I’m no stranger to Plymouth Gin — it’s the very product that started me off in spirits reviewing, over a decade ago. Plymouth is a unique gin because the term describes both a style and a brand. “Plymouth Gin,” like “Scotch whisky,” is gin that is made in Plymouth, England. There’s only one company making gin in Plymouth, though, and that is the Black Friars Distillery, where it produces Plymouth Gin (the brand).
Plymouth Gin also has a specific style associated with it. While it is similar in structure and distillation process to London Dry, it is less juniper-focused, more citrus-forward, and imbued with more of the earthier components typical of gin, including orris and angelica roots. The total bill of botanicals includes nothing unusual: juniper, orange peel, lemon peel, coriander seeds, angelica root, orris root, and cardamom. Just seven ingredients… nothing in a world where modern gins will commonly have 20 ingredients or more.
Plymouth is now on both its third corporate owner and its third bottle design since I started in this business (see above), and it’s added a wonderful sloe gin and, most recently, a Navy Strength version of the original. But what’s inside seems not to have fundamentally changed throughout all of this. Both the original and the Navy Strength are reviewed below, as they stand as of early 2013.
Plymouth Original English Gin – Sweet and savory on the nose. Fresh orange juice and drying rinds. Beautiful and subtle notes of the earth and vaguely Middle Eastern spices — driven by the orris and angelica root, usually undetectable in most gins. A vague sense of nuttiness — more like a green cardamom pod and dried coriander seeds than fresh herbs or ground spices — pervades the spirit. The body is light and free, the finish dry and well integrated. Oh, and there’s juniper, but more of a smoldering hint of the woods (which, by the by, works perfectly with that nutty character) than a piney bomb. Lovely, simple, and still the easiest mixing gin on the market. 82.4 proof. A / $33
Plymouth Navy Strength English Gin – At 114 proof, this is immediately a different animal. Hotter on the nose, the juniper is more prevalent, as well as some light smokiness. The body of course is driven primarily by alcohol. Without water it speaks mostly to its lemon peel and oil notes, the earthier elements still present, but sent further into the background. Plenty of burn on the finish. Add water and Navy Strength starts to take on its less boozy brother’s character, but it’s tough to get the balance right. I don’t really need 57% alcohol in my gin, so I’m happy to stick with the original. If you’re desperate for the bigger punch, well, knock yourself out. Or let Plymouth Navy Strength do it for you. A- / $50