Ok, so we had some comments recently from people regarding London dry gin and it seems many still think the style must be made in the capital. This isn’t true, so let’s break down exactly what it is.
It’s hard to think of a city people associate with gin more than London. From the ‘Gin Craze’ era in the first half of the 18th century when England’s capital became a den of juniper-based mayhem (or so they say…) to the craft revolution that arguably began when Sipsmiths became the first copper-pot based distillery to start up there in 189 years, London and gin are as intertwined as, well, gin and tonic.
Anyone who has even a cursory knowledge of gin will also have surely heard of the classification: London dry gin.
It’s a fantastic category of spirit, but its name is not exactly useful. It doesn’t tell you anything about what style these gins are, and misleadingly implies they must be made in London. Rule no.1 of London dry gin is this: it does not need to be made in London.
I repeat: you can make London dry gin in Newcastle, New Delhi or Norway. It’s not where you make it that’s important, it’s how.
The term London Dry Gin is the narrowest and most strict of the distilled gin categories and is a process designation. That means it doesn’t technically guarantee a flavour because that’s a subjective and pretty unenforceable standard, although the wider categorisation of gin requires a predominantly juniper-forward flavour and the way in which flavour can be achieved when making London dry gin does mean you typically expect a certain style. A junipery one. Once again, it’s also NOT a geographical designation.
Instead, a series of EU regulations put in place in February 2008 dictates that a London dry gin must be produced exclusively by distilling ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin with no trace of methanol. It also must also be distilled to an initial alcoholic strength of at least 96% ABV. This is only really possible in a column still, and achieving that strength means the basis for London dry gin is a neutral spirit.
The law then states the spirit must be distilled again to at least 70% ABV “in the presence of juniperus communis L. and other botanicals.” Yes, that means juniper. Any additional flavours must be sourced through the distillation of ‘natural plant materials’. This means you’re relying on juniper and your chosen botanicals to create the taste of the gin. No cheating and adding any artificial ingredients, like flavouring or colourings, post distillation.
You can only add water, with London dry gin regulations stating that the minimum strength it can be diluted to is 37.5% ABV. To meet the ‘dry’ designation, it cannot be sweetened in excess of 0.1 grams per litre with sweetening products, a trivial amount.
So why is it called London dry gin in the first place? Well, we have to do a quick bit of time travelling here to uncover that.
Cast your mind back to the early days of gin. I don’t mean the 1980s when you had about two choices of bottles to buy, I’m talking more like the 18th century. For much of this era, gin was typically made so crudely that the spirit was, to use a technical term, shite. It was often people whipping it up in their own home, for goodness sake.
This rough spirit required lots of flavouring. Think of those incredibly cheap vodkas you would have as a student (was that just me?), you need to do something to make them palatable. The old school solution for gin makers was bold and sweet botanicals, and the addition of sugar or honey post-distillation too.
When the Coffey still was introduced in 1832, this all changed. Distillers were able to obtain a consistent neutral spirit with ease that could be made into an unsweetened gin of quality. This new style quickly gained popularity and was dubbed ‘dry gin’. The boom of this style occurred in London, so before long the term ‘London dry gin’ began to be used. Although it was never exclusive to there.
Today, the term ‘London dry’ is ultimately a slightly complex but important distinction. In the variable, experimental world of gin, this regulated category stands out because it’s a guarantee that every bit of flavour was made in the distillation process, and people know what to expect. A profile and character they enjoy. That’s delicious with tonic water.
When done correctly, it’s often regarded as the pinnacle of gin distillation. But whether you like the gin the method produces or not is down to personal taste. What you should remember, above all else, is this:
London dry gin doesn’t have to be made in London.