Vodka-based cocktails may have dominated the '90s and early '00s, but nowadays it seems that gin is the spirit of the moment, and we couldn't be happier. Essentially a category of infused spirits, with juniper being the most common additive, gin got its start as a medicinal beverage in 16th-century Holland, when juniper was added to a malt-based spirit for its diuretic qualities and to mask the inferior flavor of early unrefined spirits. Nowadays, it's instead enjoyed for a nuanced flavor that can range from smooth and slightly sweet to dry and floral, and really almost anywhere in between (you can even make a custom blend of your own at home).
Most varieties of gin fall into four general categories:
- London dry gin is what most think of when gin comes to mind. Dry and heavy on the juniper and other botanicals (common additives include citrus peel and coriander, though the options include a host of barks, roots, leaves, flowers, seeds, and berries), it's in many ways similar to an infused vodka. London gins need not be produced in London — most are not — but are instead a style of gin defined by a lack of sugar and juniper-forward flavor. Some sip it on the rocks, but it's most commonly appreciated in cocktails like the martini, negroni, gin and tonic, southside, and a vast variety of others.
- Genever or Dutch gin may be less commonplace than its London dry counterpart, but it actually preceded the spirit and has experienced a revival as of late, with Bols Genever being the most widely available. Smoother and darker in flavor than other varieties, with less of an emphasis on the botanical notes, genever is distilled from either corn, rye, or barley malt, making for a spirit more similar to a light-bodied, botanical-infused whiskey. Try it sipped straight on the rocks, up, or as a substitute for whiskey or moonshine in cocktails — it's particularly great in an old-fashioned.
Keep reading for a breakdown of two more common styles of gin.
- Old Tom, another predecessor to London dry, comes off as a spirit somewhere in between genever and London dry gin in flavor. Slightly thick, sweeter, and sometimes barrel-aged, it's a strong candidate for serving neat or on the rocks or in a cocktail like a sidecar (in lieu of the brandy) or in an old-fashioned (instead of whiskey).
- Plymouth gin is a regional variety very similar in flavor to London dry and is defined by its location — Plymouth gin must be made in Plymouth, England. Currently only one Plymouth gin distillery remains, aptly called Plymouth Gin. Try it anywhere one might use London dry gin; it's a favorite amongst bartenders for good reason.