What Is London Dry Gin, Anyway?

There’s more to gin than a stuffing a bunch of herbs and spices into a bottle of vodka and waiting for them to infuse “botanical” flavor into the booze (a quick way to DIY a batch, in case you were wondering). Gin has been around for centuries, riding the crest of the British Empire to every corner of the Earth, and it’s the classic London Dry that remains the flagship style most of us know and throw in our tonic. While you might take the juniper-flavored spirit for granted at this point, you probably don’t know what exactly makes a gin a London Dry gin—or where that name comes from (seriously, London is so rainy and wet, the name makes no sense whatsoever). Here’s everything you need to know about the boozy botanical workhorse, London Dry gin.

The Gin is Dry, Not London

Anyone who’s been to London in the winter—or the fall, or the spring, or the summer (when you might see a few sunny days if you’re lucky)—knows that the British capital can be a bit dreary and far from dry. And if the constant rain was enough to drive you to drink, imagine what it did during the Gin Craze back in the 17th century, when desperate Londoners first got their hands on the stuff and started distilling all sorts of dreck on horrible stills. Those early drinkers sweetened their barely potable ersatz gin with anything they could to suck it down.

Only with the advent of the Coffey still in 1832 were people able to distill quality, unsweetened gin, termed “dry” in contrast to the sickly sugared swill. Since most of these newfangled dry gin makers were in London—well, you do the math. These days, to meet the legal qualifications for London Dry gin, distillers can add no more than 0.1 grams of sugar per liter after distillation, and the gin must be distilled at 70 percent ABV or above (though it’s typically bottled at 40-50 percent), without artificial flavors or colors.

It Wasn’t the First Kind of Gin

We may think of British gin as eternal and original, but the London style was once the new kid on the block. The Dutch had been drinking genever for a couple centuries before the Brits ever got wise to the spirit by way of the Glorious Revolution and the Dutch invasion of England (and glorious it was, for the drinking public at least). While gin’s progenitor does feature juniper, genever is maltier than gin, falling somewhere between modern gin and whiskey.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Made in London

There’s no AOC-like designation (the type that protects Champagne) for London Dry gin. The gin style dominates the industry, so it’s no surprise that global distillers make for local markets all over the world. While we may have developed our own American style on this side of the pond, plenty of American gin makers replicate the British style and legally stamp it with the London Dry name.

If You’ve Had Gin, You’ve Probably Had London Dry

Many of the world’s top selling gin brands, including Beefeater, Bombay, Tanqueray, are London Drys. If you’ve ordered a G&T, or any other gin cocktail without specifying a type of gin for that matter, chances are your bartender plopped a shot of dry gin in there.

If You Taste Heavy Juniper, It’s Probably a London Dry

While London Dry isn’t the only type of gin to feature the berry, it is a hallmark of the variety. New American style gins tend to veer away from this classic, citrusy, piney flavor. Meanwhile, another classic British style, Plymouth, distinguishes itself with earthier flavors and the use of gentian as a bittering agent instead of quinine. The other Brit favorite, Old Tom gin, usually comes sweeter than London Dry and a bit malty like genever. Oh, and if you put the 114-proof Navy Strength style gin in your lowball by mistake, you’ll know it pretty quick.