A beginner’s guide to Contemporary Gin
What is Gin?
Jeneva Ginebra. Gin. Whatever you choose to call this classic spirit, it is a popular drink and a favorite of many, in most parts of the world. But what exactly is gin? How’s it made? What’s the
history of gin? And more importantly, why contemporary gin? We’re glad you asked.
Gin is a spirit that derives its most predominant flavor from juniper berries. From its earliest origins in the Middle Ages, the spirit gin has evolved from herbal medicine to a cornerstone of commerce in the spirits Industry. By its very definition (and history), gin is uniquely situated amongst all major spirits to cover the widest range of flavors. It’s one of the broadest categories of spirits, represented by products of diverse origins, styles and flavor profiles which all revolve around juniper, the principal ingredient. The name gin is a modified form of the older English word ‘genever,’ related to the French word ‘genièvre’ and the Dutch word jenever, which all derive from jumperus, Latin for juniper.
We’ll begin where a distiller would, with the juniper. Technically, gin is made with juniper and not made from it. In the most popular form production, the base of the distillate can be pretty much anything, but grain mash is often used. Juniper is added during the second round of distillation, either directly to the distillate or placed in a compartment in the still so the re-distillation vapor passes over juniper and pick up its flavor along the way.
But why juniper? Going back over a thousand years, juniper was believed to have the capability of healing all kinds of maladies. In fact, the word juniper itself can be interpreted to be health-related in nature. It stems from the Latin roots for ‘youth’ and ‘producing’, suggesting the juniper’s tree evergreen characteristics. The part of the juniper plant used for gin flavoring is the berry, or oil from the seeds of a mature berry to be specific. However, juniper wasn’t the only flavor of yesteryear’s gin, and neither is it today. Local and traded botanicals were used to produce an enormous variety of flavors and so are they today, only in a more refined fashion.
Let’s Define the Difference
While countless styles of gin have evolved, five types stand out, now and in history. Current and future Gin Smiths continue to stretch the limits in their relentless quest to capture unique flavors and aromas to express in their creations
Geneva – Juniper-flavored spirit Drinks.
This category includes the oldest class of gin and is produced by pot distilling fermented grain mash to moderate strength, then redistilling it with botanicals to extract the aromatic compounds. It contains a minimal 30% alcohol content.
Cold Compounded Gin
While still juniper-flavored, the spirit is not made through the distillation process.
Instead, they are infused with approved natural flavoring substances that are added to a neutral spirit of agricultural origin. The predominant flavor remains juniper.
This kind of gin is produced exclusively by redistilling neutral grain spirit in the presence of juniper berries among other natural botanicals. The predominant flavor can be juniper, or in the case of contemporary gins, juniper is secondary to another botanical that has been chosen for its aroma & flavor to express the spirit.
London (Dry) Gin
Characterized by a strong juniper flavor, this gin is produced exclusively by re-distillation of neutral grain spirit and its flavor introduced from numerous botanicals present in the distillation pot. The alcohol vapors bring over the flavor and captured when they condense in the resultant distillate being at least 70%ABV.
Old Tom Gin
Old Tom style of gin is the sweeter, less botanical version of the London Dry gin.
A brief history.
Of all the various spirit categories that make up the dynamic culture of drink around the world, gin has arguably the most storied past. Considered the quintessential British spirit, gin actually originated in Holland where it was developed for its supposed medicinal properties. It was not adopted by the Poms until the late-17th century when the Dutch William of Orange ascended the throne. It was at this time that the British government decided to raise taxes on foreign liquors, particularly French brandy, while at the same time, turn a blind eye to unlicensed home gin production. As such, London Town saw an explosion of small-scale gin distilleries, and gin became cheap, easily available and wildly potent. The city soon succumbed to an epidemic of drunkenness. To get the Gin Craze under control, the government sought to raise taxes and impose restrictions on the sale of gin. This led to rioting in the streets, but eventually, the ‘Gin Acts’ worked and consumption plummeted.
The 19th century saw the rise of new distillation and production processes and as such the creation of new styles of gin, including London Dry. It was also during this time that the humble gin and tonic was born. Quinine, a type of bark-extract, was found to prevent and treat malaria. And so despite the bitter taste, British soldiers stationed in India were required to consume it. However, canny officers soon discovered the palatable wonders of adding a little water, sugar, lime and gin to the quinine mix. This led to the creation of tonic water, effectively quinine-infused carbonated water. And today’s variety still contains quinine albeit a much less quantity.
United States: The status of gin
While the gin craze largely played itself out in Britain, by the 20th Century, America’s love with the spirit was just beginning. America has seen an upswing in its gin imports from Britain, a whopping 553% in this recent decade. Currently, over half of America’s gin is imported, mainly because the demand far surpasses America’s craft production. With a 25 – year head start in gin production, Britain’s gin industry happens to be way ahead. But that doesn’t make us any less.
At COIT spirits, we create small-batch gins that are focused on hand-harvested botanicals from foraged and sustainable practices, both of which are all the rage with drinkers of all ages. We create unique, unmatched flavors you haven’t met before. Thanks to our eco-friendly production methods, our firm has a low carbon footprint every step of the way, from harvesting ingredients to packaging.
Contemporary gin has a flavor profile where juniper is still discernable, but other flavors such as citrus, spice, and floral notes are more prominent than in a Classic gin. Contemporary gin is often used as a collective term for New World Gin, Modern Gin, 21st Century Gin, New American gin, New School gin, American gin, Californian gin, New Western gin and American Dry. The contemporary style is truly global, and contemporary gin refers to the taste agnostic of the region, production method or actual botanical bill.
The Gin Smith – Recipe Development
Developing a contemporary gin recipe is a complex, lengthy process that’s accompanied by stringent practicalities. A recipe ranges from 5 to 50 ingredients, with an exponential number of possible variations. For instance, a 10 botanical recipe has up to 3.6 million potential flavor and aroma combinations. However, not all combinations are explored. The artisanal approach of varying a single ingredient at a time, eliminating unsuccessful combinations from intuition during recipe development underscores the complexity and tedious work until a level of perfection is achieved. This is the art of the Gin Smith.
A gin recipe combines botanical and sometimes non-botanical ingredients, each of which either contributes to the aroma, the flavor or fixative quality. Much like artisanal perfumes whose stability relies on their fixative(s), so does gin. Gin fixatives are botanicals that act as stabilizers, holding the aroma and flavor of each ingredient botanical so it doesn’t fade, denature or bind with a more dominating botanical and get lost. In itself, contemporary gin is a symphony of aroma, flavor & fixative botanicals. It may contain numerous fixatives, each to protect a certain botanical as no single fixative protects all flavors or aromas.
Our Contemporary Gin
Like you, we move with the times. In an exciting spin on gin, we provide you with a whole new generation of bottles to explore from. We burst open the gates of gin creativity to bring all your favorite tastes from savory to sweet and everywhere in between. Here’s our exciting selection.
Earl Grey Gin
A contemporary gin distilled with Earl grey tea, lending it its keynote, Bergamot Citrus. It comprises of botanicals such as grains of paradise, orris root, cinnamon, coriander, and fixative botanicals.
Smoked Tea Gin – Russian Caravan
The smoked tea gin is carefully distilled with smoked Lapsang Souchong for its signature smoky note. The aroma is enhanced with Indian Long pepper, Orange Peel, Paprika, Cardamom and stabilized with the finest fixative botanicals.
Suggested cocktail: Gin and tonic, garnish with grapefruit peel and mint. Sip it in the rocks
Wild and bold like the eagle who soars from the Pacific Ocean to the Cascade & Sierra Nevada Ranges. Migisi takes strides an extra wild mile. Crafted with wild botanicals, local and native to the Pacific west coast. Hinted with the aromas of sweetgrass and western red cedar.
Suggested Cocktail: Gin and tonic, garnish with lime or lemon, add juniper berries.
Straight Bourbon, Hi Rye – Four Grain
100% Local grain. Proprietary Hi-Rye four grain blend. Slow aged on-site in the Mid-West for complex grain expression. Pure with no blending.
About COIT Spirits
Inspired by the courageous San Franciscan “Firebelle” Lillie Hitchcock Coit, Coit spirits is a celebration of those that dare to be bold. We pay tribute to her authentic, passionate, and daring self, stepping in waters in which no one has been before. We dare to create the truly exceptional, challenging your notion of the traditional with handcrafted elixirs that capture Lillie Coit’s fiery independent spirit.
Located in Yountville Napa Valley, Principal owners Gerry & Linda Rowland, we’re here to overwhelm your tongue with a host of botanical notes. We help cut out sugar from your diet as each of our gin lines contains no added sugar. Most of our processes are done by hand, giving the term small batch an entirely new meaning. Our contemporary gin and whiskey are crafted to remove gluten and vegan-friendly. Only for those who dare to be bold.