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Explained: What Is 'Navy Strength' Gin & Where Does The Term Come From

By: Risha Ganguly


When we talk about distilled spirits, few terms evoke a sense of strength and tradition as much as "Navy Strength" gin. This distinctive classification has a storied history rooted in naval tradition and has become a mark of quality and potency in the world of gin production. Let's explore the origins of Navy Strength gin and unravel the tales behind this iconic libation. 

A Historical Perspective 

The term "Navy Strength" takes us back to the days of the British Royal Navy, an era when the strength of alcoholic beverages was critical not only for enjoyment but also for practical reasons. During the 18th and 19th centuries, when naval power was at its zenith, sailors were paid in part with spirits, including gin. To ensure that the alcohol content hadn't been tampered with, the spirit had to be of a certain potency that could withstand the potentially adulterating effects of gunpowder. 

The Gunpowder Test 


The infamous gunpowder test was the benchmark for determining the strength of the gin. A sample of the spirit was mixed with gunpowder and ignited. If the mixture ignited and maintained a steady blue flame, it was deemed "proof" that the spirit was at least 57.15% alcohol by volume – the minimum strength required to ensure the alcohol hadn't been watered down. This strength became the standard for Navy-issue spirits. 

The Birth of Navy Strength Gin 

In line with these naval regulations, distillers began producing gin to meet the demanding standards set by the Royal Navy. The product, known as Navy Strength gin, had to be robust and most importantly, possess the requisite alcohol content to pass the gunpowder test. With a minimum ABV of 57%, Navy Strength gin became a symbol of quality and reliability. 

Characteristics of Navy Strength Gin 

Navy Strength gin is characterised by its bold and intense flavour profile, often featuring a higher concentration of botanicals to balance the increased alcohol content. The higher ABV not only provides a more concentrated taste but also enhances the aromatic qualities of the botanicals used in the distillation process. This creates a spirit that, when properly crafted, is not just strong but also complex and delicious. 

gin gin

Contemporary Resurgence 

While the days of gunpowder tests on naval ships are long gone, the legacy of Navy Strength gin lives on in the craft spirits renaissance. Modern craft distillers have embraced the challenge of producing high-strength gins, reviving the tradition with a contemporary twist. The resurgence of interest in classic cocktails and artisanal spirits has propelled Navy Strength gin back into the limelight. 

Popular Navy Strength Gins 

Several distilleries around the world have embraced the Navy Strength category, producing gins that pay homage to tradition while pushing the boundaries of flavour. Some notable examples include Plymouth Navy Strength Gin, Bathtub Navy Strength Gin, and Four Pillars Navy Strength Gin. These gins not only meet the historical criteria for Navy Strength but also showcase the creativity and innovation of contemporary craft distillers. Beyond its historical roots, Navy Strength gin has evolved into a sought-after category for mixologists as well as alcohol enthusiasts. A sip of this drink is a sip of rich maritime history.