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London Dry Gin

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 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.

What is London Dry Gin?
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 requiring 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. Once again, it’s also NOT a geographical designation. How is London Dry Gin distilled? 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.” Any additional flavours must be sourced through the distillation of ‘natural plant materials’. Following distillation, producers will then dilute the gin before bottling. London dry gin regulations state that the minimum strength it can be watered down to is 37.5% ABV and no artificial ingredients (flavouring or colourings) can be added. To meet the ‘dry’ designation, it cannot be sweetened in excess of 0.1 grams per litre with sweetening products, a trivial amount.

Where does London Dry Gin get its name?
So why is it called London dry gin in the first place? Well, we have to do a bit of time travelling here. For much of its early history, gin was generally made so crudely that botanicals with sweetening properties, and usually the addition of sugar or honey post-distillation, were necessary to make it palatable. However, when the Coffey still was introduced in 1832, distillers were able to obtain a consistent neutral spirit that could be made into an unsweetened gin of quality. This new style quickly gained popularity and was dubbed ‘dry gin’. As most producers were based in London, before long the term ‘London dry gin’ began to be used, The term ‘London dry’ is ultimately a slightly complex but useful distinction. In the variable, experimental world of gin, having a regulated category does not prohibit innovation, but instead acts as a context that consumers can rely upon to guarantee that they are receiving a spirit with the profile and character they enjoy. What it ensures, above all, is that the gin’s flavour must be entirely created in the distillation process. When done correctly, it’s often regarded as the pinnacle of gin distillation. Ultimately whether you like the gin the method produces or not is down to personal taste. But just remember: London dry gin doesn’t have to be made in London.

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