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Gin can be distilled from almost anything, including grain, fruit, potatoes, or grapes. But what defines this ever-popular spirit is the predominant use of juniper, which must be included in the mix of botanicals that flavor this important cocktail component.
Gin, a descendant of the Dutch spirit genever, has been around for centuries. Once known as “mother’s ruin,” gin has been experiencing a renaissance over the past few years, with large and small distilleries alike producing various styles like London dry, barrel-aged, and New Western.
Whether you are in the mood for classic cocktails like a martini or gin and tonic or looking to make something more adventurous, here are some of the best gins out there to try now.
Best Overall: Sipsmith
Sipsmith might be a relative newcomer to the gin category, but the London distillery is making some of the best you can find. “Sipsmith didn’t reinvent the wheel, but they managed to thread the needle by taking an innovative small-batch craft approach to making a historically spot-on, top-quality commercial gin,” said Alex Smith, partner at San Francisco’s gin palace Whitechapel. You can choose from the original London dry gin, the higher proof VJOP (Very Junipery Over Proof) Gin, or some flavored options like Zesty Orange and Lemon Drizzle.
Best London Dry: Beefeater
There are many well-known brands that make the classic London dry-style of gin, but Beefeater is one of the best and most ubiquitous. While London dry gin does not have to actually be made in London (or even in England), it does need to meet other requirements that govern the distillation process. In short, these gins need to be made from pure grain spirit, with no flavor or artificial additives added after distillation.
Beefeater’s nine-botanical recipe includes juniper, Seville orange, orris, and lemon peel, creating an easy-sipping gin that works well in any cocktail.
Best for Martinis: Tanqueray
Obviously, the company isn't going to give away their secret recipe, but the main botanicals in Tanqueray are thought to be juniper, angelica, coriander, and licorice, giving this gin a crisp, dry flavor that works perfectly in a martini with a twist, a couple of olives, or any way you choose to make it. It's a very juniper-forward gin, which may taste familiar to you if you've tried other classic London dry gins before.
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Best for Gin and Tonics: Bombay Sapphire
Another example of a widely available London Dry-style gin is Bombay Sapphire, instantly recognizable in its light blue bottle. Along with the upfront juniper notes, you’ll find hints of almond, lemon peel, and licorice, making this a fantastic choice for the simple but refreshing gin and tonic. There are just enough floral notes in this gin to make it shine when combined with tonic water and a slice of lemon or lime.
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Best for Negronis: Monkey 47
The Negroni is another classic gin cocktail and one that deserves a flavorful and fragrant gin that can stand up to the bitterness of the Campari and sweetness of the vermouth. Monkey 47 fits that role perfectly. “The long list of botanicals used in making this German gin is extensive, but really well balanced,” said Stephen Kurpinsky, a well-known San Diego bartender and former President of the San Diego chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild. “It’s natural in many traditional gin cocktails.”
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Best Budget: Gordon’s
Don’t let the plastic bottle that often holds this gin fool you, Gordon’s is an inexpensive spirit that stands with the best. It’s produced at the same distillery as Tanqueray, but the character of this London dry gin is different, with a bolder juniper flavor on the palate. This is a simple, economical gin with no frills or flourishes in flavor that's a great option when you're looking for something to use in any gin cocktail.
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Best Top Shelf: Hendrick’s
“Hendrick’s really revived the gin category by thinking outside the box,” said Smith. This Scottish distillery helped to modernize and innovate the gin category with a floral recipe that includes prominent notes of cucumber and rose in the mix of botanicals used. “They injected a real spirit of creativity and inspiration into a category that was hanging on by a thread in terms of market sales and general popularity with the average drinker. They deserve top-shelf status for sure for their quality and their impact.”
Best to Drink Neat: Barr Hill
Barr Hill Gin is made by Vermont’s Caledonia Spirits, and this gin incorporates a unique ingredient that makes it sip extraordinarily well on its own: raw honey. The honey provides a subtle sweetness that complements the juniper flavor—the only only botanical used in this gin—and gives this spirit its uniqueness. The creamy mouthfeel and slightly sweet, slightly floral flavor make this a great sipping gin, whether you like it neat or with a large ice cube to dilute it a bit.
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Best Botanical: The Botanist
The Botanist is a Scottish gin made on Islay, the region best known for its smoky, peated scotch. “The Botanist incorporates a whole lot of local flavors by using locally foraged botanicals around their distillery,” said Smith. “They managed to put quite a lot of botanicals together that work in a remarkably harmonious way. Sometimes local flavors mean ‘this won’t really taste like gin’ but that’s not the case with The Botanist. This gin is a rich and cohesive experience on the palate.”
The company uses 22 botanicals, including lemon balm, wild thyme, chamomile, red clover and, of course, juniper.
Best Barrel Aged: Citadelle Reserve
Barrel-aged gin is a relatively small portion of the gin category, but it’s a very interesting one that can be used in a variety of cocktails or sipped on its own. “Citadelle is a pioneer in the aged gin category,” said Smith. “They began aging gin commercially before anyone else, to my knowledge.” This process imbues the gin with notes of vanilla, oak, and spice that whiskey drinkers will find familiar. Smith believes Citadelle is one of the best out there. “Their approach was a complex solera system of barrels blended together, and it reveals a remarkable visionary and complex thinking when it comes to pushing the envelope of what gin should be.”
The gin is distilled with three unique botanicals—yuzu, genepi, and bleuet—among 19 others, and ages in five different types of wood barrels for five months. Then, the gin from among these barrels is blended to balance the flavor.
Best American: Dorothy Parker
There are so many distilleries making American gin these days, from craft distillers waiting for their whiskey to age to larger operations intent on creating gin using local botanicals. This American gin is made in Brooklyn by the New York Distilling Company, which named it after the famed poet and writer. This is a thoroughly modern gin with hints of classicism, made using a botanical blend that includes elderberries, citrus, cinnamon, and hibiscus, along with the requisite juniper.
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Best Japanese: Roku
Japanese whisky is a hot spirits category at the moment, but Beam Suntory, the main player in that world, also happens to make a very good gin called Roku. “I really enjoy the addition of sansho pepper in this gin, as it gives that slight tingly sensation that makes it distinct and memorable,” said Kurpinsky.
"Roku" in Japanese means six, and the name of this gin references the six Japanese botanicals used in the distilling process, like Sakura flower and yuzu peel. There are also eight other traditional botanicals added, like coriander, juniper, and angelica root. “Try it in a gin and tonic, or a 50/50 martini with blanc vermouth. Both complement the natural Japanese botanicals nicely.”
Best Navy Strength: Fords Officers' Reserve
Navy strength means gin that is higher proof (at least 114 proof), a throwback to the days when the British navy sailed the seas with gin stored onboard near the gunpowder. If the gin was high proof and leaked into the gunpowder, it would still light—hence, the name. Fords introduced its Officers' Reserve Gin in 2019. “It is an excellently executed London dry gin made with mostly traditional old-school botanicals that is wonderful in its original all-purpose expression,” said Smith. “But then they decided to tantalize us with a more concentrated version that they rest in sherry barrels for a touch of authentic British Royal Navy flavor.”
Best Craft: Junipero
Junipero is sort of the OG gin of the craft distilling movement, first entering the market in the early ‘90s. “I have a big soft spot in my heart for Junipero Gin, originally of Anchor Distilling [now Hotaling and Co.] out of Potrero Hill, San Francisco,” said Kurpinsky. “Distilled in the style of a classic London dry, the juniper is pronounced, and this gin will stand up to any cocktail you mix with it. It’s always been a workhorse in my bars, or even now, in my home bar.” The bottle just got a nice redesign as well.
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Jonah Flicker is an experienced writer who has been covering spirits and traveling the world visiting distilleries to taste and discover for many years. His work has appeared in many different national outlets covering trends, new releases, and the stories and innovators behind the spirits. His first love remains whiskey, but he is partial to tequila, rum, gin, cognac, and all things distilled.