Both Gordon’s and Tanqueray gins are made as variations on the ‘London dry’ gin method, used to craft premium styles. There’s a distinction to be made between this and the method of adding flavourings after distillation – known as the compound distilled technique.
However the story of gin begins with a sweet Dutch juniper spirit known as genever, which arrived in England with the Dutch king, William of Orange, during the 17th century, and developed into a sweet style of gin known as Tom, or Old Tom. As distillation techniques improved, the unsweetened London dry gin style appeared, around the time Charles Tanqueray founded his distillery in Bloomsbury in 1830. Other old London distilleries, such as Gordon's in 1769, also adopted the style. Today quality gin is made in this traditional way – by steeping botanicals in water and spirit, before being heated in stills so that vapour rises up the neck of the still, taking the flavour of the botanicals with it. Fruit peel, coriander and orris root are used in quality gins, along with the classic flavouring of juniper, which for many gives that classic ‘gin’ nose and taste. Once the spirit reaches a condenser it cools rapidly and changes back into a liquid. Different flavours distill at different times – the process continues until the right balance of botanicals is extracted. The best part of the distillation is the middle part known as the hearts. The beginning – the heads – and the end – the tails – are not considered pure enough. In the process of double distillation, as with Tanqueray London Dry Gin, the botanicals are added during the second distillation phase for a cleaner delivery of flavour. London gin such as Gordon’s and Tanqueray must be made from natural plant materials, with no adding ingredients other than water and a miniscule amount of sugar.
This method of making gin, known as the London Gin technique, should be distinguished from compound distilled gin, where the spirit is first distilled and then flavourings are added afterwards. Tanqueray No.10, an innovative craft gin that emerged at the turn of this century, is made from an infusion of the whole fruit for the distillation – rather than the use of citrus peels. So it’s a development of the London dry gin style.
And it’s this premium form of gin that has lead to the spirit being at the heart of two of the world’s most classic mixed drinks, the gin and tonic and the Dry martini. The gin and tonic has been delighting the British since at least the 18th century, while gin was the original base for many of the great classic cocktails of the 19th and early 20th centuries. As well as the martini, there’s the Tom Collins, the Negroni, the Gimlet, the White Lady, the French 75, the Singapore Sling and the Clover Leaf are all based on gin, as are late 20th century classics such as the Bramble and the Wibble.
Now the gin and tonic is back with a vengeance – served with a large cognac glass and plenty of ice in Spain – and some bartenders are even making their own tonics. Plus there’s a move to infuse tea flavourings into gin, and enhance the delicious botanicals yet more.