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Virginia ABC > Products > Discovery > Product Knowledge > Gin Guide

Buying Guide for Gin

Gin label
Gin is distilled from grain at a high proof and flavored with juniper berries and a range of other natural ingredients. The name "gin," in fact, originates from the French and Dutch words for juniper. Gin serves as the basis for many classic cocktails and is also often added to hot tea and juices.

Know the Label

These terms commonly appear on gin labels. For more information, please ask the staff at your Virginia ABC store.

American gin
"American" gins are not legally defined, and vary widely in their characteristics. Typically, juniper is less assertive in American gins than in London gins; rather, American gins tend to be more experimental and balanced in mixing other botanicals with juniper.
The herbs, fruit and spices that flavor gin. Each brand of gin is based on a distinctive mix of botanicals. The classic “botanical,” common to all gins, is juniper. Other natural flavorings include coriander, citrus peel, licorice (anise), angelica, cinnamon, nutmeg, lavender and many more. Except in compound gins, these ingredients are typically distilled into the spirit by packing the flavorings at the top of the still, in a "gin head." During the distilling process, the vapors pass through the gin head, collecting essential botanical oils, and are then drawn off and condensed.
Compound gin
A type of gin produced simply by mixing juniper and other flavorings to grain neutral spirits, rather than incorporating them through the actual distillation process. Prohibition-era "bathtub gin" was created in a similar way.
Lacking sweetness. Most modern gins are dry, having at most a very small amount of sugar added at the end of the distillation process. A dry flavor is fundamental to many gin cocktails, such as the dry Martini. According to EU standards, "dry" is defined as not containing "added sweetening exceeding 0.1 gram of sugars per litre of the final product" (EU 98/2014)
Holland or Dutch gin. The parent of modern gins, genever is distinctive for its sweeter, malty flavor, contrasting with the cleaner, grain neutral characteristics of London, Old Tom and American gins. In the United States, genever has been rediscovered recently for its versatile use in cocktails.
Grain neutral spirits
Any spirit that has been distilled from grain, such as corn or barley malt, at high proof so that the distinctive characteristics of the grain are lost. It has been said that all gin is the same except for the mix of botanicals. However, neutral spirits can differ in quality, depending on the grain and water used as well as the extent and purity of the distillation process (e.g., "triple distilled).
Juniper (berries)
Juniper berries are the characteristic botanical used to flavor gin (27 CFR 5.22.c), imparting a distinctive resinous taste. Juniper (Juniperus communis) has been used for centuries as a medicinal and culinary herb.
London gin
London gin is the most well-known type of gin. Typically it is clean, not sweet or cloying, foregrounding botanical flavors in which juniper is very prominent. Originally made in or near London (hence the name), it can today be made anywhere, as long as it meets criteria as defined by the European Union in 2008. These criteria include a minimum of 75 proof, all-natural ingredients, no flavorings or colorings and almost no added sweetening (EU 110/2008.22).
Navy (strength) gin
Overproof gin, distilled to at least 114 proof, so named for its association with the British navy.
Old Tom gin
A classic style of gin that is slightly sweeter than London dry gin (but drier than genever). It was popular in the United States in the late nineteenth century during the rise of modern bartending, and has been rediscovered today for its use in many classic cocktails such as the Tom Collins or Martinez.
Plymouth gin
"Plymouth gin" is a geographically protected term and designates gin produced in Plymouth, England. Plymouth gin is slightly sweeter than London gin, with a less assertive juniper flavor. Traditionally Plymouth gin was used in cocktails such as the Gimlet and Bramble cocktails.
Scottish gin
Scotland is a prominent gin-making region of the United Kingdom, producing numerous brands of London-style gin. Some Scottish gin-makers also experiment with distinctive regional botanicals.
Sloe gin
Sloe berries (Prunus spinosa) resemble small, very tart plums. Sloe gin is created by steeping the berries in gin, with the addition of a small amount of sugar to assist extracting the sloe flavoring. It has a reddish color, and combines both sweet and tart characteristics. Traditionally, it is consumed warm on winter nights or in iced cocktails such as the Sloe Gin Fizz.

Cocktail Conversation

Gins are essential ingredients for many cocktails—in fact, by some counts, there are more cocktails using gin than any other category of distilled spirit. Due to the long history of gin, many gin cocktails have particularly interesting histories. For example: Gin and tonics were first mixed by British soldiers in India as a way of making more palatable the daily, antimalarial dose of quinine-infused tonic water.
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