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Gin terminology guide: Everything you ever wanted to know

Learn about summer's perfect spirit

gin
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If you’re a fan of alcohol, you probably know some of the general terms associated with each spirit, but there’s a chance you don’t go beyond the basics. When it comes to gin, you might know that it’s a neutral spirit (like vodka) that’s distilled from grapes, wheat, barley, or another grain or natural ingredient.

This is when it deviates from vodka. While that spirit is created and filtered to have as neutral of a flavor as possible since it’s designed for mixing, gin foes the other direction. Gin is flavored with various herbs, botanicals, fruits, and other ingredients depending on the style and who is crafting it. And while the random herbs and botanicals can vary, all gin must be flavored with juniper berries. This is where it gets its piney aroma and flavor.

Basic gin terms

Gin bottles
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But there’s more to gin than simply the fact that it’s a neutral spirit that has floral, piney, and fruit flavors. It’s a fairly divisive spirit. Either you love it for its floral, citrus, and botanical complexities and want to mix with it all summer long, or you think it smells and tastes like someone distilled a whole flower shop.

Regardless, if you don’t know much about this timeless spirit, it’s never too late to go to gin school. Lucky for you, we’re here to homeschool you on a few important gin terms. Maybe, if you pay close attention, you’ll have something to talk about the next time you’re sipping Gin & Tonics at a summer party. Keep scrolling to see them all.

Botanical

When you read the ingredients in your favorite gin, you’ll probably see the terms “herbs and botanicals.” You might know what an herb is, but what is a botanical? It’s a term used to describe an ingredient that comes from nature. A few examples of botanicals that are commonly found in gin include orris root, licorice, cardamom, angelica root, cassia bark, and coriander.

Infusion

Gin gets its flavors from a variety of techniques. The first is vapor infusion. This is a technique where the juniper and other botanicals are added to baskets inside stills and the vapor flavors the spirit. The most common technique is maceration and distillation. This is a process where the botanicals steep in the spirit for days before distillation. Maceration is a technique where the distiller adds the juniper and other botanicals to the still the night before distillation to let them macerate overnight.

Juniper

If you’ve ever smelled or sipped a gin, you’re aware of the potent pine scent and flavor that is gin’s trademark. It’s not pine needles (although there are gins that add fur tips or pine needles); it’s juniper berries. It’s not gin if it isn’t flavored with juniper berries.

Jenever

Jenever is the Dutch word for “juniper”. While you can find distillers making this traditional Dutch spirit, jenever was invented before gin. They’ve been enjoying it in the Netherlands since the 1600s. While gin and jenever are similar, the latter is a blend of a botanical-infused spirit and malt wine. This results in a spirit that has all the juniper and botanical flavors but also a whiskey-like backbone.

Main types of gin

Monkey 47 Gin
Andreas Haslinger/Unsplash

London dry gin

The most popular gin style, London dry gin, is the name for the distilling method since this style can be made anywhere in the world. As the name suggests, it’s known for its dry flavor and bold juniper-forward profile. It’s a favorite of bartenders and home mixologists for its versatility.

Plymouth gin

You might have heard of Plymouth gin and assume it’s a style made by multiple distilleries. Well, it’s a style of gin, but it’s only made by one distillery. It’s a style and brand that’s been made in Plymouth, Devon, England, since 1793. It’s known for its well-balanced flavor profile featuring bright juniper, citrus, and gentle spices.

Old Tom gin

Old Tom gin is less botanical and juniper-centric than the other popular gin styles. It’s known for its sweetness and is sometimes barrel-aged, adding to the sweet flavor. It’s a great gin for mixing into cocktails. Especially those that would primarily be made with whiskey.

Bottom line

Spanish gin tonic
Jez Timms / Unsplash

Gin is a perfect summer spirit. It’s the base for some of the freshest cocktails ever invented, and its floral, earthy, botanical flavor just tastes like summer. We implore you to stock at least one (if not more) bottle of gin for mixing this summer. Even if you don’t go beyond the classic Gin & Tonic, you’re in for a great summer.

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Christopher Osburn
Christopher Osburn is a food and drinks writer located in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. He's been writing professional
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