5 Things I’ve Learned About…London Dry Gin

The April 2011 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine is out, and it includes (among other things) my review column on London Dry Gin.  You can pick up a copy at the newsstand, or view it in digital format on Zinio.  Here’s what I learned:

1.  For me, the first educational hurdle arrived months ago, when we worked out which spirits to include on the editorial calendar. A broad call for “gin” would have yielded way too many samples. (See tequila overload. Lesson learned!)  For gin, the options boiled down to “London Dry” style gin, which differentiates it from the sweeter Old Tom style, the stronger-flavored Plymouth style, flavored/infused gins, aged “golden gins,” and Dutch genevers/jenevers.  Most dry style gins are light-bodied and aromatic.

2. I should probably emphasize, that’s London Dry style gin. Although the style originated in London, natch, excellent dry gins are produced elsewhere, including America and France.  (Even so, most of the best London Dry gins are made in England.)

3. Botanicals. This word gets thrown around a LOT when in comes to gin, and a number of other spirits too. In general, this is a fancy word for herbs, spices, flowers, and anything else that is used in the distillation process to add flavor and aroma. In London dry gin, the dominant botanical usually is juniper. If you’re wondering which one that is, uncork a bottle of gin and pick out the scent that reminds you of pine — that’s usually the juniper berry. Other botanicals commonly found in gin include spices (coriander, cardamom, anise, ginger); floral notes (iris, elderflower); tea, and citrus peel.

4. Repeat after me:  A real martini is made with gin. Not vodka.  But there are a number of amazing drinks made with gin beyond the classic martini — such as the Aviation, and the Corpse Reviver #2.

5. ….and a dry martini means that it’s made with relatively little vermouth. If you want to make a bartender snicker, ask for “a very, very, very dry martini.”  Some wise-acres will simply wave a bottle of vermouth over the glass!

If you have a favorite gin, or gin-based drink, I’d love to hear about it – please leave a comment below!  Oh man, I could go for a Corpse Reviver #2 right about now….

14 thoughts on “5 Things I’ve Learned About…London Dry Gin

  1. Last Word or a Spring Feeling .
    Amen on #4 !
    Churchill version of #5 – Glower at vermouth bottle, and yes I tell them “Oh so you just want straight gin, up, then?, Why didn’t you say so ?”
    When I am in that mood I just drink it straight out of my antique bone china teacups (that mood used to be about 4 PM in the bookshop).

  2. Yo Kara!

    I only recently started to enjoy the taste of gin. My neighbor bought a bottle of Bluecoat, which is made down here in Philly, so I gave it a try and really liked it. As far as favorite gin drinks go, I’d have to go with the Aviation as my #1. I’m curious to track down some Creme de Violette because per Jason Wilson’s “Boozehound”, that’s the ingredient that’s been missing from this classic cocktail for quite some time. Apparently, it got the name Aviation from the blue color that the Creme de Violette brings to the cocktail. But I’m sure you knew this already. 🙂

    Cheers and Happy St. Patty’s Day!

    • okay, now I’m really jonesing for an Aviation!

      I liked the Bluecoat gin, your neighbor has good taste. It had a good citrusy profile that I found refreshing. My tasting notes say “a gin to sip in tennis whites.”

      • Shhh… let’s not inflate my neighbor’s ego any more than it already is. Though I’m in the burbs, we don’t have THAT much space between our houses. I have to live next door to him afterall. 😉

  3. G-Lo,
    As a side bar, ( no pun intended) get to Tequila’s on Locust and have their tequila and creme de violette drink (forgot the name sorry!) as an introduction to the liqueur.

    I love Blue Coat too. On reviewed it on Spirits Review years ago. My tagline line for it was “If I could , I would replace my blood with this, “.

    • Yo Chris!
      Thanks for the tip! I haven’t been to Tequila’s since they moved up the street (weren’t they where Misconduct Tavern is now?). The drink is called the “Violet Hora” and is made with Siembra Azul Blanco, Rothman and Winter Violette, Fresh Lemon and Fresh Grapefruit Juice. It sounds delicious! I should also go there to see what it looks like inside. I worked as a busboy in the old Magnolia Cafe (in it’s current location I mean) way back when I was an undergrad at Drexel. Now I feel old. 🙂

  4. Hey Kara!

    I was just reading your piece on London Dry Gins. My feeling is that, in general, ones quality gin has a very complex array of botanicals with one that stands out, citrus or anise etc..Those are the flavors and aromas that have to be played with and enhanced. I have found that I really like my gin with as few competing flavors as possible. I therefore don’t like to use another array of botanicals or juices or herbs or spirits that cover up the reason you poured your gin in the first place. I find this philosophy works for me with most cocktails. If you do use mixes that are just as complex (Campari for example) ,use it sparingly and in a way that plays up the parts that the gin doesn’t have….its bitterness, sweetness, complimenting botanicals…But if you use it in anything close to equal parts, the gin is destroyed and vodka might as well be used. I think that really goes for anything that would mix with gin or any spirit.

    Basic tonic water is a perfect example because it has those same qualities (bitter, sweet), along with some acid….but in a much more stretched out fashion as an effervescent, so you can use more of it to make a long drink (it still shouldn’t be be overused, however, so I think no more than 3-1 tonic to gin is a good rule of thumb) But now there is a whole new world of crafted tonics, so the ratio really depends on how aggressive the flavors in the tonic are and how they mix with your gin.

    It is the reason I like my Negroni to be gin heavy and not equal parts vermouth and Campari. I want them to enhance and work with the gin, and not gang up on it.

    But this kind of asceticism of cocktail making doesn’t mean there is a loss in complexity or flavor, in fact, I believe when things are balanced simply, there is harmony in your glass and real complexity, not forced. It also focuses on the base or primary spirit as the star of your cocktail.

    I never argue with someones taste. We all have varying palates, maturity, exposure, culture and philosophies….So this is just my way of looking at cocktails, and gin specifically.

    I have been doing some things with citrus cordials and syrups that work along this line.

    One that I have really enjoyed is a bitter lemon cordial and a solid London Dry. This blends the bitterness of cinchona bark that is the base of tonic water (quinine), the lemon aromatics, acidity and sweetness that all work with the botanicals in your gin…but in a tight package. It’s beautiful in a Gimlet style cocktail at a 4-1 ratio (gin to cordial), or the same to 3-1 as a long drink topped with soda.

    The different ways to play on this theme are endless.

    • Todd, I love that your responses are like blog posts unto themselves!

      I’m intrigued by that bitter lemon cordial. I suspect your take on the Gimlet would be right up my alley. It sounds wonderful.

  5. Wow! After reading these comments I feel like the kid who flunked basic arithmetic being flung into algebra class – way out of my league. For years I was a solid wine drinker and occasional imbiber of the mixed beverage. More recently, however, I’ve rediscovered the cocktail and in the last few weeks have taken a foray into the world of gin. So, thanks for this article; it’s very timely.

    My one gin creation is a mix of fresh sage with lavender syrup and pineapple juice, using London Dry. It’s actually a bit sweet for me, though friends have claimed to enjoy it.

    Anyway, now that I’ve found you I’ll look forward to subsequent posts.

  6. Pingback: Three things I’ve learned about…Non-London Dry Gin | Tipple Sheet

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