At its simplest definition, gin is a spirit flavored with juniper berries and other botanicals. In the U.S. and many other countries known for the spirit’s production, a bottle can’t be labeled “gin” unless it includes juniper.
But beyond this requirement, producers have a wealth of options when creating gin. Like vodka, it can be made from any base material, though often uses a fermented grain like wheat or barley. Botanicals used in gin can also vary widely, and depending on the style, the spirit might be bottled at extra-high proof, sweetened or flavored after distillation, or even rested in oak.
Among the more common botanicals found in gin are coriander, orris root, angelica, citrus peel, star anise, and licorice. Some gins contain just a few botanticals, while others include dozens, resulting in aroma and flavor profiles that can range from pine-y to citrusy, floral, earthy, or any combination of elements. However, certain gin profiles are collected under larger categories, like London Dry, Old Tom, Plymouth, and more.
These are some of the most popular styles of gin, along with bottles that embody each category and what you can expect from each.
This is one of the most common gin styles, and often what people think of when they ask for the spirit. London Dry bottlings are usually clean and crisp, with pine-forward notes of juniper as the dominant element.
True to its name, the iconic style was created in London in the 19th century. “So many people were dying from poorly made gin and a group of London distillers decided they wanted to clean up their image,” says Ryan Wainwright, North American brand ambassador for Bombay Sapphire. “They created this style to make it a marker of quality and so you know you are in good hands.”
Notably, London Dry gin doesn’t need to be made in London but can be produced anywhere in the world. “This [style] is solely about how it is distilled and that it is additive-free,” says Wainwright. In the European Union, this means that legally only water and a maximum of 0.1 grams of sweetening agent can be added to London Dry gin after distillation. No colorings or flavorings may be added.
Bottles to try: Beefeater, Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire
London Dry Gin Fast Facts
- Dominant juniper notes
- Clean and crisp
Contemporary/ New Western/New American
This category of gin goes by many names—New American, American Dry, New Western, etc.—but it’s not strictly U.S. producers in the game. While these bottlings all contain juniper, many defy convention and often utilize unusual botanicals (think seaweed, olives, or lemongrass) that create unique flavor profiles.
“New American was a connotation given to gins that arose during Prohibition, as bootleggers and speakeasies would flavor neutral grain spirit with things like juniper oil and tree resins and then sell it as ‘new American’ or ‘bathtub’ gin,” says Marsh Mokhtari, who owns Los Angeles-based Gray Whale Gin along with his cofounder and wife, Jan Mokhtari. “Today, these terms are purely marketing terms for gins that are attempting to differentiate themselves from traditional London Dry brands.”
There’s no legal definition for any of these terms and as such, brands calling themselves Contemporary/New American can use a range of distilling styles, proofs, flavorings, and additives to achieve their desired flavor.
Bottles to try: St. George Terroir Gin, Gray Whale Gin, Hendrick’s, Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin
Contemporary/New Western Gin Fast Facts
- Wide range of styles
- Generally uncommon or unique botanicals
- No legal definition
More neutral than London Dry gin, and often a more versatile option, Plymouth gin was created in Plymouth, England, in 1793, at a distillery built by the Black Friars monks. Juniper is still the dominant flavoring, but it’s often more subtle or earthy, sometimes accompanied by citrus or other botanicals.
Though technically a style in and of itself, Plymouth is notable for only being produced by a single distillery: the Plymouth Gin Distillery. European Union law had awarded the protected geographical indication (PGI) to the style, which stipulated that the gin must be produced in the city of Plymouth, along with a minimum ABV of 37.5% and predominant juniper flavors. However, as Plymouth had already become a brand name and protected trademark under owners Pernod Ricard, the company allowed PGI designation to lapse in 2014. Despite its shifting legal status, the recipe and gin remain the same.
“There are only a few types of gin that [have had] protected geographical indication and one of those is Plymouth Gin,” says Molly Troupe, master distiller for Portland, OR-based Freeland Spirits, which makes multiple styles of gin. “Plymouth Gin has been made in Plymouth at the Black Friars Distillery for centuries.”
Bottles to try: Plymouth
Plymouth Gin Fast Facts
- Softer juniper than London Dry
- Earthy and tart citrus notes
- Fuller bodied
Old Tom is a slightly sweetened style of gin, ideal for the Martinez, and said to predate London Dry. Many 19th century drinks specifically called for Old Tom gin, and although the style had been nearly forgotten in subsequent decades, it was revived in the U.S. during the cocktail renaissance of the 2000s. Old Tom can be aged or unaged.
“An Old Tom gin can be either a dry or contemporary gin that is barrel-aged and has sugar or higher amounts of licorice root added to it,” says Troupe. “[However], there are no exact rules, and because of this, Old Tom gins can vary greatly.”
Bottles to try: Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, Ransom Old Tom Gin (lightly aged)
Old Tom Gin Fast Facts
- Slightly sweet
- Style varies widely
- Can be barrel-aged
Sloe gin, flavored with blackthorn berries and sweetened with sugar, is probably the best-known style of flavored gin. In general, flavored gins are often bottled at a slightly lower proof (around 30–35% ABV) and may be sweetened and/or have coloring added. Depending on where it is produced, flavored gin may technically be considered a gin liqueur—in the U.S., for example, bottlings must be at least 40% ABV in order to legally be called gin. Nevertheless, this style has been gaining popularity again in both England and the U.S.
Bottles to try: Sipsmith Sloe Gin, Pomp & Whimsy Gin Liqueur, Greenhook Ginsmiths Beach Plum Gin Liqueur
Flavored Gin Fast Facts
- Sweetened with sugar
- Flavored after distillation
- Often labeled a liqueur
Navy Strength Gin
Navy strength gin is an overproof bottling, which can read as spicy or fiery, but stands up well in mixed drinks.
“Navy strength is 114 proof (57% ABV), the minimum proof required so that if the gin were to spill on gunpowder, the powder would still light,” says Mokhtari. “British naval officers were rationed a pint of gin a day at ‘navy strength,’ [and] the name stuck. [The term] overproof is ubiquitous with navy strength but can mean any spirit proofed higher than the [usual] standard, usually 100 proof or more.”
Bottles to try: Four Pillars Navy Strength Gin, Perry’s Tot Navy Strength Gin (New York Distilling Co.), Freeland Dry Gin
Navy Strength Gin Fast Facts
- Spicy and fiery
- Bottled at at least 57% ABV
- Can be made in a variety of styles
With a name that stems from the Latin word for juniper berry, this is a botanical malted grain spirit containing juniper, which some compare to a cross between gin and whiskey. It’s often spelled “jenever” in Dutch; the spirit is the national drink of both the Netherlands and Belgium. Although it’s considered the ancestor of gin, juniper is not dominant in genever’s aroma or flavor, and the style is usually considered a separate category from gin.
Bottles to try: Old Duff Blended Dutch Genever, Bols Genever, Rutte Old Simon Genever
Genever Fast Facts
- Predecessor to gin
- Less-pronounced juniper notes
- Distilled from grain mash, called malt wine