Gin Variations 3: Gin (and Tonic) Tasting

February 11, 2012

Last weekend was hot and sunny (in the middle of winter) – the perfect time for Gin and Tonics! I’d just bought three different styles of gin on my recent trip to New Zealand, and a bottle of Tanqueray from Carrefour. I was planning some taste comparisons anyway, and when my wife expressed interest it was all go.

Methodology

We poured an ounce of the gins into small glasses, sniffed, sipped and compared. Then we added a little water to what was left in each glass to dilute a little, possibly bring out some flavour, and so as to able to discern the differences a little more clearly without being distracted by high alcohol contents.

Next we made mini-G’nT’s with an ounce of each of the gins, crushed ice, 2 ounces of Schweppes tonic, and half a lemon wheel squeezed and thrown in. We then took turns blind tasting these.

Notes

These four gins are not just different brands; they are different classes altogether (something like Scotch, Irish, Bourbon and Rye Whisk(e)ys). So it wasn’t anything like a quality test. I was rather comparing the different styles and learning to identify them.

Disclaimer: I am a shit taste tester. It’s true. I’m just not very good at identifying tastes, and even worse at describing them (dancing about architecture and all that). Whilst I never expect to be great at tasting, I do hope to improve, and any feedback on this process is much appreciated.

Gin Number One: Tanqueray (47%)

This was my first time trying Tanqueray and I loved it. Tanqueray, like the vast majority of gins sold these days, is ‘London Dry’ style. Apparently the predominant flavours are juniper, coriander and angelica root. I couldn’t identify these either by smell or taste, but the presence of botanicals was very clear (and I later figured out how to identify the juniper).

My wife and I both really liked this, and the G’n’T was (I thought) clearly the best of the lot. It was exactly what the ideal of a Gin and Tonic is for me.

(I mentioned the 47% ABV as it is bottled at quite a lower percentage in some markets (tax reasons), although serious gin drinkers always recommend the higher level).

Gin Number Two: Plymouth Gin (41.2%)


Plymouth Gin is both a style and a brand. EU regulations say that only gins produced in the Plymouth region can call themselves ‘Plymouth’ and there is only one distillery in the region, and that is exactly what it calls itself (but it also known as Black Friars after the monastery that used to stand on the site, where, apparently some of the ‘pilgrims’ stayed before setting sail for America. Perhaps this accounts for the Mayflower on the (new) bottle). Plymouth was the big port for the British Empire, of course, and while it was decided that sailors should drink rum, the officers were to drink gin. I guess this led to the upper-crust image that Gin and Tonics have had. Naturally, as the navy sailed the tropics, they had to ward off malaria, and the quinine-heavy tonic water was added to the gin, making what is probably the greatest liquid invention of mankind (or of the British Empire, at least). Plymouth was also the favoured gin of Winston Churchill.

The style of Plymouth Gin is supposed to be a bit less dry than London Dry and people usually find it smoother. The first impression was that the spiciness of the botanicals was much more restrained than in the Tanqueray. Having learnt to identify the taste of juniper, I can clearly detect it in the Plymouth, but it’s a lot more subtle. In fact, that’s it in a nutshell. Overall this has all the complexity of the Tanqueray, but is a lot more subtle (and thus, I guess, smoother).

This was my wife’s favourite of all four gins. It made a decent G’n’T too, but I thought the Tanqueray was way ahead on this score.

Gin Number Three: Hayman’s Old Tom Gin (40%)

Old Tom gin is pretty special in cocktail circles these days, as (along with Genever) it was the style of gin called for in nearly all pre-prohibition mixed drinks. The difficulty was that until about five years ago, it hadn’t been available for several decades. Hayman’s are one of a few distilleries to revive this style based on old recipes. They are also the most readily available and versatile of the modern Old Tom gins. The story of Old Tom goes that after being brought into disrepute as the swill of the working classes (thanks to the elimination of taxes by William of Orange who wanted more trade with his native Netherlands where gin came from), gin was made illegal in many areas of England. One or more sly bartenders erected wooden ‘Old Tom’ signs outside their houses in the shape of black cats, with hidden pipes inside. In one of the earliest examples of the vending machine, sneaky customers would insert a penny in a hole on the sign, put their mouths to the cat’s paw, and receive a shot of gin poured by the bartender inside.

Old Tom is a clearly sweeter stlye of gin than London Dry. Early British gin was generally of pretty low quality, and sweetened to mask this. The habit of sweetening persisted even after the gin got better, and thus, the Old Tom style. This gin tasted quite similar to the Plymouth Gin, but with a clear extra sweetness which was pleasant and certainly not overdone or at all cloying. In fact we both thought it was an excellent drink. The G’n’T was fine, but like the Plymouth, I found it quite bland compared to the Tanqueray. The Tom Collins is probably the better relatively straight-up alternative for Old Tom.

Gin Number 4: Bokma Oude Genever (40%)

Genever (aka Jenever, Dutch Gin, Holland Gin) isn’t really gin, at least not as we know it today, but its ancestor, so it’s markedly different from the other gins we tried. Genever is distilled from a ‘malt wine’ made from grain mash, so it takes on woody, smokey, and malty tastes similar to whiskey.

The difference from the other gins was clear right from the first smell. The malty, whiskey taste comes through clearly, but it also tastes gin-like (the juniper is also fairly clear) making for a very interesting, and rather tasty earthy gin. That was what I thought, anyway. My wife, on the other hand, really didn’t like stuff, but she basically doesn’t like any dark spirits that remind her of medicinal tastes.

Genever wasn’t really made for a Gin and Tonic. The Dutch usually drink it ice-cold and straight. That said, the G’n’T was an interesting drink, that I quite enjoyed. I later tried the Bokma in a classic ‘Gin Cocktail’ and it was great.

Oh, as a side note, while in New Zealand I heard Genever referred to as ‘Square Gin’ a couple of times. I wonder if this is due to the shape of the Bokma bottle, and whether it is called this elsewhere.

The Gin and Tonic Tasting

As a fun exercise, having tasted the gins straight, and diluted with a little water, we made them all into little Gin and Tonics (with 1 oz gin, 2 oz Schweppes, crushed ice and half a lemon wheel squeezed and added). Using different coloured straws, we took turns mixing them up and have the other identify the drinks. It was a little harder than I thought, but given the very different styles of gin, still rather easy. I got them all right pretty quickly, and my wife just mixed up the Plymouth and the Old Tom. She then took these as her favourites to finish off, leaving me with my favourite – the Tanqueray – and the most interesting – the Bokma.

They were all nice drinks, no doubt, but the Tanqueray Gin and Tonic was easily the best of the lot – close to the perfect drink for me, yet one of the easiest (and cheapest) to make.

Conclusions

Tanqueray is my new favourite gin and THE choice for a G’n’T. Plymouth can be lauded for its subtlety, but I preferred the upfront nature of the dry. I’ll keep Plymouth for Pink Gins. I really liked the added sweetness of the Old Tom and look forward to trying it in more classic cocktails that call for it. The Bokma was a really interesting spirit, and I also look forward to getting acquainted with it, probably mostly in very simple ‘almost straight’ recipes. Overall, I find all four of these essential to my drinks collection, and am extremely pleased that I chose them.

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8 Responses to “Gin Variations 3: Gin (and Tonic) Tasting”

  1. Ben Says:

    Mmm Tanquerey. My favourite gin as well. Tanquerey and tonic is an absolutely delicious drink.

    Plymouth is a lovely gin too. If I was a martini drinker I think Plymouth would be my choice. I bought a bottle recently for making negronis, but haven’t got round to getting the other ingredients.

    When I’ve finished my Plymouth and maybe another bottle of Tanquerey, I’m going to try some Hendricks.

    You may be aware that New Zealand produces a premium gin, South, flavoured with kawakawa and manuka (amongst other botanicals). I’m not much of a taster myself, so much of its subtleties are lost on me.

    How do you intend to drink your genever? Alternatively sipping it and a Dutch beer?

  2. Ben Says:

    Oops. Of course I meant “Alternately sipping it and a Dutch beer”.

  3. theboolion Says:

    Yeah, I can see how Plymouth might improve in a Martini. It’s smooth enough to be quite drinkable even extra-dry. One of these days I’ll get round to buying some vermouth.

    I’m also keen on trying the Hendricks, right after Broker’s. Those two are the only two other gins available in Taiwan that I still want to try. There’s also Greenall’s, but I didn’t think much of my taster at the liquor store.

    I had heard of South. My mate Seamus, who’s from Auckland, used to live in Taipei and now lives in Shanghai tried it in a Gin tasting on his dormant blog Bunnyhugs.
    Genever chased by Dutch beer is actually a good suggestion. Apparently that’s how it’s often drunk in Holland. And also the older of those old recipes usually refer to Genever when they call for gin.


  4. Try the tanqueray no.10 if you can, it is amazing in a martini.

    My go to gin for mixing is beefeater, for the price I think it offers the most balance.

    • theboolion Says:

      Thanks. I’d like to try Tanqueray No. 10. I think it’s available in Taiwan, but I’m not quite sure. I have read that some people prefer the standard Tanqueray though, but I guess it depends on what you’re mixing it in.

      I agree about Beefeater. I’m not using it at home, but in bars it seems to make a great G’n’T, and the price is certainly right.


  5. […] Gin’ common in the US at the time the cocktail was born, which, as mentioned in a previous post, is not really gin as we know it today at all. It tastes malty, earthy and, er, whiskey-ey. And […]


  6. […] The first time I did something like this was several months ago and was much more basic. That time, I tried some very different products – Tanqueray, Plymouth, Old Tom and Genever. […]


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