Tim Stevens takes on 26 Gins to bring you the best.
Your intrepid taster wanted a diversion from lockdown blues during the lead up to Christmas and so appropriately tasted 26 effectively randomly chosen gins.
Opinions on tastes vary massively between individuals on all fronts whether it is ski resorts or alcoholic drinks. Condé Nast Traveller has published a 2020 readers’ opinion poll on ‘Best Ski Resorts’ which spoilt my breakfast. This could be the topic of this article but just to say that Banff is cited as second best in North America with no mention of Whistler at all. Back to the gins, the opinions given are on the basis that someone out there will like them rather than just my own preferences. Initially, the gins were all tasted neat as mixers have a fundamental influence from either complementing the gin, or more prevalent taking over and marginalising even some of the most expensive gins.
A starting point in drinking gins can be summed up with just three brands, the prices are frequently heavily discounted so they fall into a cost comfort zone. They are; Gordons - 37.5 ABV – this gin has little to say about itself on flavours so it is ideal for cocktails. However, the simplest means of giving it character is to add to a tame tonic and a dash of Thorncroft’s excellent intense elderflower cordial. Moving on, if you have had a good day, Bombay Sapphire - 40 ABV – has quite a sophisticated character with the traditional botanicals of juniper to the fore with underlying spice and citrus flavours. Tangueray London Dry - 43.1 ABV - comes into its own when you want a good kick in the taste, e.g. if you have had less than a good day.
Following on upwards from that scenario in price there is a big hike for small batch and some other premium brands. Whilst you should be able to expect more from these premium gins, there are many that fail to impress. Nevertheless, there are happily quite a few in this tasting that are worth seeking out, as well as others not covered in this tasting. For example; Monkey 47 Winter gin, Bathtub (not the Navy-Strength), Gin Mare, Brecon Botanicals Gin, Tangueray Sevilla Gin, I could go on. In this tasting, I am looking for others to complement this group so a gin that is fine, but not special, does not get the flow of superlatives that other reviewers liberally splash around.
Chase Seville Orange Gin 40 ABV https://chasedistillery.co.uk/spirits/gin
A bit of a surprise here as Chase has produced an unlikely great success with their Marmalade Vodka. The leader here with an orange gin is surely Tangueray’s Sevilla Gin as it has a very clear and refreshing orange flavour. Chase have produced a more subtle flavour which nevertheless is very satisfying neat, but maybe even better with a refreshing mixer?
Chilgrove Signature Gin 44 ABV https://www.chilgrovespirits.com
This gin’s alcohol is distilled from grapes; claimed to be the only one produced in England. We are all used to finding juniper berry, coriander seed and citrus peel tastes in our gins, but here there are also wild water mint and grains of paradise. Those extra combinations have produced a well-rounded taste that is very satisfying. A good one for any shortlist.
D1 London Gin 40 ABV https://d1londonspirits.co.uk/d1
I, and two other tasters (including a professional tea blender) could not draw this gin out of the crowd of juniper lead distillations. It was pleasant and could certainly be well received again. After tasting, we checked their website and read about the large number of botanicals included. In view of this, we felt we should review our original tasting. Once you know what is there, sometimes you convince yourself that you could now pick out some of those ever so subtle flavours and aromas.
Ditchling 40 ABV, https://ditchling-gin.com
The name and graphics pick up from the Bloomsbury group’s interest in arts and crafts and their Sussex retreat. I found the taste not very clear cut and without any definitive botanicals to the fore.
Downton Explorer’s Gin 44 ABV v
This is a full character gin with a difference. There are some spicy and citrus flavours to the fore but the long finish is a surprisingly pleasant piney taste - western red cedar all of which combine to produce an enjoyable tipple. They have put all their good skills into the gin – a better website can wait.
Duck and Crutch 45 ABV https://www.duckandcrutch.co.uk
This very small scale distiller has taken a different route with their relatively strong gin; whilst the strength is evident, this one has a warming rather than fiery finish. The taste theme is a satisfying juniper with citrus undertones that comes through later. However, the tea adds a little to the dryness to the recipe.
Edinburgh Canonball 57.2 ABV https://www.edinburghgin.com
These very strong “Navy strength” gins by Edinburgh Gin, Ableforth’s Bathtub Navy Strength and others are really like vindaloo curries; too strong to enjoy the flavours if you are taking the gins neat. Surely most people will add more mixer than normal to achieve a better balance, so why go there in the first place with the extra strength?
Hayman’s 41.4 ABV https://www.haymansgin.com
The botanicals are led by juniper to produce a classic tasting gin, but for me there was little else with no lingering finish. Nevertheless, the gin does have a good, clean taste. I would agree with another reviewer; it would be good in a Martini, but disagree with the notion that it has enough astringency to warrant a mention.
Herno 43 ABV https://hernogin.com
A Swedish, Old Tom Gin (uses an 18th-century recipe). This is quite floral with a fairly sweet finish. Whilst the alcohol strength is relatively high, it does not have the burn. It would not be surprising if it enjoys a good following and success. (An unapologetic boast; as with all the tastings, I later checked out the website to find that Herno has won more awards than any other distillery).
Ink Gin 43 ABV https://www.inkgin.com/our-gins
This Australian gin’s flavours come from juniper which leads, but coriander, pepper and orange peel are followed by a host of other botanicals. Notable is the fact that it is infused with butterfly pea flowers (highly sensitive to pH) which when mixed with tonics’ acidic element release a blue colour to the gin. Surely, it has the most appealing bottle (shared with Blue Gin with a different colour glass[?]).
Isle Of White Distillery 57 ABV https://isleofwightdistillery.com
Too strong for me, only the competitive vindaloo heroes would like to score a point with any of these “Navy Strength” gins. I then tried it with a little of Fever Tree’s “Refreshingly Light” Mediterranean tonic water; the gin was effectively tasteless. When I then tasted the tonic water neat, it tasted rather sweet but still OK. The gin had actually taken away its flavour!
Keppr’s Lemon and Pepper 40 ABV https://britishhoney.co.uk
This gin has certainly an individual opinion on taste but I found it confusing on the palate. The pepper is certainly there in the form of various Vietnamese varieties. Normally, I pick a bland gin for cocktails but this gin gave a negroni a great, longer finish.
Liverpool Organic Gin 43 ABV https://liverpoolgindistillery.com
There is character here but I found it was not a clean definitive one, indeed it was rather aggressive on the palate. The juniper dominates and a citrus flavour does come later. However, the website does not explore further apart from the fact that the botanicals are certified organic. At least it is not in the bland league of gins and has had a following since its production in 2013.
Masons Yorkshire – Tea Edition 42 ABV https://www.masonsofyorkshire.com
A good clean, clear dry taste with the tea just adding its pleasant presence in the mix to the core juniper (some of their own bushes), plus cardamom, a little pepper and other botanicals. It is certainly a versatile gin I would welcome at any time and should develop a strong following in the market.
Old Pilots 45 ABV https://duh-u-boci.com
Amongst the fist full of awards this gin won the ‘Best London Dry Gin in The World’ in the International World Spirit Competition 2019. This Croatian distilled gin gives a tingle on the tongue without too much fire. The botanicals are all local and include juniper, olives, orange and lavender, amongst others, with a pleasing result on the palate with a commendably long finish.
One Gin 43 ABV https://www.thespiritofone.com
The flavour is very concentrated but rather too much, therefore masks individual botanical elements such as the headline sage. The taste will not divide imbibers to the extent of a ‘Marmite’ scenario but it is leading in that direction.
Oxford Botanic Physic Gardens Gin 42.1 ABV https://www.theoxfordartisandistillery.com
Oxford excels in studies of all sorts; part of that knowledge is used in their organic gin. It is obvious that no detail is left out; local ancient heritage grain with 25 botanicals mainly from the 1648 plant list compiled by Jacob Bobart, the first garden keeper of the UK’s oldest physic garden. As you would expect, the gin has floral notes tempered by the herbs with a dryish nutty finish.
Roku Gin 43 ABV https://rokugin.suntory.com/en/gb
This was the last gin sampled for this feature; it turned out to be an excellent finale. Inevitably, this Japanese gin is produced differently with the 14 botanicals (six unique to Japan); they are distilled separately. Yuzu fruit is the character builder, no one is flattering about its appearance as many use the quote “It looks a bit like a lime that fell off a lorry” but its slightly acidic citrus flavours combine to create a balanced, clean tasting gin. Another that joins any short list.
Secret Garden Christmas Gin 39 ABV https://www.theoldcuriosity.co.uk
Christmas time fits this gin well with its distinctly mellow flavours with cinnamon, cardamom and a touch of ginger; it is smooth and light. Whilst the distillers recommend a mixer, taken neat this 39 ABV gin surprises with the amount of warmth, no heat on the palate which is followed by a long finish.
Silent Pool 43 ABV https://silentpooldistillers.com
I found this gin shortly after its launch; it joined my list of favourite gins. It stays there despite many others being tasted since. Despite its strength, it is quite refined and not in your face as is, say, Tangueray, it is a more mature taste without the punch.
Sipsmith Zesty Orange 40 ABV https://sipsmith.com
This gin also has a very definitive concentration of flavours but focused on orange. In a positive manner, it joins Tangueray’s Flor de Sevilla Gin as both have a clean, clear refreshing taste. Anyone could justify adding a little subtle tonic as the integrity of the flavour opens out to produce a longer drink. I was going to say a summer drink but why not year-round?
6 O’Clock Sloe Gin 26 ABV https://www.6oclockgin.com
Most commercial sloe gins lack the body and depth that home infusions usually produce. Even when compared to other commercial gins on offer, this gin disappoints as it does not have much to say for itself. One wonders if enough sloes are used despite their claims. It lacks the fullness that is a main characteristic of sloes in gin, and there is effectively no finish to savour.
Tarquin’s Strawberry and Lime 38 ABV https://www.tarquinsgin.com
Despite its relatively low alcohol content, it had quite a punch on first sip. In contrast to that punch, on the nose, it was really quite sweet with the strawberry, hence the reaction. Unfortunately, the strawberry on the nose produced a distinctly sweet aroma. The spirit was rather raw on tasting and left me in a quandary, nevertheless, it certainly has character. Adding just a drop of bland mixer just killed it. However, it is a bit of a dark horse as repeated sips were increasingly positive. Perhaps it was just the contrast of the spirit from the follow on from the sweet aromas.
Thunderflower Gin 42 ABV https://thunderflowergin.com
Thunder it is not. This gin joins a league that covers all bases but does not stand out as one to follow. Many will enjoy the taste but surely we are all looking for something individual that stands out from the crowd.
Warner’s Sloe Gin, 30 ABV https://www.warnersdistillery.com
I have to declare an interest here as we make our own infusions; the comparison with Warner’s sloe leaves me a little wanting as other with other brands. Warner’s offering is rather thin with a spike of gin which seems to be separate from the sloe element. The homemade alternative is lush with flavour with a 40 ABV gin simply complementing the fruit.
Whitely Neill Rhubarb and Ginger 43 ABV https://www.whitleyneill.com/en_GB
I cautiously tasted this gin as another well-known brand has a rhubarb based gin which I remember for all the wrong reasons. This tasting was very largely a pleasure, the rhubarb comes through well and is still there for a good, long finish. In the middle and longer, the combination of the ginger and higher than average alcohol level is rather overpowering. Nevertheless, it will surely keep gaining a keen following.
The tasting was fun, informative and thought-provoking. Most people drink G&Ts but how many distillers have really worked through the whole equation with tonics to create a well-balanced G&T? It is easy for them to recommend Fever Tree as that is high fashion, deemed up-scale and carries a certain status. I would be interested to see gins developed to complement specific tonics and v.v., perhaps even producing a 20/25 ABV G&T. Whilst the marketing would probably prove a challenge, you could get the flavours balanced and for many, avoid the burn that neat gin can produce.