London Dry Gin is an enigma to most people who consider it to be a style of gin with a certain flavour profile rather than the strictly regulated process of gin distillation that it is. Some of the most well-known gin brands are made using the London Dry method. These include the likes of Gordons, Tanqueray, Hayman’s and Bombay Sapphire to name just a few. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of these gins, but we’d wager you’d be even harder pressed to get them to give a correct definition of what London Dry actually is.
One thing that needs to be mentioned straight away is that, somewhat confusingly, London Dry Gin doesn’t have to be made in London or even the UK for that matter. The definition is laid out in Regulation (EC) 110/2008 of the European Parliament and makes for long, tedious reading so we will lay out the fundamentals, hopefully without putting you to sleep!
For a gin to be called London Dry Gin, the base spirit must be distilled to a completely neutral spirit of 96% ABV, must add all flavours through distillation in presence of “natural plant materials,” and can have nothing added after distillation save water and a trivial quantity of sugar.
Gin distillation requires a base neutral spirit to be distilled before the re-distillation with botanicals. This neutral spirit must be distilled to 96% ABV in a column still to ensure the quality and neutrality of the spirit. Back in the 19th century, back lane distillers would often increase the yield on their distillations by producing methanol alongside ethanol. Methanol is very poisonous and isn’t something you want to be drinking. Regulations state that there can only be 5 grams of methanol per hectolitre, so you know that gin with London Dry status is quality stuff. This obviously isn’t a problem like it was a few centuries ago and all commercially available gins remove methanol from their distillate.
It’s now time for the base spirit to be redistilled with the botanicals, which must all be natural with nothing artificial added. The distiller only gets one shot at getting the flavour profile right at this point as after this distillation nothing else can be added save for water and a very small amount of sugar. Gins that add botanicals, flavourings or more than the prescribed trace amount of sugar cannot call themselves London Dry Gin.
Contrary to popular opinion, there is no designated flavour profile or botanical requirements save that they are all natural and juniper is the primary flavour. Many traditional London Dry gins are heavy with citrus fruit like lemon and limes but a London Dry can also be contemporary in style. Just remember that this designation governs the process of how it’s made, not how it tastes.