Time to retire the “new western (dry)” gin label

For the last 15 or so years, the gin world has been desperately seeking a new category name to describe the wide range of innovative gins that have been emerging into the market since around the early 2000s; gins that push the boundaries beyond the traditional gin types.

In about 2009 one of Aviation Gin’s co-creators, Ryan Magarian, busted out the label “New Western Dry” to describe the pioneering non-juniper-forward style of gin they had produced in a coloring-outside-the-lines kind of way. In many publications since this label has stuck.

That category may have worked at the time but it no longer seems adequate to describe the dynamic world of gins we find ourselves in. Not only does “new” in the original context seem a bit dusty, the use of “western” seems slightly restrictive and a bit pretentious, especially when substituted with “American”, and “dry” may not even necessarily be true. Considering that some of the ground breaking gins of the style, including Tanqueray 10 and Hendrick’s are not even from the west, this label, while well-intentioned and necessary, seems off.

Aaron Knoll’s Gin – the Art and Craft of the Artisan Revival recognizes this as well and simply groups the gins as “classic” or “contemporary” in the most accurate categorization I have seen yet.

However, in an expansion of this I think it’s important to reserve the tradition of “London Dry” as its own category and instead I tend to break Knoll’s “contemporary” category into “modern classic” and “modern regional”. I don’t take issue with the word contemporary, but modern just seems shorter and easier to say with an extra word attached.

Here’s how I divide the two in my gin database (yes you can judge my geekiness here – I’ll just drink more gin):

Modern Classic: This category describes gins that are less-juniper and citrus-forward than a traditional London Dry, allowing other botanicals to contribute more readily to the flavor profile. They typically have most or all of their botanicals the same as a traditional London Dry, and may introduce a couple of novel botanicals. This is the category that I fit the likes of Aviation and Hendrick’s in, as well as the majority of those described in Knoll’s “Contemporary” category.

Modern Regional: Recently, especially on the west coast of the US and Canada, we’ve seen the emergence of another type of gin that uses mostly local botanicals to make a gin that distinctly represents the local area. These gins still have a juniper backbone, but the rest is fair game. Gins in this group include The Botanist, St. George Terroir, Ungava and Fermentorium’s Stump Gin, among others.

I think the definition of “modern regional” solves the problem of distinguishing those gins that go out of their way to pay homage the “grain to glass” movement or just want to make a unique gin that ties into the area where it is made. I’ve felt this category has been lacking in definition, hence why I feel that it’s important to characterize.

In any case, whether or not you agree with me I’m happy just to open up the conversation. Please feel free to let me know your thoughts!!

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