Getting to Know London Dry Gins
London dry gin, the world’s most popular gin type, is rarely made in London (only one distiller remains in the city) and is dry only in the sense that it lacks sugar to make it sweet. London dry gins tend to be high in alcohol — 90 proof (45 percent alcohol by volume, or ABV) — with a characteristic citrus flavor and aroma due to the widespread addition of dried lemon and/or orange peels to the botanical recipe.
Bombay and Bombay Sapphire
Despite having Queen Victoria’s picture and funky lettering, the label was designed to give Bombay a feeling of age and great respectability — necessary because it’s a recent product that was created by an American in the 1960s. None of this should detract from the fact that Bombay is a very smooth gin that can only be described as non-juniperish — possibly because the botanical flavorings are steamed as they’re redistilled with the grain neutral spirits.
To its credit, even though it isn’t required to do so, Bombay has always listed its main ingredients on the label. But don’t read the label until you taste the gin — that way, you get to test your palate as well as the spirit.
Bombay Sapphire, introduced in 1988 in its distinctive blue bottle, is a bit spicier than the original, but both Bombays have good body. Bombay Sapphire is the best-selling premium gin globally.
Beefeater is, as of this writing, the only distiller left in London. Founded in 1820 on the banks of the Thames by James Burrough, the distillery has since moved to larger quarters in Kensington. It was one of the earliest British gins to be imported to the United States (starting in 1918).
In making Beefeater, the botanicals are diffused in the spirit for a full 24 hours before redistilling the gin. The result is a highly perfumed product with a touch of citrus and a desirably long finish.
Although the label was recently modernized, the picture of the actual Beefeater guardsman from the Tower of London is still prominent; in fact, Beefeater uses it in its ads as well. He’s still carrying that monstrous long lance, too.
Tanqueray Special Dry and Tanqueray No. TEN
Both Tanqueray types are made in pot stills that exactly replicate the original Tanqueray gin still. Botanicals are added to the spirit just before distillation, which means no steeping time; the result is a fresh but complex herbal flavor that has made Tanqueray a worldwide brand and the number-two leading imported gin in the United States.
The latest member of the Tanqueray family, Tanqueray No. TEN, has been breaking records for introductory sales. It’s more expensive, presumably because its botanicals cost more, and the bottle is a modernized version of the original — but it’s still green.
Quintessential Gin (or, just Q), is recently introduced and already generally available throughout the U.S. It’s creating a stir, possibly because among its botanicals are lotus and lavender, which give it a distinctive flavor and aroma.
Hendricks, introduced to the world in 2004, is a super-premium brand of gin made in Scotland. It includes cucumbers and rose leaves among its list of more than ten botanicals.
Whitely and Neill is made by the heirs to a centuries-old British distilling family. What makes their gin different is an unusual bottle and the addition of botanicals from Africa, including baobab tree fruit and cape gooseberries. This gin is 42 proof (21 percent ABV).