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What did you call it.....?

Updated: Jul 30, 2022

This is a blog post about the different sorts of gin…

Most of us have heard about a London Dry Gin but what about a Plymouth Gin, or a Navy Strength gin or a compound or a distilled gin, not to mention an Old Tom or a Genever.

What’s the difference? There are some elements of geography, some of standards, some history and a little something soaking it up in the corner.

It is a fascinating tale and I will not start from the beginning because the here and now involves mainly London Dry Gin and distilled gins. However to be a gin - the spirit must taste predominantly of juniper. It must also be a minimum of 37.5% ABV.

A London Dry gin does not have to be distilled in London - historically the London bit came in because the big gin distillers simply were based in London and it was an association by geography but not an absolute requirement. Essentially, ‘London dry’ gins are gins that are made from the distillation process and only have water added after the distillation process. In other words - add water and 96% alcohol and a bag of botanicals to the still, collect the result and dilute it to 40% and there you have a London Dry gin. (Trust me though - it’s not quite as easy as that!)

So London Dry gin doesn't have to come from London...

Then there is Plymouth gin. Which definitely used to have a protected geographical location - although I understand this was stopped in 2015, but essentially the gin should be distilled in Plymouth. So London dry gin can be distilled anywhere but Plymouth gin cannot. Confused yet?

Then there is Genever. Which has a malted base (old and young varieties of Genever options if you want to get close up and personal with the process - but given the use of malt and the smell resulting - I would be inclined to not get too close). Remember what I said in a previous blog about Dutch courage and Genever...

I wonder if Jack London owned a distillery - he had

a good name and good story options..!

What about naval strength - i.e. 57% ABV (alcohol by volume). Whilst most gins are around at least 37.5% and usually 40% or so, this style really gives you a broadside! In theory, this was supposed to be all to do with gunpowder.

It is said that the rum (for the sailors) and gin (for the officers) was stored in the same area. If either barrel leaked, the alcohol would soak into the gunpowder and given that the gunpowder was pretty important stuff on board ship, the alcohol had to be at least 57.15% otherwise the gunpowder would not ignite.

Sadly, when I went to visit this distillery, none

of the barrels were leaking!

The term “proof” is said to be derived from this situation as burning the alcohol-soaked gunpowder showed that there was enough alcohol in the solution and so the barrel of booze was passed as “gunpowder-proof”.

There was good reason to drink some 57.1% ABV

gin before going into a sea battle!

Distilled gin essentially contains the gin distilled from min 96% ABV alcohol /botanicals / water which is then diluted to min 37.5% ABV but with the addition of other flavouring “substances or preparations”. Some additions that flavour gins are unable to pass through the distillation process and so must be added after the heating element of the process to be present in the bottle.

Lastly - who and what constitutes an Old Tom gin. This was a popular gin style in the late 19800’s and is slightly sweeter than a London Dry gin but slightly drier than a Genever. The name Old Tom Gin is said to be based on the wooden signs that were shaped like a cat (hence the “Tom” bit) that were found on the walls outside the pubs in the 1800’s and earlier. When the government in Britain clamped down on gin (see previous blogs!), it drove the purchase of gin underground. However, quite sneakily, under one of the paws was a slot that patrons would put money into and magically some gin would appear….! Great story.