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Whether you’re sipping a cocktail on your couch or at the bar, it’s nice to know a little more about what’s in your glass. If gin is your drink of choice, this guide is for you, with plenty of intel on how gin is made, what creates its signature flavor, and—most importantly—all the ways you can drink it.
While gin can pack quite the flavor punch, it’s made from pretty basic ingredients. The three key ingredients in gin are:
1. Neutral Grain Spirit
Gin is made using a clear, neutral spirit made from distilling grains such as rye, barley, wheat, or corn. While another common clear liquor—vodka—can be made with similar grains, gin and vodka are definitely not the same. While gin is made from the same base as some vodkas, what sets it apart is the…
2. Juniper Berries
Have you ever found yourself at a bar tipsily thinking, “What berry is gin made from?” That would be the small berry from juniper trees. They’re quite bitter on their own, but they give gin its piney, citrusy flavor.
3. Other Botanicals
Any number of other botanicals—or flavoring elements from plants—can be added to create each gin’s unique profile. For instance, ever wondered, “What is Hendrick’s gin made from?” In addition to the traditional juniper berry, this classic Scottish gin is distilled with caraway, coriander, elderflower, chamomile, orange fruit, lemon peel, yarrow, angelica, cubeb pepper, and orris root.
1. Distill the Base Spirit
Nearly all liquors start with the same basic distilling process, which involves mixing the grain of choice with water and yeast, letting it ferment, and then using a still to boil the alcohol off and let it condense in a separate chamber.
2. Add the Botanicals
Next, the spirit is redistilled to add the botanical flavors. This can either be done by letting the botanicals steep in the alcohol base before distilling, or putting them in baskets above the alcohol so the steam picks up the flavors during the distillation process. Occasionally, cheap gins will simply be made by mixing the neutral spirit with botanical extracts. See the process in action below!
Try a few gins, and you’ll notice that they all have different flavor profiles, depending on their botanical blend and distilling process. Some of the most common types you might encounter at your local watering hole include:
- London dry gin: The most traditional gin, with a very strong juniper flavor
- New Western dry gin: A modern takes on gin that mutes the juniper and lets other botanicals shine
- Plymouth gin: A lighter, drier gin with more notes of citrus
- Old Tom gin: A sweeter gin that sometimes has licorice notes
- Genever gin: Uses malted grains to achieve a richer flavor
While it shares a name, sloe gin is not actually a pure spirit, but a sweet liqueur. What is sloe gin made from? This ruby red sipper is made by infusing the fruit of the sloe plant (a relative of plums) in high-proof gin and adding sugar.
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Gin & Tonic
A simple—and refreshing—way to start drinking gin is to pour 2 oz in a glass of ice, add about twice that amount in tonic water, and then serve with a squeeze of lime juice.
A basic gin martini is simply gin and dry vermouth (usually 2 oz to 1 oz, respectively), but there are plenty of variations that add a little twist to this classic drink. For instance, a dirty martini adds a bit of brine from a can of olives to the mix, plus at least one olive as a garnish. A Gibson drink is served with a pickled onion or cocktail onion.
The negroni recipe is one of the easiest to remember: It’s simply equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari, usually one ounce of each. Once you know that basic formula for this vibrant red cocktail, you can swap in similar ingredients (like using another aperitif in place of Campari) or adjust the ratios to your preferences.
Think of a Tom Collins as adult lemonade: 2 oz gin, 1 oz lemon juice, ½ oz simple syrup, topped with club soda, lemon zest, and as many cocktail cherries as your heart desires.
This fizzy gin go-to is similar to a Tom Collins (1 oz gin, ½ oz lemon juice, ½ oz simple syrup), but topped with Champagne or sparkling wine for a celebratory kick.
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