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Distilled Dry Gin

Definition

Surely all Gin is distilled, so why is this called “Distilled Gin” and what is the difference, if any?

Yes it is true, all Gins are considered to be distilled, although this belief generally refers to the base spirit that is already distilled and, for all intents and purposes, is more akin to Vodka. It is how the botanical flavors of the Gin are imparted into this Vodka-like base spirit that this term is derived from. Whereas Compound Gin is made by steeping the botanicals in this base spirit to flavor it (without any further distillation), Distilled Gin (and London Dry Gin) redistills the botanical flavors into the base spirit. 

So, the definition of a “Distilled Gin” is a base spirit (made from agricultural produce e.g. grain) of at least 96% ABV that has been redistilled (in a traditional Gin still) in the presence of natural botanicals, with juniper berries being the dominant flavor. It is after this process where the two main differences between Distilled Dry Gin and London Dry Gin are found: 1. Finishing Strength; and 2. Additives.

1. For a Distilled Gin the resultant distillate (after redistillation) can finish at any strength, unlike London Dry Gin which has to be a minimum of 70% ABV, before being diluted with water to bottling strength.

2. Furthermore, additives can be used post-distillation in a Distilled Gin and this includes: additional base spirit; further flavoring (e.g. sugar, botanicals etc.), both natural and artificial; and coloring (artificial flavoring and coloring have to be from an approved list). In contrast, London Dry Gin producers are only permitted to add water and a very small (almost insignificant) amount of sugar and nothing else post-distillation.

Origins

Although Distilled Gin or a version of it probably first appeared in the 1000’s and was referred to in print from the 1500’s, the Distilled Gin of today would have really started to become recognizable about 300 years ago. This is generally accredited to the period when Genever had migrated across to the UK from the Netherlands (by the beginning of the 1700’s) and the Brits had started to make their own stronger version of Genever or “Gin”. Certainly many made Compound Gin around this time but those with, or with access to, stills would no doubt have made use of them to create better quality Gin. While this may have been the best at the time, overall the quality (especially when compared with today) would still have been “rough and ready”, necessitating post-distillation flavor additions to mask the low quality.

This Distilled Gin, which with sweeteners is known as Old Tom Gin, was the high quality product of its time and endured for around 150 years until the 1830’s. The invention of the continuous still in 1831 enabled purer spirit to be made at a higher strength, removing its unpleasant tasting impurities. This in turn negated the need for additives such as sweeteners to disguise the taste and the London Dry Gin style was born, with Distilled Gin fading away into the background.

Modern Times

Historically Distilled Gin would have been identifiable by taste, due to its level of sweetness. Today with the better quality production methods and equipment, there is certainly no such differentiation in taste between a Distilled Dry Gin and a London Dry Gin. With London Dry Gin having ruled the Gin roost for nearly two centuries, it would prove difficult to lure consumers away from their perceived view of London Gin being at the pinnacle of quality.

As a market expands, innovative manufacturers always look for new and different products to sell and this is no different in the Drinks Industry and the world of Gin. As Gin has gained in popularity, distillers have taken to identifying ways of differentiating themselves in the marketplace. Like many things, when doing something new or different it requires a courageous step to be made by one bold party, to get the ball rolling…

A Most Peculiar Gin

The rules that make London Gin what it is, also limit what you can do with it. For instance, flower petals if added to a traditional still and “cooked” along with more overpowering botanicals do not necessarily create the desired result, with the delicate floral aroma all but lost in the process. Being able to create several distillations (maybe even using low temperature vacuum distilling equipment), particularly for botanicals with more delicate aromas or lighter flavors, and then blending them together does not make a London Dry Gin but it is a Distilled Gin – with many new experiences opened up to both the maker and the consumer.

In 1999 William Grant & Sons (the famous Scottish Whisky makers of brands such as: Balvenie, Glenfiddich, Grants and Tullamore) launched a Distilled Gin that was to cause a paradigm shift away from London Dry Gins. Not only did they create and blend together two differently produced distillates (one traditionally made with heavily oiled botanicals and the other with softer lighter oils extracted by vapor infusion) but they also added essences of Cucumber and Rose to the final product too. They actively embraced their creation and positively marketed its difference, calling it “A most peculiar Gin”, probably before anyone else could! Today Hendrick’s Gin is a well-known and respected brand within the world of Gin and beyond, with its pathfinder approach that has helped re-establish Distilled Gin. While the drinks world may generally credit Hendrick’s with breaking from London Dry Gin, Grants have not operated in isolation and neither were they the first!

O Brave New World

The new Millennium (and just before) has brought forth a whole range of Distilled Gins, too many to mention here: some bringing blends of distillates, others employing the use of additives, several using new types of distilling equipment and a few choosing to add color to a previously clear world. Although we might be familiar with these things today, it wasn’t too long ago London Dry all but dominated the Gin world. We might not always be able to tell the difference between a London Dry and a Distilled Dry in terms of look, taste or feel but that difference is there and growing. Here are some of these changes including Distilled Gins of particular note:

1. Additives

This refers to anything added to the Gin after final distillation, including extra botanical flavors (beyond the botanicals already included during the final distillation process) and sweeteners (e.g. sugar). However this category does not include flavored “Gins”, better known as a liqueurs, where the alcoholic strength is below 40% (USA) and 37.5% (Europe).

The oldest brand still in production I have been able to identify, that fits into this category, is Old Raj Gin. Made by William Cadenhead in Scotland and launched in the 1990’s in a Blue label version (55% ABV) followed by a Red label version (46% ABV), they add saffron after distillation giving both versions a light spicy taste. The London No.1 Original Blue Gin made by Thames Distillers (UK) for Gonzalez-Byass (Spain), was launched in 2005. Although less well-known outside of Spain, today this classic style Gin is enjoying increased awareness and is infused with gardenia plus bergamot oil added post-distillation.

A well-known brand launched in 2006, and the first Gin to use Rangpur “Limes”, is Tanqueray Rangpur. Made like a London Dry it has a little more sugar added than the regulations for a London Dry permits. Perhaps snapping on it’s heels in terms of popularity are new comers such as: Edgerton Original Pink Gin from the UK (2011) with pomegranate extract added; Entropía Gin from Spain (2012) infused with guarana and ginseng; and Barr Hill Gin from the USA (2012), made with only two botanicals, juniper berries and raw honey (added just prior to bottling). One of our favorites in this group due to its flavor profile is the Hotel Chocolat Cocoa Gin, made by the English Spirits Company in the UK (for the Hotel Chocolat company). Launched in 2012, this citrus forward Gin is infused with cocoa shells post-distillation, imparting a slight chocolate taste (and faint yellow color).

2. Color

The vast majority of colored Gins come from liqueurs (technically not a Gin) where they are often colored red, or from Barrel Aged Gins where the typical color is yellow from the interaction with the wood. However, there are a few Gins that fit into neither of these two categories, but still bring color to a previously uncolored world of Gin.

Blue

When Bombay Sapphire Gin was launched by Bacardi in 1987, it certainly caused a “disturbance in the force” and one of the lesser appreciated reasons for this, was it’s blue color. Although people today generally know the liquid itself is colorless, the bottle was initially shrink-wrapped in blue plastic (it’s now produced in a blue glass bottle) and many at the time erroneously believed the Gin was indeed blue colored – now here was a seed of an idea …but it would take a while to germinate.

In 2004 Angeac Distillery in France created Magellan Gin, infusing iris flowers post-distillation to give it a blue color (said to represent the skies and seas the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand de Magellan encountered on his voyage around the globe). However, getting consumers to accept a blue colored Gin is not the easiest thing to do and in 2005 Magellan started to produce this Gin as a colorless liquid, only to revert back to it’s original blue color in 2006. Meantime The London No.1 Original Blue Gin from Spain appeared in 2005, steeped with gardenia flowers post-distillation, to give it a blue color too. Slowly this color has gained some increased acceptability and now today there are a few more blue colored Gins available.

For me, one of the most exciting Gins of color is Ink Gin from Australian. Launched in 2015 it is made with Butterfly Pea petals as its signature botanical, imparting a deep blue color to the Gin. This botanical is also ph sensitive, resulting in a change to a lighter blue/purple even pink color when mixed with tonic water or lemon juice – making for a real color game changer!

Green

Although there are green colored Gins, they tend to be of very faint hue and one might even say they are hardly green at all. Examples include: the Old Raj Gins, which display a pale green/yellow color; Bainbridge Heritage Organic Doug Fir Gin (launched in 2011) from the USA using fresh Douglas Fir tips giving it a slight green tint; and Dà Mhìle Seaweed Gin from Wales (launched in 2014), which uses botanicals chosen to pair with seafood, including a form of seaweed creating a faint green coloration to the Gin. However, in 2013 the strongly green colored Dry Gin 19 Flors from Spain was launched. With 19 botanicals and a bias towards an herbaceous palate the lime green color seems to suitably match it’s flavor profile.

Purple

Although purple is a variation of blue, Cool Gin from Spain uses blackberry and strawberry botanicals which creates this violet colored spirit. The purple color is strong enough by itself to warrant this separate section for this “cool” Gin launched in 2012.

Red

The Scottish company William Cadenhead (noted previously for their Old Raj Gins) also produce a pink colored Sloe Gin. Appearing in the early 2000’s, and unlike other Sloe Gins Liqueurs at 46% ABV it is clearly a Gin, making it one of the first to be red (pink) colored. Another example is Edgerton Original Pink Gin (UK, 2011), which has a strong pink color from the pomegranate extract added to it. However, Tinto Red Gin from Portugal was released in 2015 and is billed as the world’s first (true) red (not pink) colored Gin.

Yellow

Although there are a few lightly colored (not Barrel-Aged) yellow Gins there are two particular Gins both with a dark yellow hue: Entropía Gin (2012) from Spain, infused with guarana and ginseng post-distillation; and Half Hitch Gin made in London, UK and launched in 2014. Although for me the most notable yellow colored Distilled Gin is from Canada and was launched in 2010. Ungava Gin can be described as bright yellow in color but, in what feels like an excerpt from films such as “Crazy People” (1990) starring Dudley Moore or “Liar Liar” (1997) starring Jim Carey, it has been described by their President Charles Crawford as: “A bit like morning’s vitamin-enriched urine.” Now that’s my kind of truthful advertizing.

3. Divided Final Distillation & Blending

Martin Miller’s Gin, similarly to Hendrick’s Gin, is made from two different distillates blended together, plus the addition of a third distillate made from cucumber. Launched in 1999 but just prior to Hendrick’s it is perhaps more like Hendrick’s than many may realize, and makes Martin Miller’s the first to use cucumber in Gin (at least in modern times). These two Gins certainly opened the way for other distillers to follow suit, distilling their botanicals in two or more separate batches before blending them together to make the final Gin. Other examples include: Copperwave Gin (2013, Australia); Botanica Spiritvs Gin (2013, USA); and Nginious Gin (2014, Switzerland).

Progressing this step a little further, distillers have also readily taken to distilling each botanical separately before blending them all together to create their final Distilled Gin. The list is long but includes brands such as: Leopolds’s Gin (2001, USA); Gin Mare (2009, Spain); Moore’s Vintage Dry Gin (2009, Australia); Zuidam Dry Gin (2011, Holland); N Gin VLC (2012, Spain); Blaum Bros. Gin (2013, USA); MGC Gin (2013, Australia); Solveig Gin (2013, USA); and Forty Spotted Rare Tasmanian Gin (2015, Australia).

4. Non-Traditional Stills

London Dry Gins are made using traditional stills (generally considered to be a pot still) and this means, although the definition is perhaps “fuzzy”, when Gin is made in a non-traditional still it can no longer be considered a London Dry but is a Distilled Dry Gin.

An example of this “fuzzy” definition is for The Botanist Islay Dry Gin launched in 2010. Made with 31 botanicals they use a rare Lomand copper pot still made in the 1950’s, and while this sounds like a traditional still, it works at low pressure (just 0.2 atmospheres) and thus maybe considered a non-traditional still. Perhaps the clearest example of a non-traditional still is the recent trend by some distillers in using low temperature vacuum distilling equipment. Looking like something out of a mad professors chemical laboratory, they exchange the copper and stainless steel for glass flasks, tubes and beakers.

Oxley Gin made for Bacardi by Thames Distillers in the UK and launched in 2008, is generally considered to be the first commercial Gin to use low temperature vacuum, creating individual distillates for each botanical before blending them together. Although Boodles Gin (UK & USA) is another possible contender for this title, the very first vacuum distilled Gin was in fact Adler Gin, made in Germany and launched in 2004.

This trend has been followed by Sacred Gin in the UK (launched in 2009), who use Frankincense as its signature botanical and has led to a whole range of Sacred Gins. Maverick Drinks (Master of Malt) have also made good use of this type of distilling equipment (with their Origin, Professor Cornelius Ampleforth and Batshit Mental Ideas range of Gins and others) as have The Cambridge Distillery (with their Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter Gins, Anty Gin, Japanese Gin etc.). There are a few others from the UK and while this has been a predominately British led approach, this is changing with more joining the throng e.g. Pink Pepper Gin (France, 2014) and Seven Brothers Gin (USA, 2014).

5. Two-Stage Final Distillations

London Dry is known for the “single-shot” method of production, where the botanicals and the base spirit are distilled in one go, at one moment in time. Distilled Gin can distill the botanicals separately (see point 3 above) but they can also be distilled several times, at different moments in time. This process is known as a “double distillation” or a “two-stage final distillation”.

Tanqueray No. Ten, besides being the first Gin to use fresh citrus fruit (rather than dried citrus peel) were in 2000, also one of the first to employ a double distillation process. A few others have followed this lead including: Spring 44 Mountain Gin made in Colorado, USA and released in 2011; and Half Hitch Gin made in London, UK (2014) who initially distill their botanicals using a vacuum still followed by a second distillation in a copper pot still.

A Distilled Future

Distilled Dry Gin has opened up the world of Gin production, providing greater experimentation and adventure for distillers and consumers alike. Classic London Dry Gin drinkers may not always enjoy the results of this break with tradition, but it seems to have opened the floodgates for new generations of Gin imbibers around the world. Distilled Gin is just as capable of producing a level of quality to rival London Dry Gin and there is no reason why this should not continue to grow and expand (in many different directions). The use of colored Gin in mixed drinks and cocktails has only just begun to gain a foothold in bars and the range of new flavors (through the use of more delicate botanicals) is just the tip of the iceberg in what we could expect to see. These are exciting times and don’t be surprised to find Distilled Dry Gin at the epicenter of the fun, as the life and soul of the party.



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