Tried and tasted: best gins
The proliferation of gins - and tonics - has created a delightfully daunting choice. Here’s some you must try
Gin and tonic once meant Gordon’s and Schweppes - and there’s nothing wrong with the classic combination, based as it is on more than 480 years of drink-making history.
But why not try something different? In the past few years, Gordon’s (founded in 1769) and Schweppes (1783) have been joined by a host of young upstarts with a daunting array of botanicals - the herbs, flowers, fruits and seeds that give a gin its distinctive flavour.
In a heroic act of dedication, The Week Portfolio has sipped staunchly through a host of old favourites and new pretenders in search of the perfect G&T.
Cooper King Dry Gin
Three centuries ago, London’s gin palaces were held responsible for all the city’s social ills. Now, though, gin might just save the world - or at least make a small contribution to the battle against climate change. That’s the hope of Abbie Neilson and Chris Jaume, the founders of Cooper King Distillery, who claim to produce the “greenest gin in England”. The Yorkshire-based operation runs entirely on renewable energy, and since a square metre of forest is planted for each bottle sold, the spirit is certified carbon-negative. All that would be academic if it didn’t also taste good - but it does. The flagship product, Cooper King Dry Gin, is warm and slightly spiced, with notes of cumin and cardamom which can be drawn out with a savoury garnish such as rosemary or cucumber. The distillery’s Herb Gin is green in flavour as well as environmental credentials - and makes for an enjoyably spring-like martini.
Buy Cooper King Dry Gin direct from the makers for £39 (700ml)
The first striking quality of 44°N Gin is the luminous blue of its bottle, a tribute to its home on the Cote d’Azur (as is the latitude-inspired name). The second is the vibrant aroma unleashed by the removal of its stainless steel stopper - and it too can be explained geographically. The 44°N distillery is in Grasse, the centre of the international perfume industry and home to the world’s most sensitive and sophisticated noses. Their experience has contributed to a spirit which is floral and summery, evoking an evening by the Med even in the depths of the British winter. It works well without a garnish, but rosemary brings out a pepperiness that complements the highly perfumed top notes.
Buy 44°N, distilled by Comte de Grasse, from 44.gin.com for £68 (500ml)
QVT Dry Gin
A second French entry on the list also hails from the southeastern corner of the country - and is also named after its home turf. This one, however, is a little more cryptic: QVT stands for quatre-vingt trois, or 83 - the number of the Provencal department of Var in which the distillery stands. Founded by a British couple, the flavour profile reflects a dual heritage: classically Juniper-driven, with hints of lavender and thyme. A slice of lemon brings out the crispness of the former, while orange draws out the sweetness of the Mediterranean influences.
Buy QVT Dry Gin from Masters of Malt for £34.95 (700ml)
The numerical part of Monkey 47’s name refers to the gin’s 47% proof strength. The primate takes a little more explaining. It all dates back to 1945, when RAF wing commander Montgomery “Monty” Collins was dispatched to post-war Berlin. “Profoundly affected by the extent of the destruction,” says the Gin Foundry, “he became devoted to the rebuilding of the Berlin Zoo, through which he came to sponsor an egret monkey by the name of Max.” When Collins retired, he moved to the Black Forest, took up gin-making and named the fruit of his labour in Max’s honour. The result is a suitably eccentric gin, with a woody, almost musky aroma. It makes a satisfying martini and a sophisticated G&T, especially garnished with a slice of orange to bring out its sweeter side.
Buy Monkey 47 from 31 Dover for £35.85 (500ml)
Cotswolds Dry Gin
The first gin produced by the Cotswolds distillery in Warwickshire is “non-chill filtered, a method which retains the oils”, explains Good Housekeeping. This means when mixed with ice or tonic a “beautiful pearlescent cloud” develops in the glass, as when water is added to ouzo or sambuca. It may sound like a gimmick, but it’s in the service of a fine gin. Crisp, dry and packed with botanicals including fresh grapefruit and local lavender, it makes a bold martini and a sophisticated G&T. Cotswolds Dry has a “very complex, intricate melding of powerful flavours”, says The Gin Lounge, “with deep citrus and floral notes dominating”. Bring out the herbal character with a garnish of bay leaf, rosemary or cucumber.
Buy Cotswolds Dry Gin for £34.95
According to the bottle it comes in, the Finnish gin Kyro has a “heart of wild nature and naked ambition” - a slogan vividly illustrated on its website by a photo of the bare-buttocked company founders leaping through a field of rye. They are, it seems, very fond of the grain, having decided to make both whisky and gin from it. The gin, perfumed with parma violets, vanilla and orange blossom, is heady and floral, and best served with a more savoury garnish. Rosemary or cucumber both bring out the deeper, herbier flavours.
Buy Kyro Gin from Amazon for £24.95 (500ml)
Brunel Edition, 6 O’Clock Gin
Bristol-based Bramley & Gage, the company behind 6 O’Clock Gin, is celebrating one of the city’s most famous sons with a “Brunel Edition”. Using the excellent original as its starting point, the latest expression includes “six new botanicals - green cardamom, nutmeg, cumin, cassia bark, cubeb and lemon”, says Beverage Daily. The spice shines through, making for a muscular G&T - as does the 50% alcohol content. Like the regular Six O’Clock gin, the Brunel Edition comes in a beautiful bottle - dark midnight blue rather than the medicinal shade of the original, but retaining the weighty glass-and-steel stopper. It’s a heavy-duty tribute to one of the world’s great engineers.
Buy 6 O’Clock Gin Brunel Edition from Master of Malt for £43.95 (700ml)
Eight Lands Speyside Gin
The Eight Lands distillery is named after the number of counties that can be seen from the top of the nearby Ben Rinnes mountain, at least when the Scottish weather cooperates. These dramatic surroundings are put to good use by the father and step-son team behind the gin, which they create from local organic grain, botanicals and spring water. It must be good gin-making terroir - Speyside is a delightfully clean gin, in which sweet, floral notes predominate. You can either accentuate them with a garnish of citrus or even strawberry, or add depth with a slice of cucumber. The gin also makes an excellent (and dangerously drinkable) martini.
Buy Speyside Gin from Eight Lands for £35.10 (700ml)
Labelled as an Islay dry gin, The Botanist is a subtly flavoured spirit made with 22 botanicals sustainably harvested from its island home. Along with nine more barks, peels and seeds less at home in the Scottish climate - orange, cinnamon and corianders, for example - they contribute to a gin of unusual purity and smoothness, which deserves to be tried in a martini before it gets the G&T treatment. A simple garnish works best with The Botanist - a sliver of lemon peel, bruised to release its oils.
Buy The Botanist Islay Dry Gin from The Whisky Exchange for £29.95 (700ml)
Tanqueray No. Ten
“One of the most respected gins available on the market,” says the Gin Foundry, Tanqueray No. Ten is flavoured with “whole fruit botanicals such as fresh white grapefruits from Florida, whole limes from Mexico along with juniper, coriander and chamomile”. Fever Tree’s Indian tonic water is an ideal match for a G&T, and with citrus to the fore, No. Ten responds well to a simple garnish of lemon or lime (or both), but it takes on an enjoyably herbal complexity with a slice of cucumber. Its distinctive clarity makes it the “go-to choice” for a classic martini, says The Daily Telegraph.
Buy Tanqueray No. Ten gin from Amazon for £24.50 (700ml)
This clean, potent gin, distilled in Wales, sold out in days when it went on the market in 2016. Subsequent batches have also sold out quickly, so bag it while you can. It’s a versatile spirit which pairs well with a range of tonics and garnishes. The distiller recommends bruised juniper, twisted lime peel and a sprig of dill or fennel - but there’s no shame in bunging in a wedge of lemon instead. The clean, punchy flavour also works well in a negroni. For something more floral, try Dyfi’s Pollination Gin: its fresh and fruity blend of 29 botanicals makes for a revelatory martini.
Buy Dyfi gin from Amazon for £31.75 (700ml)
Porter’s Modern Classic
Produced in a micro-distillery under a bar in Aberdeen, Porter’s Modern Classic is a crisp, fresh and distinctively floral gin. It is also an attractive shade of pale green. The flavour profile is in part down to an unusual botanical - the buddha’s hand fruit (pictured on the label), which looks like a fistful of yellow chillis and has a strong citrus aroma - and partly down to the way the gin is made. While most distilleries boil up their botanicals with the raw spirit, Porter’s uses pumps to create a vacuum in the still, which means the gin will boil at a lower temperature, preserving the flavour of the fruits, herbs and spices. It might sound like a gimmick, but “a quick side-by side comparison of conventionally-distilled versus [vacuum] rotavap-distilled buddha’s hand reveals just how much of a difference this low-temperature process can make”, says The Scotsman. “The former is insipid and flat with a vague aroma of overcooked popcorn, whereas the rotavap distillate practically fizzes in the nostrils like freshly-poured old-fashioned lemonade.”
Buy Porter’s Modern Classic gin from Amazon for £32 (700ml)
This unusual gin is distilled in Nairobi using a species of juniper that grows in the highlands of Kenya and Ethiopia - Juniperus procera, after which it is named. Nine other botanicals, all African in origin, include Madagascan pink peppercorns and orris root from Morocco. The result is a deeply savoury gin, quite different from the others on this list. Less fresh and citrussy than its rivals, it sits at the cedar-and-old-leather end of the flavour spectrum, more like a vintage claret. It works well with similarly earthy garnishes - try rosemary or cucumber. Or else just admire the beautiful hand-blown bottle in which it arrives.
Buy Procera from Masters of Malt for £64.95 (50cl)
Piston Dry Gin
The Piston distillery in Worcestershire produces a range of flavoured gins, infused with everything from strawberries to coffee, as well as an excellent London dry gin with a clean, sophisticated flavour. The name - not a pun on the slang term for the inebriated - is a tribute to the engineering heritage of the Midlands, and the canal boats that brought in botanicals from the ends of the earth. The dry gin is well balanced, with hibiscus flower and lemongrass offset by rhubarb root and ancho chilli. It’s a combination that pairs well with floral Mediterranean tonic waters - or, for a more classic G&T, mix it with Indian tonic and garnish with lemon.
Buy Piston Dry Gin from Amazon for £44.83 (700ml)
A subtle, ultra-smooth spirit, Herno would make a good gateway gin for the sceptical drinker. Produced in Sweden using organic botanicals, it adds vanilla and cassia bark to the typical London dry botanicals. A good squeeze of lemon brings it to life in a G&T, but Herno also makes a mean martini. The Cocktail Geek recommends “the substitution of vermouth with a dry sherry”.
Buy Herno gin from 31dover.com for £31.85 (500ml)
Bullards Coastal Gin
Hailing from Norkfolk, Bullards Coastal Gin is flavoured with a selection of botanicals foraged from the county’s picturesque coastline. Sea purslane and marsh samphire give the gin a savoury, salty topnote, which is underpinned by the sweetness of douglas fir. Your choice of garnish will determine which flavour comes to the fore: the maker’s recommendation of blackberries emphasises the sweetness, while rosemary or cucumber brings out the salinity. It comes, like many craft gins, in a beautiful - and hefty - glass bottle, which can be guilt-inducing to dispose of. Unusually, however, the Bullards beauties can be reused: simply order a recyclable refill pouch and decant its contents into the original bottle through the easy-pour spout.
Buy Bullards Coastal Gin from the Bullards website for £40 (700ml)
Top image by Domenec_BM
Other gins you should try...
Gyre & Gimble’s Alice in Wonderland-inspired gins
New Norwich-based spirits brand Gyre & Gimble launched in October with its first three gins: Callooh Callay (a refreshing coastal gin), Nohow (a double-juniper London Dry), and Queen of Hearts (a rich, velvety cherry gin). Each gin is named with inspiration from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
Each 70cl bottle costs £35; gyreandgimble.co.uk
VII Hills Italian Dry Gin
Considered to be the No.1 Italian dry gin brand in the world by critics, VII Hills is the ideal gift for gin connoisseurs. Exclusively handcrafted in Italy, this unique spirit is made with seven botanicals found within the hills that surround Rome. The result is a perfectly balanced spirit with a distinctive body, strength and flavour that is slightly bittersweet with hints of blood orange and an herbal aroma. It can be enjoyed on the rocks, in a G&T or any other gin-based tipple.
Elephant Gin (London Dry Gin)
Inspired by the traditional sundowner experience after a day out in the African bush, Elephant Gin is a handcrafted gin made with rare African botanicals. A complex yet smooth taste, encompassing floral, fruity and spicy flavours.
58 Gin’s sustainably-sound gins
London-based artisan spirits distillery, 58 Gin, has recently launched two new hand-crafted gins - 58 English Berry Gin and 58 Apple & Hibiscus Gin - created using wonky apples and foraged berries.
Sibling Negroni Gin
Sibling Distillery, a family (sibling)-run distillery based in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, has taken inspiration from the Italian cocktail to create a gin that mixes with tonic to make a fresh and herbal G&T. Best served with tonic, a slice of orange and ice, it’s a citrus lead, herbal gin with the classic aperitivo bitterness and a refreshing zesty finish.
Salcombe Gin Voyager Series ‘Restless’
Restless is the fifth limited-edition release in the award-winning Voyager Series from Salcombe Gin. Crafted in collaboration with two Michelin-starred chef Niall Keating of Whatley Manor in Wiltshire, Restless is inspired by Keating’s passion for Asian cuisine and has been distilled with kombucha, marking the first time a gin has ever been created with a liquid botanical.