- Nothing says summer sipping quite like a glass of gin, topped with tonic water and a slice of lime.
- The herb-infused liquor can vary widely in taste from different distilleries, but generally contains touches of spicy juniper berries, aromatic pine, and refreshing citrus.
- If you enjoy a lighter spirit, try the Japanese Roku Gin with flavors of Yuzu peel and green tea; if you prefer something with a kick, reach for the Irish Drumshanbo Gunpowder Gin which blends orris root from Morocco and cardamom from India.
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After a long (okay, ridiculously long) spring, we're finally ready for a sip of summer… with a gin, a splash of tonic, and a wedge of lime, of course.
Gin is a juniper-infused distilled spirit that hails originally from the British Isles. There are a number of different gin styles and classifications, but what they all have in common is the predominant flavor of juniper berries. After that, gin producers concoct their own combination of "botanicals," which are other natural ingredients and flavorings, to give their own distinct gin spin.
"Like most things in the food and beverage world, deciding which is the 'best' or 'good' is simply a matter of taste and flavor preference," said Henrik Muehle, the general manager of London's Flemings Mayfair Hotel and a board member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. The five-star hotel is known for the personal "gin bars" that they stock in guests' suites with a variety of small batch gins. "For me, the hallmarks of any 'good' gin come down to the distillation process and the botanicals."
To start, he says, how the gin is distilled becomes the first essential piece that creates the base on top of which the juniper and other botanicals will be added.
"The better the distillation process, the more pure the base will be," he said. "A good gin with the right amount of botanicals, simply needs a bit of citrus and tonic to bring out all the natural flavors."
Today there are hundreds of gins, from the big name brands to the small, craft distilleries. We've reached out to several spirits experts to determine which gins are the ones you need to know right now.
1. Roku Gin
Roku is the Japanese word for number six. In this case, it's a reference to the six Japanese botanicals in Roku Gin.
"Sakura flower, sakura leaf, Yuzu peel, sencha tea, Gyokuro (green) tea, and Sansho pepper," said Muehle. "This is a delicate and smooth gin with subtle, sweet citrus, and delicate floral notes."
He recommends it with a light tonic or as a sipping gin with a splash of sparkling water.
2. Williams Elegant 48
What makes Williams Elegant 48 Gin so unique is that it's distilled from 48 varieties of rare apples, which grow in 200-year-old orchards on a farm just north of London, England. Muehle adds that other botanicals include juniper, citrus, and floral notes, giving it a clean and aromatic taste.
"While this gin makes particularly good martini, I personally like this served with elderflower tonic, garnished with a slice of green apple," he said.
3. Martin Millers
If you're looking for small batch gin, look no further than Martin Millers. Distilled in a small batch pot still in England, it is shipped to Iceland where it is reduced to bottling strength with fresh spring water.
"While this gin is a touch spicier than most, its clean taste and superb balance make it hugely enjoyable," said Muehle. "With refreshing notes of citrus followed by notes of cardamom and black pepper, it has a clean taste and a slightly spicy, warming finish."
He recommends drinking it with tonic and garnishing with fresh strawberry and a crack of black pepper.
4. King of Soho
King of Soho gin is made by Howard Raymond, who is the son of Paul Raymond, a property tycoon known for his work that shaped the face of London's Soho neighborhood.
Muehle loves this gin for its juniper and herbal notes, along with grapefruit flavors. He describes it as smooth and elegant with a delicate licorice sweetness. He says it is the perfect choice for a classic Negroni.
5. Ferdinand's Saar Dry Gin
Hailing from Germany, Ferdinand's Saar Dry Gin gives its drinkers a true sense of place. It's crafted with more than 30 different botanicals, including a small amount of semi-sweet Riesling, a wine native to Germany.
"Floral notes with lavender and lemongrass are followed by subtle citrus and rose him," said Muehle. "It has an incredibly soft and dry finish with a long aftertaste."
He recommends it in a dry martini or with Mediterranean tonic.
6. Gin Mare
With botanicals like basil, rosemary, and Arbequina olives, Gin Mare is all about capturing the essence of the Mediterranean Sea. It's fitting, seeing as it's distilled in Spain. Muehle loves this memorable gin served with Mediterranean tonic and garnished with fresh thyme or in a dry martini.
7. Tanqueray Ten
When you say gin, the first thing that inevitably comes to mind is the good old fashioned gin and tonic. The G&T is a classic, whether it's World Gin Day or not. If you're mixing up a few this weekend, Kara Newman, the spirits editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine and author of several cocktail books, most recently "Cocktails with a Twist," recommends reaching for the Tanqueray Ten.
"Clean, crisp, classic," Newman said. "It's more citrusy than the standard Tanqueray Dry, but still has a harmonious mix of grapefruit, citrus, and juniper."
8. Plymouth Gin
Distilled in Plymouth, England, Plymouth Gin is one of the world's most recognized brands — and for good reason. Newman recommends it because it is a full-bodied gin that goes light on the juniper.
"This makes it versatile enough for a wide range of cocktails," she told Business Insider. Her favorite cocktail to use Plymouth with is a Negroni.
9. Fords Gin
Fords, distilled in London, is the brainchild of eighth generation master distillers Charles Maxwell and Simon Ford. The gin is steeped for 15 hours with a botanical blend prior to distillation. Newman likes Fords for its notes of citrus, spice, and a distinct note of cilantro. She calls it a great "workhorse gin," and prefers to sip it in martinis and gimlets.
10. St. George Terroir Mount Tam Gin
Cocktails with a conscience. That's what this gin is all about, seeing as they donate a portion of their profits to the California wilderness. This distinct boutique-style gin comes from a craft distiller in Alameda, California. You'll notice strong notes of pine, probably because one of the botanicals used is Douglas fir. Others include fennel and sage.
"The foresty flavor plays well with lime," Newman said. "I'd mix it into a Southside Fizz."
11. Ki No Bi Kyoto Dry Gin
Japan definitely has a share of the market cornered when it comes to whiskey, but did you know that they've also got a strong grasp on gins, as well? This one is from a small producer in Kyoto. It's rice-based with floral notes that are evocative of shiso and bamboo leaf.
"What I love about the new-isa wave of Japan-made gins is their incredibly light, silky texture," said Newman. "I'd gladly have this in a martini-style drink with a shiso garnish, or highball-style in a 'sonic' — gin, soda water, and tonic."
12. Hayman's Old Tom
What's neat about Hayman's Old Tom Gin is that it's distilled in a style that dates back to the 19th century, which leaves it tasting slightly sweet.
"The result," said Newman, "is that the citrus reads a bit like candied lemon peel, but it's not too heavy-handed." She recommends this to mix a Martinez cocktail.
13. Silent Pool Gin
What stands out with Silent Pool Gin is its versatility. It can be enjoyed in a simple gin and tonic, or mixed in a variety of different cocktails. What's noticeable about this gin is the toned down juniper flavor, which allows for the 23 other botanicals to shine through.
"We tried [this gin] and loved it," said Piero Procida, director of food and beverage at The London West Hollywood at Beverly Hills. "The distillation process is very well thought-out and specific to this gin and what is left is a very high quality gin, with a sweet floral-like nose and a savory flavor."
Procida features this cocktail in the hotel's signature drink, the London Calling, made with hibiscus liqueur, grapefruit, lemon, and agave.
14. The Botanist Islay Dry Gin
This particular gin hails from Scotland from Islay, an island typically known for its scotches. Made from 31 different botanicals, it is ranked as one of the highest quality gins in the world.
"You are going to find a big nose of citrus in this gin, with slight menthol and lots of floral qualities… with a nice, long, spicy finish," said Procida. "You are still going to find that typical juniper characteristic in this gin, but it certainly does not overpower the other flavors."
Procida says The Botanist is a favorite because it is a boutique-style gin that is all about quality and versatility. With so many different botanicals, it is easy to pair it with other ingredients to make several styles of cocktails.
15. Drumshanbo Gunpowder Gin
What draws most people into Drumshanbo Gunpowder Gin is the name itself. "When I saw 'gunpowder,' all I could think of was the smell of firecrackers, but it intrigued me enough to taste it," said Procida. "The name itself is actually in reference to the gunpowder green tea from China, which is used as one of its botanicals and one of its predominant flavors."
Other ingredients include juniper from Macedonia, orris root from Morocco, cardamom from India, and others. Procida favors this gin, calling it "art in a bottle." "For a boutique hotel that enjoys exploring the world of craft ingredients, this gin is the closest thing to craft you will get," he said.
16. Sipsmith Gin
Sipsmith Gin serves up a few different styles of gin. Its London Dry Gin is classic and bold, with floral notes on the nose, a strong juniper-forward taste, and a finish that hints of lemon. The Lemon Drizzle Gin is more sweet on the nose, with hints of vanilla and a licorice finish. The Zesty Orange Ginhas more of a tangy finish, with a hint of sweet cinnamon.
"When it comes to gin I prefer a classic, juniper forward London Dry style for icy cold martini. Sipsmith Gin is one of my favorites for everything from martinis and Negronis, to gin & tonics," said Prairie Rose, a Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET)-trained drinks writer and podcast host. "It has a classic blueprint, but with a sexy, fresh, and modern quality."
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