By this definition (which isn't much of a definition), your basic bottom-shelf gin is essentially juniper flavored cheap vodka. London dry gin, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated. For a spirit to qualify as a London dry gin, juniper berries must be added during the distillation process. Other florals and herbs may be added, along with a small amount of sugar (no more than 0.1 gram per liter), but they must be all natural products. Distilled gin differs from London dry gin in that juniper and other florals may be added after distillation.
If you're interested in learning more about juniper (pictured left), read this well-researched article at the Gin Foundry.
Common florals and botanicals used in gin include lemon and bitter orange peel, anise, angelica root and seed, orris root, licorice root, cinnamon, almond, cubeb, savory, lime peel, grapefruit peel, dragon eye, saffron, baobab, frankincense, coriander, grains of paradise, nutmeg, cassia bark, and/or others.
You've probably seen New Amsterdam on the shelf. It's one of the most common gin's out there. The nose reminds me of 7UP, it's sweeter, with a lighter juniper scent mixed with orange and citrus. It's flavor is very similar, reminding me of 7UP because of its sweet, citrus flavor and perhaps a hint of anise.
Rear Admiral Joseph's London Dry Gin isn't quite as common, primarily because it's Trader Joe's house brand, and isn't sold in some states. But it runs for about $8-$10 a bottle, which isn't bad. It smells of juniper, but other aromas are masked by its stronger alcohol content (43%, to New Amsterdam's 40%). The flavor is sharper, a little more alcoholic and bitter, without the orange and citrus of New Amsterdam. It reminds me of juniper infused vodka.
Neither of these are suitable for sipping in my opinion, and which bottle you buy will probably be based on your budget and what you intend to use it for. New Amsterdam's orange notes will make it unsuitable for some mixed drinks, while Admiral Joseph's may be a little too harsh for some people's preferences.
Gin cocktails (of course all of these are to your taste):
Gin and tonic:
2 parts gin
4 parts tonic water over ice.
Squeeze fresh lime wedge into the gin and tonic and stir.
2 parts gin
The smallest splash of dry vermouth (sometimes I just rinse out my glass with it)
Shake or stir with ice and stir.
If using New Amsterdam, consider adding a lemon twist.
1 1/2 ounces gin
1 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
Maraschino cherry for garnish
Lemon or orange slice for garnish
Stir gin, lemon juice and simple syrup together with ice, add club soda, and garnish with lemon or orange slice.
Have your own recipe for a gin cocktail, or have a favorite gin you'd like to see reviewed? Leave a comment below.
Now, it's time for me to go finish off these bottles.