Gin is one of the most popular spirits and one of the most common liquors used in cocktails. From Prohibition era classics like the Bees Knees to the iconic Martini or the eternally refreshing Gin and Tonic, there’s a gin cocktail for just about everyone.
What is gin?
Gin is a liquor that’s made from neutral grain spirits that are flavored with a variety of botanicals, one of which must be juniper. The bright, piney flavor of juniper berries gives gin its characteristic freshness. Most gins are around 40% alcohol by volume. Navy Strength gins are those that are at least 114 proof (57%).
The term Navy Strength refers to the British Royal Navy and the gin that they carried aboard their ships. In order to verify that the gin they received was high enough quality, and not watered down, they would mix it with gunpowder and light it on fire. If it burned clear, they knew it was strong enough (57% alcohol by volume).
History of the spirit
Gin’s modern roots can be traced back to England in the 17th century. The Dutch and Belgian spirit jenever is its predecessor, a juniper-flavored spirit made with a grain-based mash. Older spirits incorporating juniper can be traced back even further to monks in Italy in the 11th century.
Unlike spirits like tequila or bourbon, there are no legal requirements for spirits producers to follow in order to call their product gin. The only mandatory botanical is juniper, but some modern gins use such a small amount, that it’s virtually undetectable in the finished product. There’s a push in the spirits community to redefine these low-juniper products as botanical spirits, rather than gin.
The five types of gin
The London Dry style of gin is the classic, juniper-forward gin. These gins get their flavor from the botanicals that they are distilled with and there are no additives after the fact. Examples of London dry gin include Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray, Beefeater, and Ford’s.
Note: Plymouth gin is technically it’s own category of gin, although its taste and process is similar to London dry. Plymouth gin can only be made in Plymouth, England and it is characterized by a slightly earthier flavor.
Bottles of gin that are labeled as “Distilled” means that they may have flavorings or other additives introduced after distillation. These additives could be natural or artificial flavors, colors, or sweeteners. Most flavored gins and “pink gins” fall into this category.
New Age, New American, or New Style Gins
The surge in gin popularity in the last couple of decades has brought a ton of new brands to market, including many that produce non-traditional styles of gin. Because the gin category’s definition is quite broad, a wide range of spirits using an even wider range of botanicals exist today. Some of these modern gins retain the prominent juniper flavor, while others skew to a more citrus, herbal, or fruit flavor. Examples of New Age gins include Hendrick’s, Aviation, and Uncle Val’s.
Old Tom Gin
Old Tom gin is characterized by some degree of sweetening and aging, although neither is technically a requirement. It’s often said that Old Tom gin falls between the very dry London dry gin and the very malty genever. Although less common today, Old Tom gin was often called for in classic gin cocktail recipes, including the beloved Tom Collins.
On to the cocktails! Most classic gin cocktails can be categorized into spirit-forward sips (like Martinis and Negronis), sours (like the Gimlet), and highballs (Gin and Tonic). Other notable gin classics include the bubbly gin and champagne cocktail the French 75, and the more modern tiki classic, Saturn (gin with passionfruit, lime, and orgeat syrup).
Spirit-forward gin cocktails
Sour-style gin cocktails
Even more sweet and sour gin cocktails:
- Peach Violet Empress Gin Sour
- Strawberry Rhubarb Gin Sour
- Raspberry Basil Blossom Gin Smash
- Strawberry Basil Gin Sour
- Mandarin Ginger Gin Sour
- Pink Gin Lemonade
Tiki & Tropical Style
Gin & Champagne
Create you own custom gin cocktail
Still want more? One of the most fun and rewarding things about mixing drinks at home is experimenting and creating your own unique drink recipes. The next time you pick up a new bottle of gin, try making a cocktail using the following specs:
- 2 ounces gin
- 3/4 – 1 ounce fresh lemon or lime juice
- 3/4 – 1 ounce sweet ingredient (such as simple syrup, honey syrup, a flavored syrup, or a liqueur)
- A few ounces of sparkling water (optional, if you prefer a long drink)
Combine the first three ingredients in a cocktail shaker and fill it 3/4 with ice. Shake until it’s nice and cold, then strain the liquid into a chilled cocktail glass OR a highball glass filled with ice (if topping the drink off with soda water). Garnish with a fresh botanical that echoes flavors or aromas in your custom recipe.
There are so many ways to customize this drink – try it with St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, easy homemade raspberry simple syrup, or use plain simple syrup but muddle in some fresh seasonal fruit. The possibilities are endless and the best part is that this recipe template works with whatever you already have on hand.
If you prefer your drinks a little more spirit-forward, start with 3/4 ounce each citrus juice and simple syrup. If you like things a little sweeter and slightly more mild, start with 1 ounce each of those ingredients. Mellow things even further with the addition of a few ounces of sparkling water.
Create Your Own Custom Gin Cocktail
- 2 oz gin
- ¾ – 1 oz fresh lemon or lime juice
- ¾ – 1 oz simple syrup or sweet ingredient of choice See notes below for ideas
- sparkling water Optional
- Combine the first three ingredients in a cocktail shaker and fill it 3/4 with ice. Shake until well chilled, then strain the liquid into a chilled cocktail glass.
- If making a long drink, strain the chilled liquid into a highball glass filled with ice. Top with a few ounces of sparkling water.
- Garnish with a fresh botanical that echoes the flavors or aromas present in your drink (lime wheel, lemon slice, a basil leaf, blackberry, edible flower, etc.)