The days of London dry gin—and London dry gin alone—are long gone. Ever since Hendrick’s turned the gin world on its ear with its unorthodox use of cucumber, rose petals and chamomile, the juniper spirit has never been the same. Both craft and large-scale distillers have since started experimenting with botanicals far beyond the traditional array of coriander, angelica, cassia, orris and the like. The freshest and most surprising of these spirits are the ones that seek to define themselves with local botanicals and, in doing so, capture a true sense of place. These are nine gins that take you on a journey, no lane ticket required.
Made to the specifications of the original Bordiga recipe, this gin has its roots in a juniper distillation that has been made since the company was founded in the Italian town of Cuneo in 1888. The key to this gin’s intense flavor is the wild juniper gathered by hand in the Maritime Alps. Because of the altitude and the ocean influences, the juniper berries have intensely concentrated essential oils. Along with juniper, the three other principal ingredients are cardamom, angelica and a secret citrus-forward botanical, which are macerated separately in triple-distilled alcohol.
The first gin distillery in the U.K.’s Dorset keeps it local while still producing a true dry gin. You’ll find familiar botanicals here in the form of Macedonian juniper, coriander, angelica, orris root, cassia and Seville orange. The addition of lime peel brightens up the caramel-y notes of the orange. Where the recipe strays from the norm is in its use of Dorset botanicals, including crisp, salty samphire, tart elderberries and New Forest gorse flowers, whose vibrant yellow blooms have the scent of coconut. The botanicals are combined with New Forest spring water and a base spirit made from British wheat, which brings an additional local note to the gin.
The founders of Four Pillars have more than 50 years of experience in the spirits business, and their combined perspectives make for a distinctly Australian gin. Along with traditional botanicals sourced from the Mediterranean and Asia, this gin features indigenous ingredients that include Australian oranges, as well as lemon myrtle, with its tangy lemon-lime flavor, and Tasmanian pepperberry leaf, which not surprisingly tastes somewhat peppery. Along with its dry gin, Four Pillars also makes a Navy-strength gin, Spiced Negroni gin (with additional pepperberry, plus cinnamon, blood orange, ginger and Grains of Paradise), and Modern Australian gin (with red and green Szechuan peppers, macadamia nuts, Rose Glow apple, tangelos and native quandong).
Imagine the Mediterranean—Spain, France, Italy—in a bottle. Gin Mare is made in Spain, one of the largest gin-consuming countries in the world. And when the Giro brothers decided to make gin, they did so with the intent of using only local botanicals. They worked their way through 45 individual types of produce, finally deciding on Arbequina olives, which they married with juniper grown on the family’s land. Local thyme, rosemary, basil and cardamom are balanced by a customized blend of sweet Seville oranges, bitter oranges from Valencia and lemons from Lleida. The result is a Spanish gin that embraces the whole of the Mediterranean. Think Martini—with olives of course.
You might not think of Oakland, Calif., as a center for gin production, but Oakland Spirits Company is doing some innovative things with the juniper spirit. The base is made from grapes, due to the company’s proximity to a local winery. The grapes give Sea-Gin a gentle, almost soft mouthfeel. Botanically speaking, this gin is quite literally briny, due to the use of locally foraged Mendocino nori, bay sage and lemongrass. Other locally influenced spirits include a lemongrass brandy and a sage-based winter gin, both seasonal.
Another gin that uses unconventional flavoring agents, Apóstoles is the first premium gin from Argentina. It focuses on yerba mate, a rain forest herb that’s primarily used to make mate, which is a popular drink in Central and South America. Along with yerba mate, the gin marries peppermint, eucalyptus, coriander and pink grapefruit skin. The presence of juniper is subtle; the overall effect is a blend of bright citrus, savory herbs and fresh, zingy mint.
Tamworth, N.H., is rich in local flora that the bees use to produce a variety of honeys. Apiary celebrates this natural synergy, while drawing on intriguing local botanicals. A forest-y note comes from juniper, as well as poplar buds (which lend the gin a soft yellow tone) and pine rosin. Red clover adds a note of honeyed sweetness, which is echoed in the smooth viscosity of the gin itself.
The saturated—and 100 percent natural—yellow tone of this gin hints at the unique elements inside. There are six native Arctic botanicals, all of them picked in the brief summer of the frozen northern tundra. Citrusy Nordic juniper, wild rose hips, arctic blend (an Inuit tea that tastes of conifers), cloudberry, Labrador tea and crowberry make this a distinctly Canadian gin. The texture of the spirit is velvety, while the flavor is a combination of savory and sweet with citrusy, floral and herbal notes.
Considering that Ventura Spirits distills vodka from local strawberries, it’s no surprise that it also makes a gin from 100 percent native wild-harvest California botanicals. Juniper is certainly present, but a savory/citrus quality comes from an assortment of Cali botanicals that include sagebrush, purple sage, bay, yerba santa, pixie mandarin peels and chuchupate (think celery and parsley). The name Wilder implies exactly that—a gin that smells and tastes of the Central California coast.