finished in oloroso sherry casks.

 

  • Spring 44 Old Tom  - The barrel flavors are a little light, so this is more juniper forward and not quite as sweet as other barrel aged Old Toms.

    • Botanicals: Juniper, coriander, lemon grass, orris root, galangal root, grapefruit peel, rosemary, aged in ex-bourbon barrels for a few months.

 

  • Barr Hill Tom Cat  - A barrel aged version of  Barr Hill Gin (see New Western Gins below). Notable for using new oak barrels, so the wood flavors are very strong and full bodied.  London dry isn't even a spec in the distance.

    • Botanicals: Juniper, honey, aged 4-6 months in new white oak barrels.

 

Barrel aged gin vs. Old Tom gin  - There are some barrel aged gins that don't define themselves as old toms on their label.  I personally tend to consider them all to be in a similar camp, but with no clear old tom definition, it's up to the disitller to decide what to call their product and up to the bartender to decide how to use it.  Let your tastebuds be your guide.

Overview

For the better part of the last century gin meant a crisp, juniper-y London dry gin.  But today it means a whole lot more.  Gin has been at the forefront of the cocktail and spirits industry transformation over the last decade.  We've seen the resurrection of old styles, like the maltier genever - gin's ancestor, and sweeter old tom gin, as well as the emergence of tradition-breaking "New Western" style gins that use unorthodox botanicals, courtesy of the craft-distilling movement.

 

Each style, even each bottle, offers a completely different gin experience than what you are used to, and it is revealed a Gin and Tonic, Martini and Tom Collins at a time.  Go forth, and explore! 

 

 

Brands - There aren’t a ton of Genever Brands available in U.S. but there are many more in Europe.

 

  • Bols - One of the classic genever brands, relaunched in 2008.  They make an unaged and aged version, both are 50% malt wine, making them technically oude styles, but just under the Kornwijn line.  They are very intense and malt forward, the barrel aged is a bit sweeter and more apporachable.

    • Botanicals: Unaged - juniper. Barrel aged - juniper, hops, clove, aniseed, liquorice root, ginger, aged 18 months in French oak.

 

  • Chief Gowanus New Amsterdam Gin - Made in NYC by the New York Distilling Company, so it's not technically a Genever (hence the "New Amsterdam" title) but it is very much in the same style with sig, spicy and robust herb and malt flavors.

    • Botanicals: Juniper, hops.  Aged 3 months in American oak.

 
 
 

New Western Gin

Gin is at the heart of craft distilling movement.  One reason for this is it can be sold immediately.  It's not like whiskey where a producer has to wait for a couple years while it ages (cash flow is important to a new business).  Another reason is gin gives distillers creative freedom. While it's traditional flavors are well established, there are not many rules specifying exactly what gin has to taste like.  Aside from the inclusion of juniper, it's pretty much open season. So many producers are taking full advantage of these wide parameters and creating gins that are redefining the perception of what the category can be.  There are few names for this new style, more on that across the page, here I've chosen to go with New Western. 


As a group, New Western gins are very diverse, which makes the category at large difficult to describe. Broadly speaking, they all back away from juniper as the primary flavor and showcase other less traditional botanicals that impart unorthodox gin qualities such as floral, fruity or spicy flavors.  I think the best part about the new style, in addition to all the intriguing new gins to try, is it gives people who previously didn't love gin - or outright despised it - a chance to experience it in a new way. So New Western gins are perfect for both the adventurous gin lover, and the curious gin hater.

 

Recommended Brands - These are just few examples, there are so, so many…

 

  • Hendrick’s - The flagship brand of this new gn wave. Made in Scotland and notable for it's refreshing, floral and slightly fruity character thanks to essences of rose and cucumber.  It has converted a lot of gin haters.  

    • Botanicals: Juniper, coriander, angelica root, orris root, lemon peel, cubeb berries, chamomile, caraway, elderflower, meadowsweet, with rose and cucumber oils added after distillation.

 

  • Dorothy Parker - New York Distilling Company’s flagship gin.  Along with juniper lots of floral and spice flavors.

    • Botanicals: Juniper, lavender, elderberry, hibiscus, cinnamon, lemon peel, orange peel, grapfruit peel.

 

  • Barr Hill  - A delicious gin made by beekeeper’s in Vermont.   It has just two flavoring ingredients, juniper and the honey, which naturally, is made by their bees. Very unique.

    • Botanicals: Juniper, honey.

  • Bluecoat - Smoother juniper flavors with big time citrus notes.  Works best in citrusy and refreshing cocktails.

    • Botanicals: Juniper, coriander, angelica root, undisclosed citrus peel blend that are not typical in gin.

 

The Many "New" Names of Gin - This new style of gin is sometimes called New American because many of them are made in the U.S. and it clearly distinguishes from London dry.  But that names excludes the gins in this camp coming out of Europe, so New World or New Western are also often used.  I'm only using New Western on the site because I just had to pick something.  What's even more confusing is none of these names are typically printed on the label, since not an official category.  One indicator to look for is if the label says "American" or doesn't say "London" or "dry" anywhere. Then there's a good chance it's in the New Western family.

Mixing with New Western Gin

Since they're all so different, mixing with a New Western gin has a bit of a learning curve.  Of course, that's is part of the fun, a gin and tonic will be completely new with every bottle.   The only disadvantage to this, if you'd even call it that, is because they're so distinct, cocktails will often taste specifically like that brand. A Hendrick's Martini will taste like Hendrick's, whereas a Martini with a classic dry gin will just taste like a Martini.  

 

This is of course no problem if you love the taste of Hendrick's. But I still generally recommend a classic dry for an all-purpose gin. They’re like the flour in your cupboard, an ingredient that you can count on to reliably impart an expected quality or flavor.  New Western gins are the opposite of reliable flavors, they're for exploring new ones. The only thing you can count on, is that the discoveries will be unexpected and delicious. 

  • Aviation - A classic New Western style that was one of the first to throw it's hat in the ring.  Also notable for the addition of sarsparilla, as in root beer.

    • Botanicals: Juniper, coriander, lavender, sarsparilla, cardamom, aniseed, sweet oranage peel

 

  • Greenhook Ginsmiths American Dry - A new westerm that leads toward London dry with a floral lift.  

    • Botanicals: Juniper, coriander, orris root, chamomile, elderflower, elderberry, cinnamon, citrus peels.

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tom@socialhourcocktails.com Brooklyn, NY

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