Gin is thought to be a British adaptation of the Dutch spirit genever, though the origins of both gin and genever are subject to debate. Gin is, in essence, a flavored vodka as it is in fact a neutral spirit with certain flavorings added to it, though gin distillers won’t thank you for saying that. The key, characteristic flavor of gin must be of juniper, and historically juniper has been an overwhelming component of the spirit. In recent years, distillers have moved to tempering the impact of juniper and pumping up other flavors in the bottle, sometimes resulting in a spirit that’s closer to a flavored vodka. In the European Union and some other places gin must be at least 75 proof, while in the U.S. it must be at least 80 proof. “Navy Strength” gins are often bottled at 114 proof. Today, numerous sub-styles of gin have emerged out of the classic London Dry, including a resurgence of the archaic Old Tom gin style, Plymouth gin (which is also a famous brand), and New Western (or New American) gin, which tends to push the flavor boundaries of the spirit. Aside from Plymouth gin, which must be produced in a specific town in England, these gins have no formal, legal definitions or requirements.
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For a spirit inextricably associated with England, how surprising it was to read on the bottle of Whitley Neill gin: “Inspired by Africa.” Apparently Mr. Neill’s (Johnny Neill, actually) wife is originally from Africa, which ...