What is London Dry Gin? Everything you need to know.
You stand on the right of the escalators. You call it a tube, not a subway. You have never visited the Tower of London, Madame Tussauds or been on the London Eye. You spent the entirety of the last Notting Hill Carnival in the pub. Sounds familiar? Yes, you’re a Londoner. According to Samuel Johnson, “when you are tired of London, you are tired of life”. And we think he’s right. It's the Big Smoke; where royalty lives and where people of all creeds and colours are welcomed with open arms. London is all things to all people.
Therefore it comes as no real surprise that the best city in the world has its own eponymous gin. London Dry Gin is one of the best styles of gin there is. Its predominant flavour is juniper berries with a lovely citrus and root finish, but the layers of flavours are light years beyond its contemporaries. It has a lighter finish than, say Plymouth Gin for example, which is why many mixologists prefer London Dry for their gin cocktails.
But what exactly is this wonder gin?
The first thing to note is that a London Dry Gin doesn’t have to be made in London (unlike Plymouth Gin which needs to be made in Plymouth). In fact, it doesn’t even have to be made in England. The term London Dry came about in the 19th century after Britons developed a taste for the spirit during the great Gin Craze a century earlier. Up until then, people had been drinking Holland’s Gin (known also as Genever), brought back to Blighty by soldiers during the Thirty Years War in the 17th century.
However, not all Gins are created equal. The poor quality gin (also called “Common Gin” which was deliciously described as “flavoured with turpentine” by Webster's dictionary) that was so popular among the lower classes was given an aristocratic makeover for the new generation of gin drinkers. This was largely due to the invention of the column still, which made the distillation process easier.
And where did this invention herald from?
You’ve guessed it, good old London town. And a new style of Gin was born.
London Gin’s glow up continued with the British colonisation of the tropics during the empire era. The pasty-skinned Brits were finding the malaria-carrying mosquitos an issue in hot climates. Doctors thus advised drinking quinine (found in tonic water) to fend off the flesh-eating insects. However, quinine on its own has a bitter and unpleasant taste, so the imperialists added imported gin to the tonic and voila, the eternally popular gin and tonic was born.
Now for some details
All London Dry gins are distilled gins, but not all distilled gins are London Drys. Both are the product of double distilling, but that is where the similarities end. The process for London Dry involves the maceration of natural botanicals in a 96% ABV neutral spirit from agricultural origin (usually grain based). This base spirit must be distilled a second time with added flavourings, the key ingredient of course being juniper berries. Any botanicals added after distillation disqualify the spirit being labelled a London Dry Gin (but can be termed a Distilled Gin). Get it?
Thus the term London Dry today is not actually a geographical reference, but a way of making gin. The Master Dillier (or in the case of Bloom Gin, the Mistress Distiller) must achieve the tricky process of creating the perfect balance of flavours in the gin prior to the second distillation as no tweaks are allowed later on. This requires a great deal of skill and judgement on the part of the gin producers, as once the final blend has been decided on, there is no way of changing it.
So, when it comes to talking about London Dry Gin, the reality is that they can come from anywhere and represent any juniper led flavour profile, but the spirit must have undergone strict legislation which allows it to be labelled as London Dry.
There is no denying that modern-day London Drys are high-quality spirits, regardless of where they are made. They are the wave on which the gin revolution currently surfs. Maybe it’s the calibre of the base product, maybe it’s the imagination of today’s producers or maybe it's just a perfect storm of quality, creativity and being in the right place at the right time.
Or maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner, that I love London so.