A Guide to Gin: 6 Gin Styles and How to Drink Them
Gins are not created equal. Some are best used for mixing in cocktails, others should be drunk straight or on the rocks. But every single gin is a clear, crisp liquor that gets its flavor from juniper berries. “Gin is one of the best spirits,” says Lennon Aguilar, F&B operations supervisor at Discovery Primea Makati. “Made with natural ingredients, its flavor is very intentional.” Lennon,an industry veteran and the man behind some of the most iconic drinks at the hotel’s Gilarmi Lounge and 1824 Whiskey and Cigar Bar, shares this easy gin primer to help you enjoy gin at its best.
What gin is
A light-bodied liquor that gets its flavor from juniper berries, gin was invented by a Dutch chemist named Franziskus Sylvus in the 16th century. Initially used as a medicinal, by the 19th century it had become the most commonly used spirit in cocktails. Gin is a complex liquor, and the ingredients added during distillation can create interesting botanical notes like lemon, orange peel, coriander, anise and the like. It never really lost its medicinal character—the gin & tonic was first given to British troops in 1825 to prevent malaria! Today, gin is available in a variety of styles, each with its own distinct character. To get the maximum enjoyment from your gin, drink it in a way that makes the most of its particular flavor profile.
The 6 common gin styles
First distilled in the Middle Ages for medicinal purposes, this is the original gin style and the one used in all the classic cocktails of the 19th century. “Genever predates and inspires all the other gin styles,” says Lennon. There are two types of Genever: oude (old) which is relatively sweet and aromatic with a rich mouthfeel, and jonge (young) with its lighter body and drier palate.
How to drink: Genever’s viscous mouthfeel and savory botanicals makes it a classic that’s best not tampered with. Drink this on the rocks with just a hint of citrus from a twist of lime or lemon.
2. Old Tom
A little sweeter than London Dry but more full-bodied and drier than Genever, Old Tom has been called an intermediate gin style that bridges the gap between the first two. “It’s the missing link of gins,” says Lennon. As its name implies, this is the original gin used for the Tom Collins cocktail. Because it’s an old fashioned gin that was only recently revived, there aren’t a lot of brands currently available, and the flavor profiles can vary significantly.
How to drink: Of course, use this in your Tom Collins! Lennon suggests drinking Old Tom straight up in this fashion: chill with a little ice, strain into a glass, add lemon peel and serve. “The lemon peel is sufficient to give it a hint of fragrance and bite, so you can taste the aroma of the botanicals,” he says.
Only produced in Plymouth, England by one company, the Black Friars Distillery, this style of gin has an earthy flavor with lots of fruit and botanicals. “It’s quite earthy, herby and vegetal,” says Lennon.
How to drink: With a classic gin style like this, make sure you can savor the aroma of the botanicals. Lennon advises to drink this slightly chilled, with just a simple garnish, perhaps orange, coriander or angelica root.
4. Navy Strength
At 58.8% alcohol by volume, this gin style packs quite a punch. It’s a sailor’s gin—possibly deriving its name from an 18th century law that required rations of this gin to be on board every ship of the British Navy. It’s flavor profile is crisp and clean with hints of citrusy juniper, and the high alcohol content makes it a good choice for very flavorful and aromatic cocktails like the negroni.
How to drink: This gin can burn a lot, so its not ideal as a cocktail base. Lennon suggests that when making a cocktail such as a negroni, to use a lighter gin for the base. Just before serving, top off the cocktail with a shot of Navy Strength. “In this way, you’ll get the kick of the Navy Strength, and still be able to appreciate its mildly flowery, botanical notes,” he explains.
DRY MARTINI. Lennon uses Navy Strength Gin to make this dry martini: Wash a chilled glass with 1/2 shot of vermouth. Pour in a generous amount of gin. Add ice. Stir, but do not shake—you don’t want to aerate the gin to keep it clear and pure. Strain into a martini glass and add a lemon peel to give it a little acidity and balance and acidity.
5. London Dry
The benchmark for quality gin, London Dry has a balanced bouquet of juniper and citrus with some floral notes acquired from the botanicals that are added during the second or third distillation. For many bartenders, this is the gin of choice—dry, light-bodied and with just the right pungency.
How to drink: This is the gin style that works best in the classic gin & tonic. It’s perfect in a martini, especially a dry martini where the aromatic notes from the vermouth will perfectly complement the gin’s floral hints.
6. New Western Dry Gin
Also called the New American Gin, this is a very young style that was introduced only in the 2000s. Unlike traditional gins, the New Western Dry is no longer juniper-dominant. Instead, it concentrates on botanicals and other flavors. For example, Hendricks emphasizes its cucumber flavor, while the G-Vine gin is grape-forward. “It’s a trendy gin that works well when crafting cocktails made with trendy ingredients like grapes, nori wrappers or ginger,” says Lennon.
How to drink: Work with this gin’s strong botanical or fruity flavors, instead of against it. A negroni is a great classic cocktail that would work best, as the grape-forward taste will add dimension to the campari and vermouth
GIN & TONIC. This version of the classic cocktail works well with the the grape-forward character of Nordès Gin: Place ice cubes in a chilled glass. Add a generous amount of Nordès gin, and a splash of tonic water, preferably Fever-Tree. Add dried apricots and cinnamon bark.
Of course, the best way to enjoy gin is to let a master mix the drinks for you. We highly recommend the Ultimate Gin & Tonic Happy Hour at the Gilarmi Lounge, Discovery Primea Makati. This is where Lennon creates his bespoke G&Ts using the premium gin of your choice. It’s a drink-all-you-can party, available from Mondays to Fridays, 4 PM to 9 PM.
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Photos by Julia Arenas
Cocktail recipes by Lennon Aguilar