They are both beloved beverages in different parts of the world and have millions of loyal consumers but not many know the true origins, differences and details about their drinks. Today, we have Whisky and Gin in the spotlight as we try to delve deeper into the nitty-gritties of both brands, and compare their styles, commercial performance and worldwide popularity.
They both date back centuries, and have evolved over the years in a phenomenal way. There are thousands of cocktails built around them as base spirits, and a loyal communities of whisky and gin lovers. An entire industry that thrives on innovation, ingenuity and one that walks side-by-side with centuries of traditions and heritage preserved by distillers who love their art.
Let us begin with a deep dive into the world of Gin making before we progress to Whisky, and then to our eventual battle royale.
Gin is an alcoholic spirit-based beverage that is distilled most commonly from juniper, a type of berry found in many parts of the world. The word ‘Gin’ has been derived from the word ‘genièvre’, which itself was derived from the Latin word for juniper, juniperus.
It is one of the most uniquely produced spirits in the world, and also allows for individual distillers an enormous amount of control over the end result. Most Gin distillers of the world have their own style, methods and techniques when it comes to making their product. This includes major Gin brands of the world such as Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire, Gordon’s and Hendricks.
According to the legal framework in the European Union, there are four different types of Gin with their own descriptions that range from straightforward to some truly complicated standards. Juniper-flavoured drinks, Gin, Distilled Gin and London Dry Gin are the four types of Gin recognized by the European Union.
London Dry Gin is the most popular type of Gin sold worldwide so we are going to look at how it is prepared. In order to prepare London Dry Gin, pure grain based spirit is used as a base which is then infused with ‘natural botanicals’ which mean organic substances including but not only ‘juniper berries’. This process is known as re-distillation wherein the distilled spirit infused with botanicals is then distilled again. London Dry Gin also necessitates that no other additions except water be made to the Gin before it is bottled.
Distillers use their own unique and sometimes proprietary styles when introducing botanicals to the spirit. Some distillers opt to steep the spirit for hours, sometimes a day or two while others opt to use the vaporization technique. This technique allows distillers to infuse flavours and aromas into the spirit without any contact between the botanicals and the base spirit. Some Gin makers opt for a combination of both techniques in order to create their own unique identity.
The steeping technique is relied upon by Beefeater Gin, who are one of the oldest companies that have still sustained their popularity and dominance in the industry. Relative newcomer, Bombay Sapphire, introduced in 1987 rely on the vapour infusion technique for their product. Hendricks, another big player in the Gin industry prefer to go for a combination of both.
Whisky is a spirit based alcoholic beverage that is distilled using fermented food grains such as barley, rye, wheat, and corn. The word Whisky is derived from the Gaelic words ‘Uisge Beatha’ which means ‘Water of life’. The first mentions of whisky distillation date back to the 1400s in Ireland, and the practice eventually made its way to the rest of the world.
A number of techniques and methods are used to distil whisky, including the more commonly used pot still method. Other important and popular ways are the column still, and the patented column still design by Aeneas Coffey, named the Coffey still after its creator. Designed to increase productivity of the column still by distilling spirit continuously, the Coffey still eventually fell out of favour due to its tendency to produce spirit with little flavours or aroma.
The Glenlivet Distillery
The next step in the journey of whisky making is maturation wherein the distilled spirit is filled into oak barrels in order for it to undergo aging. This process continues for at least 3 years according to legal standards for Scotch whiskies and Irish whiskeys. In America, the minimum maturation for straight Bourbons is 2 years. The spirit develops its own unique character owing to the prolonged contact with the oak. Most distillers prefer to mature their product for longer than the stipulated 3 year requirement set down for Scotch whiskies and Irish whiskeys. In America, legal requirements dictate that any ‘straight Bourbon’ must be matured in new, charred oak barrels for at least 2 years. These oak barrels are then exported to other countries after a single use where they are reused.
Whisky is distilled, matured and blended in their own unique ways in different parts of the world. Single malt and single grain whiskies are blended with each other to create a blended Scotch whisky such as Chivas Regal and Ballantine’s in Scotland. Blended Irish whiskeys such as Jameson are created by blending single pot still whiskeys with grain whiskey. Leading Indian whisky brands such as Blenders Pride, Royal Stag and Imperial Blue are made by blending imported Scotch malts with locally produced grain whiskies. This makes Indian whiskies completely different as compared to other countries.
There are many differences even when it comes to food grains used for the mash bill. Bourbon whiskey is required to be distilled from a mash bill that is at least 51% corn based, whereas a single malt whisky can only be distilled with 100% malted barley.
Now that we have gained a sufficient insight into the background, production process and types of Gin and Whisky, let us take a deeper dive into the Gin Vs Whisky conversation. Let us first look at the similarities between the two products before we explore their differences.
Gin Vs Whisky – How are they different?
Gin and Whisky are both distilled, spirit based beverages, and that is perhaps one of the most glaring similarities between the two. Unlike Wine and Beer, all distilled beverages share a common ground in this regard.
They are both bottled at a 40% ABV strength in most cases. In certain exceptions like India, all spirit based beverages are bottled at 42.8% ABV which includes both whisky and gin.
Whisky and Gin are both excellent spirits to work with when developing and mixing cocktail recipes. This fact is vouched for by many mixologists and bartenders.
Both are also required to be distilled in such a manner that they both retain the flavours of their original raw material, which is food grains in case of whisky and juniper berries in case of gin.
We can now move on to understanding the Whisky Vs Gin debate by looking at the differences between the two beverages.
While Whisky can legally be distilled only with food grains, water and yeast, Gin infused with a wide array of botanicals. This makes the two beverages very different from each other when one considers the flavours and aroma of both Whisky and Gin. Both may be required to retain the original character of their raw material, but only one of them is not infused with organic material of different kinds.
Another difference that makes the Gin vs Whisky debate interesting is the more cosmetic distinction between the two. Whisky on one hand absorbs the colours from its barrel, and can also sometimes be coloured separately. Gin, on the other hand is often only a clear liquid with a few exceptions from time to time. One such exception being the Bombay Sapphire brand of Gin which is bears a sky blue tint.
In terms of popularity, Gin is especially popular in England where it is even considered to be a ‘national liquor’. More accurately, Gin is considered the national liquor of South England, whereas Scotland considers single malt Scotch whisky as their national drink. Wales consider Welsh whiskey as theirs, and of course Northern Ireland consider Irish whiskey to be their national drink. Since they all form a part of the United Kingdom, it is interesting to see the geographic loyalty for alcoholic beverages in the region!
Let us now move on to consider just how successful both drinks have been commercially. This will help us ascertain to a reasonable degree of certainty just how much the world loves their whisky, and their gin.
The Whisky industry racked up US$80,586 Million in 2020 in revenue, with India contributing an astonishingly large chunk of the business. Nearly US $18,791 Million worth of revenue was generated by the whisky industry in India.
The Gin industry accumulated more than US $12,938 Million in 2020, and the United Kingdom led this number with nearly a quarter of the revenue coming from the island country. The highest revenue for the Gin industry was generated in the United Kingdom to the tune of US $3,357 Million in 2020.
As you can see, in terms of commercial dominance which also represents a sheer voluminous superiority, Whisky has not only a wider global appeal, but also more takers.
There isn’t much to separate the two beverages when one speaks of a difference between whisky and gin. They are both uniquely diverse, and have their own loyal fan base. The Whisky Vs Gin debate may not make a lot of sense, but there is no denying the fact that the former easily asserts its dominance in the domain of alcoholic beverages.