What is gin? Different styles and how to drink them

28 Apr 2021


From Old Tom to London Dry, find the gin type that suits your favourite cocktails.

Most bars now stock an array of gins in ornate bottles. But what’s the difference between them? From syrupy sloe to punchy Navy strength, gin is a versatile spirit with nuanced aromas and flavours.

We’ve taken top-quality gin and harnessed tropical cocoa shells to give our signature Cacao Gin a Hotel Chocolat twist. We think the balance of depth and high notes is just divine — but why not add a dash of tonic and see for yourself? As the spirit increases in popularity, more styles and flavours are coming to your shelves. But first things first: What is gin?

What is gin made from?

Gin, like vodka, is a spirit made from fermenting and distilling grains such as rye, barley, wheat, and corn. However, distillers steep the spirit with fragrant and flavoursome botanicals before distilling it again. The botanicals set gin apart from the more neutral notes of pure vodka.

Although different gins share their roots in grains and juniper, they each have their own special flavours. Whether you like your spirit dry and citrusy or light and fruity, our guide will help you find the perfect tipple to tickle your tastebuds.

What are botanicals?

juniper berries are the main botanical in gin
Juniper berries are the botanical that gives gin its distinctive flavour

It’s no secret that we love botanicals; an umbrella term for a variety of plants and plant extracts. From flowers, herbs, seeds, pods and fruit (from the root to the peel), these natural ingredients are brimming with incredible tastes, fragrances, and textures.

When it comes to gin, juniper berries are the botanical stars of the show. These small but mighty berries give the spirit its distinctive flavour and essentially make gin what it is.

What is London Dry Gin?

London dry gin is an absolute classic. Despite the name, it’s a term for a style, and London dry can be produced anywhere. When you think of a quintessential G&T, some form of London dry is probably what comes to mind. Beefeater, Tanqueray, and Bombay Sapphire are all London dry gins that partner perfectly with a splash of crisp tonic.

Hotel Chocolat London Dry Gin with cacao shells
We infuse London Dry Gin with Cacao for a toasty, bright flavour

These ‘dry’ gins are spirits without any sweeteners or artificial flavourings. All the tasting notes come from botanicals, and London dry gins have strong juniper elements. Some are also infused with fruit peels before distillation to give them a bright, citrus flavour.

London gin’s dryness and fragrant juniper notes make it the perfect base for our Cacao Gin. By infusing the spirit with rich cacao, we found it resulted in a delightfully malty, toasted finish. Adding macadamia, coriander, orange, and grapefruit balanced and cut through the deeper flavour notes for an uplifting edge. Citrus and spice and all things nice.

London dry gins are ideal for traditional martinis. However, we like to think our cacao-infused version has enough light and shade that a simple tonic is a perfect companion. A twist of orange tops it off nicely. After all, chocolate and orange are a match made in Heaven.

What is Old Tom Gin?

In the mid-18th century, it was popular for people to distil their own spirits at home. Known as ‘bathtub’ gin for where it was often brewed, this drink was, quite frankly, terrible! To combat the awful taste, people began to sweeten it with liquorice. The sweeter style of gin was known as ‘Old Tom’ on the street.

Fortunately, Old Tom has come a long way since its bathtub roots, and the quality has improved vastly over the years. Some brands still sweeten their Old Tom with liquorice, while others use sugar.

The robust sweetness balances bitter flavours, making it perfect for pre-prohibition-era cocktails. Some Old Tom gins are aged in barrels, giving them a rich caramel colour.

What is Plymouth Gin?

Though this is technically a style of gin, only one distillery makes it. Plymouth gin shares similarities with London Dry; however, it has earthier notes, provided by orris and angelica roots. Coriander seeds give it a spicier kick than London dry, and it is lighter on the juniper.

Dried orange peel and cardamom make it an excellent spirit for drinks with more bitter flavours, like the Negroni. Alternatively, an elderflower tonic brings out the sweeter elements.

A negroni cocktail on a wooden bar

What is Navy Strength Gin?

For a drink that packs a punch, Navy Strength is the way to go. At 57% ABV, this overproof spirit is far stronger than other types of gin, which tend to be 40 to 45%.

In the 1700s, Navy Strength was popular in, you guessed it, the British Navy. The high alcohol content makes it more intense, as it holds on to more essential oils from the botanicals.

Citrus flavours, like lime, help cut through the intensity, making Southside and Gimlet cocktails a popular use for Navy strength. A sprig of mint to garnish tops these off perfectly.

What is Genever Gin?

Genever gin dates back to 16th-century Holland and shares similarities with whiskey. During the fermentation process, malted grains are left for five days to give it a rich, malty flavour. Though Genever contains juniper berries, the flavour is much more subtle.

Often, distillers add spice botanicals like ginger, cloves, and nutmeg to Genever, giving it a very different flavour profile to Plymouth and London dry gins.

The deep flavours make Genever a great option for drinking straight, rather than in a G&T. If you’re looking for a treat to nibble alongside your Genever, Ginger Chocolates could compliment it nicely.

What is Pink Gin?

Appealing to the eye as well as the palate, this pink spirit is essentially dry gin flavoured with strawberries, raspberries, or other red fruits. The fruits impart a delicately sweet flavour without the need for added sugar. If you find other types of gin too dry, the pink variety pairs beautifully with tonic or lemonade.

What is Sloe Gin?

sloe berries to make sloe gin on a branch

Sloe gin is a liqueur rather than a spirit, so it has a lower alcohol content than other gins. Its ruby-red colour and plummy flavour come from sloe berries mixed with sugar and steeped for three months in a regular gin. The result is a syrupy, raisin-like taste.

This fruity liqueur is perfect for sipping on the rocks or with tonic or ginger beer in the summer. And in the winter, it makes a delicious addition to a hot toddy.

What is Flavoured Gin?

Whilst most gins get their taste profiles from botanicals, ‘flavoured’ gins use fresh fruit for flavouring. A flavoured spirit can give you a fun twist on the classic G&T, especially if you find London gins too dry. They’re also often a little less alcoholic – which means more drinks for you!

Why not close your eyes and transport yourself to the sun-kissed Caribbean with our new Mango and Passion Fruit Gin? With its tropical aroma, this smooth, sweet spirit beautifully with tonic and a slice of refreshing ginger.

Or, for something with a little bolder, give our Cherry and Raspberry flavour a go. A twist of lime brings out the summery red fruit flavours and balances the bitterness of the tonic.

Whether you’re after a refreshing beverage for a hot summer’s day or a special occasion cocktail, gin is a fantastic spirit all year-round. And we reckon chocolate-lovers everywhere will just love our smooth Cacao Gin.