Comparing American Gin to London Dry Gin

July 31, 2021

There’s a wondrous breadth of gin available today, offering a full spectrum of flavors and styles. This is a huge departure for a category which was once dominated by brands representing a singular style, that of London dry gin. One contrast to that standard-bearer is the world of new American gin. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the two together so we can better evaluate them.

London Dry Gin

London dry gin is what most people think of when they imagine gin. It’s certainly what your parents or grandparents would envision. But even today, many of the world’s top selling and most well-known gins fall squarely into this traditional box. Look no further than the big boys, such as Beefeater, Gordon’s and Tanqueray.

London dry gin doesn’t have to be made in London. In fact, it needn’t be made in England or the United Kingdom. Certainly the category represents those historical ties to the city. But it can be produced anywhere across the globe as long as the style holds true to form. “To put London in context, gin is the spirit of England, and gin was born in London,” says Jared Brown, Sipsmith master distiller.

In a previous story here on Distiller, Brown described the category of London dry gin as “a juniper-forward, citrus-backed, remarkably complex but balanced spirit.” Juniper-forward is the key, and is the intense characteristic that most imbibers associate with London dry gin.

American Gin

American; new American; contemporary; modern. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” some guy once said, so call the category what you want. What’s important is that all of these terms refer to the same thing. However, the precise definition of the category is perhaps more difficult to settle upon. New American gin can be almost anything, and it’s not codified in any official way.

The consistent element, and the most important one, is that the juniper is dialed down substantially in comparison to London dry gins. Consequently, new American gin gives drinkers a break from that piney punch in the face from the traditional gins. Also, with that juniper brought down a couple notches, other botanicals can, in turn, be highlighted in its place. This includes those that are traditional to gin, such as citrus peels, coriander, cardamom and angelica. But that also means a wide range of more unique and inventive botanicals can take center stage.

A Few Examples

Andrew Auwerda, the co-founder of Philadelphia Distilling, recalls that his Bluecoat Gin was the first distillery to call its product an “American dry gin” when it debuted in 2006. His aim was to offer a softer and rounder juniper, while highlighting citrus and seeking an overall balanced profile. “That, to us, defines American,” he says.

Inspiration came from how people would spike a gin and tonic with a hefty squeeze of citrus to add some bright flavor and soften the drink’s profile. Even with a few levers pulled up and down, Bluecoat is fairly traditional on the whole. “Bluecoat is still a classic gin in that dry style,” Auwerda says.

Another tent pole brand for the category is Aviation American Gin, which also hit the scene in 2006. Who knew that would be such a foundational year for American gin?

Long before Ryan Reynolds came into the fold, Aviation built itself as a well-balanced gin with subtle juniper. Botanicals such as lavender, anise and sarsaparilla are used. This trio complements the core gin flavors such as orange peel, cardamom, coriander and juniper.

Conniption American Dry Gin is another strong representation of the style. Honeysuckle flowers and cucumber join the fray alongside a more traditional botanical base. The two sides of this gin’s profile are even distilled separately. The traditional botanicals are distilled together. Meanwhile the cucumber, honeysuckle and citrus are individually vacuum distilled, and then blended into the existing base.

Terroir in Gin?

Looking back to London, gin wasn’t often associated with a term such as terroir. However, with Sipsmith, Brown based the product on historical research, and from its water supply to its home place, aimed for a gin representative of its locale. “This is provenance, this is our terroir: London,” he says.

Certainly using the native botanicals to a specific locale delivers terroir, and in this way it is now something that is being discussed commonly with gin. You can find such efforts everywhere from Australia with Four Pillars, to Islay with The Botanist, and yes, to the US with St. George Terroir Gin. It’s a stroll through a redwood grove in a bottle, with highlighted botanicals of Douglas fir, California bay laurel and coastal sage, atop a traditional botanical set. That’s about as American of a gin as you can get.

The best part is that whether you’re a traditionalist with your gin, you prefer the category’s more contemporary entrants, or you think there’s a time and a place for both, there are more excellent examples than ever to enjoy.

Ready to make your own London dry vs American gin comparisons?

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