Known to most people for it’s dominant
pine-like aroma and flavor, Gin gains this distinguishing feature from the main
ingredient (or botanical) of juniper berries. This is particularly prevalent in
London Dry Gins traditionally made in Europe. As new emerging countries in Gin
distilling have broken away from the London category in recent years, and made
in roads into Distilled Dry Gins, it has raised the question of “what if it
wasn’t so juniper forward?” Of course, in Europe this might fly in the face of
conventional understanding and even regulatory legislation, which stipulates
the flavor must predominantly come from juniper berries. However, in countries
outside of these restrictions, greater experimentation could be undertaken –
and, despite restrictions, Europe has not been left out of this entirely either!
So what if another botanical (or two) shared center stage with the juniper? What if the juniper was a muted background note and the other botanicals were more noticeable? The experimenters began to find very individualistic Gins, with artistic flair, could be produced…that also attracted non-Gin drinkers, previously deterred by the clear smack of pine trees from traditional Gins.
Many recognize and refer to these dialled back juniper offerings as Modern, New Wave or Contemporary Gins, although these (to us) seem fairly broad and hard to define terms. In recent times the majority of brands fitting into this new type of Gin are from the USA and many have taken to describing this style as American Gin. Unfortunately this is perhaps too narrow a term and does not take into account similar Gins emerging elsewhere, such as Africa, Australia, Canada, New Zealand etc. It is for this reason we like the term New Western Dry Gin, it has a more encompassing essence to it and has a clearer definition, even if this category of Gin is not universally wanted, applied or even recognized.
Today, there is still debate as to weather this is a new category of Gin (and what it is called) or if it’s just an extension of Distilled or London Dry Gins. We believe, even if they dance dangerously close or beyond the legal definitions of Gin, this style of Gin deserves some level of acknowledgement and identification. An excellent phrase we have encountered to describe this category can’t go unremarked, and sums up this new style to a tee: “Gins with Botanical Democracy.”
Most people acknowledge the stating point of this New Western Dry category with Gin makers Charles Tanqueray & Co., from the UK, who introduced several offbeat Gins running up to the New Millennium:
In 1997 Tanqueray released Malacca, a spiced Gin, based on an original recipe dating back to 1839. It was short lived, probably because consumers did not understand it, and in 2001 was taken off the market. It was clearly ahead of it’s time but did garner a cult following and has been referred to by some as the “Unicorn of Gin” due to the difficulty in finding a remaining bottle. This was to be temporarily overcome in an unusual turn of events, when in 2013 the Gin was reintroduced but unfortunately for a limited launch of 100,000 bottles only.
In 2000 Tanqueray launched their No.10 brand, a citrus forward Gin with juniper just behind it. This has gained a good following and its fans refer to it fondly as “T-10.” Although thought by many to be in response to the market share being taken by Bombay Sapphire (launched in 1987), we’re not convinced, T-10 really did (and still does) promote a citrus forward Gin…making it the longest standing New Western Style Gin available today.
Brave Hearts Continue
Tanqueray, made in Scotland along with fellow brand Gordon’s, was joined in this new category by another Scottish distiller: Blackwood’s. Launched in 2003 it was to face some financial difficulties before being bought by Blavod’s (now called Distil Company Ltd.) in 2008. The juniper is light with a sweet citrus joining it in the front ranks and showing background notes of herbs and spices.
Also in 2003, the New Zealand makers of 42 Below Vodka released their South Gin onto the market. Initially it was 33% ABV (although it soon went up to 40% ABV) and was clearly touted as a lighter drink with less juniper than a traditional London Dry. Today, there may not seem such a great divide between this Gin and others but certainly for its time, it was “far out there”.
America Flies the Revolutionary Flag
2006 saw the arrival of another citrus forward brand, in the form of Bluecoat Gin. Made in Pennsylvania USA, and named after the original color of American military uniforms, this Gin lets the juniper take second place, followed by other botanicals. During 2006 Aviation Gin was also released, made in Oregon USA by House Spirits, this is centered on liquorice and sarsaparilla with spice, juniper and orange in support. Another Oregon based distiller, Indio Spirits also launched their Gin: Cricket Club in 2006, with a clearly dialled back juniper profile.
Dry Fly Gin from Washington USA was introduced in 2007, and not only was it the first distillery in this State since Prohibition, it was also the first Gin to contain apples and hops in it’s botanical make up. The apples certainly take center stage, in both aroma and taste, along with the juniper. North Shore Distillers from Illinois USA, also launched their No.6 Gin in 2007 with dialled back juniper, making room for the citrus (and spice to a slightly lesser extent) to take center stage. 2007 also saw the launch of Caprock Organic from Colorado, USA. This has an herbal backbone with traces of floral, spice and juniper appearing throughout.
These Gins from the USA quickly gained the moniker of “American” style Gins and, today this name is used to particularly note US Gins with a fruit or citrus forward flavor. However Aviation co-founder Ryan Magarian, who has proved to be a strong advocate of this style of Gin, first penned the term “New Western Dry” in 2009 to describe this style.
Not Just America
However, this revolution was not (and is not exclusive) to America and during the later half of first decade of the Millennium, included Gin Brands from other countries too.
2006 saw G’Vine Floraison from France appear, using a grape base spirit, which comes through strong and clear with floral and spicy cassia notes. Right Gin from Sweden was released in 2007 with its citrus forward character and light juniper and peppery spice. Germany was not to be left out with Monkey 47 launched in 2008 (displaying big citrus and herbal complexities with little juniper) and The Duke Munich Dry Gin was issued in 2009 (with its citrus plus subtle juniper and other botanicals).
New Western Dry Explosion
It was upon reaching the second decade of the New Millennium this New Western style or category Gin really started taking hold. Although it is difficult to list all of these, and the following list is far from inclusive, here are some of the ones we would readily identify with being in this category of Gin:
Of course, any list of New Western Dry Gins is going to be subjective as it is based on what the Gin tastes like. It is for this reason there is debate, not only on the existence of the category itself but what Gins should be included. For instance: Ryan Magarian (who named the category) suggests Martin Miller’s and Hendrick’s (both launched in 1999) are New Western Dry Gins. However, we believe both of these Gins maintain enough of a classic Gin profile for them to categorized elsewhere – as to who is right…well, that would be a matter of taste – and not who is wrong or right!
There are a handful of Gins that are so light in flavor they contain barely discernable traces of juniper (if at all) and the other botanicals are so marginalized it has led many to refer to them as Vodka-like. Examples include Bafferts made in the UK for the USA; Vedrich from Belarus; Iceberg from Canada; and London Hill from Scotland, UK. A question we ask is: are these New Western Dry Gins too? While the juniper is dialled back it is true to say this of the other botanicals too. If all the botanical flavors were increased proportionally would these not become classic styled Gins? If this is the case then surely they are not New Western Dry Gins! It’s fair to say the jury is out on this one but it’s an interesting train of thought, especially as people generally categorize these as New Western Dry Gins.
When purchasing a bottle of Gin, or a Gin drink, it’s fortuitous to be able to identify what type of Gin you are buying. Spending $30+ on a bottle or $10 on a drink that proves to be disappointing is frustrating and often a waste. If you like a particular type of Gin it makes sense to be able to find it and buy it and many new comers to Gin prefer these dialed back juniper versions and, conversely so, traditional Gin drinkers prefer their solid juniper kick.
As to what this category is called, we’ll leave it to the industry to decide. In the meantime we’re happy to call it New Western Dry, but have few difficulties with any other name…just as long as we can understand what it is!
New Western Dry Gins, just like many other Gins, are often difficult to place in terms of flavor. They can be citrusy, herbal, floral, spicy etc. and there can be little to pre-determine this unless the bottle label identifies it as such. However, most will have reduced juniper presence and therefore may be overpowered in drinks usually reserved for more traditional Gin drinks such as a Negroni and perhaps a Gin and Tonic. These modern or contemporary styled Gins can work well in a Martini, Aviation of Bee’s Knees. Many citrus forward versions can be used to good effect in a Tom Collins or Gimlet, although those with cucumber can work just as well in these two drinks also.
The overriding factor here is to experiment with the Gin and your palate, to find what works for you, and brings the most personal pleasure and enjoyment.
Distillers are still creating and so we can expect to see more of these types of Gin to continue appearing, and across more countries too.
Bartenders often have a difficult time in matching this category of Gin to traditional cocktails (unlike a straightforward London Dry or Navy Strength Gin). However, for those willing to experiment, it means we will see new Gin drinks being created, especially when a traditional Gin has been too potent to work effectively in a similar combination before.
These are daring and unusual times ahead but do not be deterred yourself…go have fun with your Gin like never before.