When bartender Ryan Magarian and distiller Christian Krogstad co-founded Aviation Gin in 2006 there was no commonly used term to describe their settled-upon style of gin. So Magarian coined one himself: New Western Dry.
To comply with TTB regulations, the “main characteristic flavor” of any distilled spirit classified as gin must be derived from juniper berries. But like many laws, this definition leaves room for interpretation. Rather than produce a juniper-dominant gin, akin to a classic London Dry, Magarian and Krogstad instead crafted a style that was simply juniper-driven. Or as Magarian describes it, “A botanical democracy [with] President Juniper holding office.”
Aviation was not the first brand to dial down the juniper and produce a gin in this style. Bombay Sapphire, Hendrick’s, and Tanqueray (No. TEN) had each already proven this formula was incredibly popular with consumers, attracting those who were previously put off by juniper’s polarizing, piney flavor.
But Magarian was the first who sought to define the trend as an unofficial, standalone gin style. Nearly 15 years on, the New Western Dry moniker is widely used among bartenders and spirits aficionados. The number of distillers adopting the style continues to grow — not just in America but across the globe, in countries like Japan.
What Does New Western Dry Mean?
Magarian says that when he first devised the term New Western Dry, it was intended to be “a riff on the term ‘New World’ as used in the wine space.” Despite the inspiration, the term was never supposed to signify geographical origin. Just as London Dry gins do not need to be made in the British capital, New Western Dry was simply a means of describing gins with a gentler juniper influence.
Needless to say, the term has caused some confusion in the intervening years, especially as the style has been adopted by distillers around the world. These days, many in the spirits industry prefer to use less geographically binding terminology, such as “New Age” or “Contemporary” gins.
The Widespread Appeal of New Western Dry Gin
Regardless of what you call it, spirits industry professionals agree that this style of gin benefits from its approachable profile, which offers broader appeal than London Dry.
“Being a bourbon girl myself, the juniper and the piney-ness [of London Dry] can be over the top, and is sometimes too much for me,” says Trudy Thomas, a Nashville-based certified spirits educator. “But I love the freshness and balance these new-age styles bring — not just to the gin itself but to the cocktails that they can be mixed with.”
This is an important, sometimes overlooked consideration. The New Western Dry style is an approachable introduction to the gin category for consumers — a “bridge” for vodka drinkers, as Thomas puts it. But it also offers an exciting new range of flavor combinations for bartenders to experiment with.
Distillers, too, are benefitting from the growing popularity of the style. “What’s great about this category is that you’re able to bring in non-classic botanicals that are local,” Thomas says.
Distilling Gin With a Sense of Place
For hundreds of years, distillers supplemented their juniper-dominant gins with a fairly rigid supporting cast of botanicals, including coriander seeds, angelica root (and seeds), citrus peel, orris root, licorice, cassia, and cinnamon.
The evolution of the New Western style has not just seen the juniper toned down, giving more prominence to these other ingredients; instead, distillers have introduced new ingredients to the fold, capturing a sense of place in the process.
The cucumber and rose petal included in Hendrick’s Gin are said to have been inspired by cornerstones of British culture: cucumber sandwiches and rose gardens. Suntory’s Roku is a yuzu-driven love letter to Japan, with sakura flower, sakura leaf, sencha tea, gyokuro tea, and sansho pepper included in its botanical bill. And what could better transport drinkers to the American “Old West” than sarsaparilla-spiked Aviation?
Lower-production, craft distillers cast an even-more-local gaze for their inspiration. One such example is Texas-based Treaty Oak Distilling, which includes lavender, grapefruit, lemon, and pecans in its Waterloo No. 9 Gin.
“We made Waterloo No.9 to be an expression of Central Texas Hill Country, [the area] just outside of Austin,” says Courtney Dymowski, Waterloo Gin’s director of gin research and development.
“Coming from a craft distillery, where your specific location plays a huge importance on the spirit that you produce, a careful selection of botanicals is really important,” she adds. “The New Western style really allows that to be at the forefront of crafting a gin recipe.”
Crafting Cocktails With New Western Dry Gin
Given its balanced, often refreshing profile, gin enthusiasts could rightly argue that the best way to enjoy a New Western Dry is neat or with a large cube of ice. It’s certainly the most effective way to appreciate the interesting range of botanicals on show. But ultimately, as with a London Dry or any other white spirits, the main appeal comes from crafting cocktails.
“It’s great to have this expanded range of flavors to choose from, it gives you so many fun, new, expanded options,” says Alex Smith, partner at San Francisco gin bar Whitechapel. But with that choice come important considerations. That stone fruit-driven New Western gin you just discovered from your local craft distillery? Probably not the best ingredient for mixing a bone-dry Martini — or any Martini, for that matter.
“With the juniper dialed down and all these other botanicals [featuring] more prominently, consider what flavors are being highlighted and how can you use them?” Smith advises. The easiest place to start draws inspiration from pairing food and wine, and matching like for like.
Take Nolet’s, for example: With its perfumed profile and notable berry influence, this gin is the perfect foil for a cocktail like the Bramble, which already includes a berry-based modifier. Those seeking to shake up their Negroni — figuratively speaking, of course — should look no further than Tanqueray’s Rangpur. With notes of zesty lime and juicy orange, it’s the perfect partner for Campari.
When mixing a Tom Collins or gin sour, citrus-forward gins such as Tanqueray No. TEN or Roku are no- brainers. They also pour exceedingly delicate Martinis when stirred with a scant portion of vermouth (such as Dolin) and garnished with a lemon twist (naturally).
To borrow a phrase (or two) from Magarian: Whether you describe it as New Western, Contemporary, or New Age, there’s a whole “New World” of gin out there that’s ripe for exploration. If you haven’t found one that suits your palate yet, you probably haven’t searched far enough.
Published: July 30, 2020