Gin and its Lowlands cousin Genever (Jenever in Belgium) are white spirits that are flavored with juniper berries a varied assortment of herbs and spices. The spirit base of Gin is primarily grain, usually wheat or rye, making it a light-bodied spirit.
Genever is made primarily from “malt wine” (a mixture of malted barley, wheat, corn, and rye), which produces a fuller-bodied spirit similar to raw malt Whisky. A small number of Genevers in Holland and Belgium are distilled directly from fermented juniper berries, producing a particularly intensely flavored spirit.
The chief flavoring agent in both Gin and Genever is the highly aromatic blue-green berry of the juniper, a low-slung evergreen bush that is commercially grown in northern Italy, Croatia, the United States and Canada. Additional botanicals can include anise, angelica root, cinnamon, orange peel, coriander and cassia bark. All Gin and Genever makers have their own secret combination of botanicals, the number of which can range from as few as four to as many as fifteen.
Most Gin is initially distilled in efficient column stills. The resulting spirit is high proof, light-bodied and clean with a minimal amount of congeners (flavor compounds) and flavoring agents. Genever is distilled in less-efficient pot stills, which results in a lower-proof, more flavorful spirit.
Low-quality “compound” gins are made by simply mixing the base spirit with juniper and botanical extracts. Mass-market gins are produced by soaking juniper berries and botanicals in the base spirit and then redistilling the mixture.
Top-quality gins and genevers are flavored in a unique manner. After one or more distillations, the base spirit is redistilled one last time. During this final distillation, the alcohol vapor wafts through a chamber in which the dried juniper berries and botanicals are suspended. The vapor gently extracts aromatic and flavoring oils and compounds from the berries and spices as it travels through the chamber on its way to the condenser. The resulting flavored spirit has a noticeable degree of complexity.
- London Dry Gin is the dominant English style of Gin. As a style, it lends itself particularly well to mixing. London Dry Gin is the dominant Gin style in the United Kingdom, former British colonies, the United States and Spain.
- Plymouth Gin is relatively full-bodied (when compared to London Dry Gin). It is clear, slightly fruity and very aromatic. Originally the local Gin style of the English Channel port of Plymouth, modern Plymouth Gin is nowadays made only by one distillery in Plymouth, Coates & Co., which also controls the right to the term Plymouth Gin.
- Old Tom Gin is the last remaining example of the original lightly sweetened Gins that were so popular in 18th-century England. Until fairly recently, limited quantities of Old Tom-style Gin were still being made by a few British distillers, but they were, at best, curiosity items.
- Genever or Hollands is the Dutch style of Gin. Genever is distilled from a malted grain mash similar to that used for Whisky. Oude (“old”) Genever is the original style. It is straw-hued, relatively sweet and aromatic. Jonge (“young”) Genever has a drier palate and lighter body. Some Genevers are aged for one to three years in oak casks. Genevers tend to be lower proof than English gins (72-80 proof or 36-40% ABV is typical). They are usually served straight up and chilled.
Content provided by Keith Cox, Martin Wine Cellar