Gin and its Lowlands cousin Genever (Jenever in Belgium) are white spirits made from a grain mash of barley, corn or rye, that are flavored with juniper berries, which have a piney sweet/sharp taste and smell, and so-called botanicals (herbs, spices, roots, pits, peels, and other plant substances added for more complex flavor).Some commonly used botanicals besides juniper are: almonds, angelica, aniseed, caraway seed, cardamom pods, cassia, cinnamon, citrus peel (lemon, orange, and bitter orange), coriander seed, cubeb berries, cumin seed, fennel seed, ginger root, iris root, licorice root, nutmeg, paradise grain, savory, star anise, and violet root. Probably anything else you can imagine has been used as well. Gin and Genever makers have their own secret combination of botanicals, the number of which can range from as few as four to as many as 15 and some even more. Gin ranges from 80 – 94 proof.
Genever is made primarily from "malt wine" (a mixture of malted barley, wheat, corn, and rye), which produces a fuller-bodied spirit similar to raw malt whisky. A small number of genevers in Holland and Belgium are distilled directly from fermented juniper berries, producing a particularly intensely flavored spirit.
Another Gin you may have heard of is Sloe Gin, which is not technically a type of gin, sloe gin is a red, gin-based liqueur flavored with Sloe berries. Sloe Gin has an alcohol content between 15 – 30% ABV or 30 – 60 proof.
How Gin is Made:
Most Gin is initially distilled in efficient column stills. The resulting spirit is high-proof, light-bodied, and clean with a minimal amount of congeners (flavor compounds) and flavoring agents. Genever is distilled in less-efficient pot stills, which results in a lower-proof, more flavorful spirit.
Low-quality "compound" gins are made by simply mixing the base spirit with juniper and botanical extracts. Mass-market gins are produced by soaking juniper berries and botanicals in the base spirit and then redistilling the mixture. This is called “cold compounding.”
Top-quality gins and genevers are flavored in a unique manner. After one or more distillations the base spirit is redistilled one last time. During this final distillation the alcohol vapor wafts through a chamber in which the dried juniper berries and botanicals are suspended. The vapor gently extracts aromatic and flavoring oils and compounds from the berries and spices as it travels through the chamber on its way to the condenser. The resulting flavored spirit has a noticeable degree of complexity.
Types of Gin:
There are three main gin types/styles. Dry Gin; German Gin (also called Steinhager), and Dutch/Holland Gin (also called Genever).
Dry Gin / English Dry Gin / London Dry Gin- This type is made from neutral grain spirits as a base. This is what most people consider to be gin. A dry, aromatic clear spirit now bottled at around 40% alcohol/80 proof. Originally it was bottled at just over 50% alcohol/100 proof but eventually gin was preferred to be a bit less hot and hard, so the softer style became the one most accepted and some experts identify the lower alcohol dry gin as "Soft" gin. Dry ("soft") gin use anywhere from three to over twenty botanicals in addition to juniper. It can be very complex or very simple according to the amount and type of botanicals. As in its name, it is a dry/not sweet flavor. English Dry Gin as a style is much dryer/less sweet than Genever and more complex than Steinhager. The only legal requirement of London Dry Gin as opposed to other styles is that the botanicals are added during the distilling process rather than being added later as flavorings. Adding sugar or colorings is not permitted. Gordon's gin is an example of English Dry Gin. Dry gins mix very well and due to the botanicals can create some fantastic flavors in a cocktail that you wouldn't get using vodka. Premium and super premium gins are best drunk on the rocks to enjoy the complexity, although many do use them in mixed drinks.
German Gin / Steinhager- This style is made from neutral grain spirits as a base. This is a unique type because under German law it can only be flavored with juniper berries and no other botanicals. It is a dry style, but not as complex as London Dry or Genever because of the lack of botanicals that are used in those styles. It is the essence of gin, just a dominant juniper flavor and aroma. Schlichte Steinhager Gin is the one usually encountered outside of Germany and is readily recognized by its tall, thin, brown ceramic bottle.
Dutch/Holland Gin a.k.a. Genever- There are a few Dry Style gins made in Holland. The huge majority are Genever which are thick, somewhat sweet, and at times overwhelming with intensity and complexity. These are more like the original gins created back in the mid to late 1600's. They are made with malt liquor as a base, not neutral grain spirits. Genever have a more robust flavor than dry styles because of the full, strong, malt spirit base. There are two main age classifications of Genever. Jonge (“young)- which is unaged, has a drier palate and lighter body, and Oude (“old”), the original style, is aged at least one year in oak barrels and is straw-hued, relatively sweet and aromatic. Genever is usually drunk chilled straight, on the rocks or shaken, but with no mixer. It really doesn't mix well and loses its pleasant mouthfeel and complexity when it is used in a mixed drink. The main makers of genever are Bols, Boomsa, and De Kuyper; Zuidam makes it as well.