What is London Dry Gin?

Written by Seb  /  Edited by Natalia  /  Design by Andy

This is the most traditional method for making gin and it can, somewhat confusingly, be made anywhere in the world. That’s because London Dry Gin is not actually a geographical statement, instead it refers to a specific process that must be followed to make the gin. This may be the most traditional method for making gin, but the definition itself was not actually laid down until 2008. As more and more new gins were starting to be produced, it was agreed that some definitions were needed to categorise gins and their production methods.

To make a London Dry Gin, you take a neutral spirit, add it to a pot still with water and your recipe of botanicals. This mixture is then distilled together one time. Simply put, this process boils the spirit, water and botanicals together, and the steam that rises up over the still, carries with it the essential oils from the botanicals. It’s these essential oils that give gin its unique flavours and aromas.

The first few liters that come off of the still won’t make it into the bottle, as this will have cleaned out the previous distillation. These first liters are called the Heads or Foreshots and are collected as a waste product that in the gin world are called Feints.

Once the liquid coming off the still is both clean and beginning to carry with it the aromas of the botanicals, you start collecting what will be going into the final gin, this is called the Middle Cut.

You keep collecting the Middle Cut, until all the essential oils have been extracted from the botanicals. Timing is a vital part of the gin making process. You must collect all the flavours from the botanicals to get the full complexity of the recipe. Taking the cut too early will leave flavours behind. However, it is essential to stop collecting before the botanicals become stewed, and bitter. If these flavours are collected in the Middle Cut it will taint your entire batch of gin.

The cut points will differ from brand to brand depending on a number of things, such as the shape and size of the still, and what botanicals are being used. One key element to remember is that different botanicals give off their essential oils at different times during the process. The more volatile the botanical, the earlier in the process they will be released.

Citrus is a good example of a volatile botanical that will be extracted at the beginning of the distillation. Rooty botanicals such as orris root, will not give off their oils until the end of the distillation run. Therefore, when you begin to collect the middle cut, the spirit coming off the still will have a very different aroma to when the second cut is made at the end of the distillation. Therefore, the gin will not have its complete character and flavour profile until the second cut is made and the collection of the Middle Cut is complete.

For this reason, you cannot know for sure that what you’ve made is right until it’s too late. This is the true skill of making gin. It’s also why the process of making London Dry Gin actually begins when you buy your botanicals. If for example the juniper you buy has a different flavour profile than the year before, there is nothing in the distillation process you can do to mitigate that difference.

The still continues to run after the second cut until there is now alcohol left in the still, just water and the spent botanicals. This part is called the Tales, and is collected in a vat with the Heads to complete the Feints. The reason the still must continue to run is to account for every drop of alcohol that goes into the still.

This leaves you with a Middle Cut to make your gin with. Feints which can be redistilled and the alcohol sold for industrial use such as cleaning products, or distilled further for use in other drinks products. The water left in the still can be safely flushed aways and the spent botanical solids can even be used as fertilizer. Therefore, a well run distillery can produce very little waste.

To be called a London Dry Gin, this is the only way you can add all the flavours to your gin. After this single distillation, only water and neutral alcohol can be added to the middle cut before it’s bottled and sent out into the world.

London Dry Gin V Distilled Gin

As long as you distill an element of your gin’s recipe, you have what’s called a distilled gin. If you follow the distillation method of the London Dry Gin, but then add more flavours or ingredients after distillation, you no longer have a London Dry Gin. You now again have a Distilled Gin. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s just different and some modern gin makers are choosing to use this method.

The decision to make a Distilled Gin instead of a London Dry Gin can be for a number of reasons. For example, some botanicals do not lend themselves to being distilled, and are therefore better added or steeped into the middle cut after distillation.

A few gins decide to distill their botanicals separately or in small groups, then combine those distillates together to construct your gin’s flavour profile.

If you choose to age your gin, this will impart both colour and flavour into the gin. This change of flavour is why no aged gin can be called a London Dry Gin either.

Why is London Dry Gin…’Dry’?

Dry simply means that the gin is unsweetened. This was a term brought in to define a Dry style gin over Old Tom style gins that were created during the 1800s and were sweetened. Usually with sugar, but sometimes with honey or other sweetening ingredients. Sweetening was a way to make a gin more palatable, in an era when many gins were badly made and very unpleasant. Sweetness can hide a multitude of sins!

So, stating Dry on your bottle became a badge of honour, as it meant that you had nothing to hide. Not that all Dry gins are any good of course, but you get the idea.

As always, don’t forget to show us what you made by tagging us!
@Candra_Drinks  #MakeBetterDrinks  #CandraDrinks

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