In the time it takes you to read this, four new gins will have launched. Fact. Clinton Cawood calls in a panel of hardened surfers to ride the latest launches from the gin tsunami
Each one has something to differentiate it, whether it’s botanicals, the location of the distillery or a unique bottle. And in amongst all that noise, it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of which ones are actually any good.If you’ve been predicting bust for gin’s boom, you might need another gaze into your crystal ball, because there’s no sign of it. New distilleries and juniper spirits appear to pop up on a near daily basis and if anything, it’s all speeding up, with the majority emerging from the UK, but increasingly from further afield too.
HOW IT WORKS
Out of concern for our panellists’ health and sanity, each was expected to taste just half of our 22-gin selection, although some went beyond the call of duty and tasted them all. Each gin was rated out of 20, with tasters aware of the abv and price of each. Scores were collated to give a percentage, with only those scoring above 50% listed here. Prices given are all RRPs, and all gins are 70cl unless otherwise specified.
This is, of course, what the blind tasting was invented for. So we called in a willing group of juniper-loving bartenders, and gathered a frankly terrifying number of recent releases – all launched within the last year.
There were 22 gins tasted on the day, and there could have been many more.
As you can imagine, the results were as varied as the spirits themselves, with some experimental examples that worked, some that didn’t, and of course some solid traditional gins.
85 Star of Bombay Gin
Now that Bombay has its own distillery at Laverstoke Mill, master distiller Nik Fordham has added a gin to the top of the range. It retains some Bombay Sapphire DNA, but has new botanicals, and a slower vapour-infusion distillation. The abv has also been dialled right up to 47.5%, although you’d never know to taste it. It’s punchy on the nose, yet beautifully balanced on the palate.
This was the top-scoring gin for a number of our tasters, and not one had a bad thing to say about it. They praised some serious juniper notes on both nose and palate, and described this as both bold and elegant. More than one taster talked about mixability, but this was also pointed out as an excellent sipping gin just as it is. And all at a reasonable price. Remarkable.
47.5% abv. £35. Bacardi Brown-Forman Brands, 01962 762450
79 Daffy’s Gin
This one’s distilled in the Midlands, although the brand is based in Edinburgh, and it’s made with Scottish water, French spirit, Balkan juniper and Lebanese mint. The combination works though, and our panellists were generous with their praise of this approachable, versatile, and ultimately quite classic gin.
Juniper played a big part in the flavour profile although its headline botanical, mint, did not. Panellists described this as delicate, multi-functional, sweet and savoury, and ultimately delicious. Said one taster: ‘I would drink this straight all day.’
43.4% abv. £34. Daffy’s, 0131 343 6695
75 Silent Pool Gin
This Surrey Hills distillery comes complete with a legend about a local haunted pool, but more importantly, it produces a damn fine gin. Tasters were relieved to find a juniper-forward spirit, made more complex by the addition of some distinct spice flavours – coriander and cardamom in particular – as well as a floral element.
A bitter note on the palate made our panellists think this would be well suited to use with quinine – a useful characteristic in a gin. It inspired some interesting cocktail recommendations too, from Aviations to White Ladies.
43% abv. £35. Cask Liquid Marketing, 07944 835 356
74 Fords Gin
The gin in the bartender-favourite 86 Co range, Fords is made by Thames Distillers using a fairly conventional list of botanicals. The result is an unsurprisingly well-made spirit with a classic flavour profile – what’s not to like? Our panel certainly couldn’t find fault with this, particularly its dominant juniper notes, supported by some big citrus peel character.
Crucially, a number of tasting notes used the word ‘mixable’ – something that couldn’t be said for all of the gins being tasted on the day. ‘Would go well with a G&T, and the abv makes it appealing for a Martini.’ Which is the best praise you can give a gin, really.
45% abv. £30. Cask Liquid Marketing, 07944 835 356
74 Makar Glasgow Gin
In keeping with the age-old tradition of peddling some gin while you wait for your whisky to age for three years, the brand new Glasgow Distillery has launched Makar Glasgow Gin. And if its juniper-flavoured efforts are anything to go by, the whisky will be worth the wait.
It’s also notable for being the highest-scoring non-traditional gin in this line-up. Tasters described a spirit that was anything but classic in its nature, from big floral notes to a vegetal grassiness, not to mention some Asian spice and dried fruit. Definitely one of the more successful experimental gins we’ve seen. ‘The gin equivalent of CK1 – fresh and fun, and doesn’t take itself too seriously,’ said one.
43% abv. £35. The Glasgow Distillery Company
73 Brighton Gin
Brighton’s got its very own gin, and our bartender panellists like it. There was some serious botanical intensity on the nose, with citrus, anise, lavender and a spicy coriander note. This was seen by our panel as a good all-rounder. For some, this lacked the same intensity on the palate, and there were questions about whether a little more alcohol would help here. But others praised the delicate mouthfeel, and could see this used in cocktails.
‘I see this in a Martini, paired with tomato bruschetta,’ said one. No doubt exactly what the distillers had in mind!
40% abv. £38.99. Brighton Gin, 07794 279 293
71 Chilgrove Dry Gin
The incredibly English Chilgrove is a punchy, juniper-heavy gin distilled in the South Downs. This was both peppery and spicy, with a good herbal component too – some described sage, or thyme. This was made still more forceful by some noticeable alcohol on both nose and palate. This inspired tasters when it came to cocktail recommendations, with suggestions for Aviations, Clover Clubs or Gimlets, ‘where you want an aggressive gin to stand out,’ said one.
44% abv. £29. Chilgrove Gin
71 Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Gin
One of the more unusual gins in this tasting, at least on paper, Ferdinand’s Saar Gin is not only made with 30 botanicals, but it includes an infusion of Riesling wine from the Saar region. Interestingly, this didn’t result in an overly complex, vinous gin. Instead, this was a steely, serious spirit.
Tasters described juniper, citrus, some spice, and a distant honeycomb note. It didn’t mess around. One panellist said it best: ‘Old school, self-assured, and pulls no punches.’ Scores were generally high for this, although some marked it down for price.
42% abv. £47.40/50cl. Amathus Drinks, 020 8951 9840
70 58 Gin
One of the new wave of London craft distillers, this is made in the Hackney Downs in small quantities. Mark Marmont is making a spirit with a restrained nose, subtle juniper character, and some sweetness on the palate. But the really defining thing was the citrus. So much citrus. Panellists talked about lemon, lime, marmalade and orange sherbet. One taster saw this doing wonders to a Breakfast Martini, while another thought someone might have slipped some Cointreau into the tasting. Basically, if you like citrus fruit, this one’s for you…
43% abv. £35/50cl. 58 Gin, 07547 141 642
70 Two Birds Old Tom Gin
There seems to be something rather divisive about Old Tom gin as a style, and Two Birds’ entry into the category was no exception. There was nothing to suggest any sweetness on what was a good nose, with juniper, spice and citrus in good balance, and a liquorice note. The palate was more controversial. Although the sweetness certainly wasn’t extreme, some thought it wasn’t balanced with enough botanical character. Others saw its merits though. ‘This would go well with maybe bacon.
A breakfast gin,’ said one.
40% abv. £30-£35. Union Distillers, 01858 414256
69 Hayman’s Family Reserve Gin
Not quite an aged gin, Hayman’s Family Reserve gets three weeks in Scotch whisky barrels. While no oak was evident in the gin, there was a good deal of spice. Tasters identified curry, cumin and coriander. The palate on this gutsy gin was praised for its texture, alongside a fruity element too and a distinct anise note. A fascinating spirit, and at a very decent price in this company. Worth experimenting with in a Martini, said at least one taster.
41.3% abv. £28. Love Drinks, 020 7501 9630
67 The Lakes Gin
Made in the Lake District from both classic and local botanicals, The Lakes Gin sits alongside a vodka and a blended British whisky in the portfolio.This proved to be a sturdy, dependable gin. Some herbal and spice notes made themselves felt, while the juniper only showed itself towards the finish. For a few tasters, there was a grassiness here too, and an overall savouriness well suited for a Martini.
43.7% abv. £29.95. Lakes Distillery, 0191 255 9800
THE WALK OF SHAME
With this many gins constantly being launched, it’s inevitable that there were going to be some clouds in amongst those silver linings. And it’s another inevitability that these are going to inspire some of the best tasting notes.
Here are some of our favourites, with names omitted to protect the innocent.
‘Shitty weather, cauliflower and macaroni cheese. Very English.’
‘Melted rubber and old KFC.’
‘Caught chewing fairy lights on Christmas Eve’ [A characteristic we all look for in a gin – Ed.]
‘An alien sweetness with a chemistry class complexity.’
‘Feet, and washing that’s been left in the machine for too long.’
‘I will drink anything, and I struggle to drink this.’
66 Stovell’s Wildcrafted Gin
Made with foraged botanicals by the team behind Stovell’s restaurant in Surrey, this gin divided the panel like no other. Some couldn’t handle the more unusual, funky, dusty notes, and a slightly chemical element. Its fans, however, appreciated its earthy, warm and spicy character, and imagined it in a Gibson or Martinez.
42% abv. £42/75cl. Stovell’s, 01276 858000
65 Rock Rose Gin
Joining the growing ranks of Scottish gins is Rock Rose. It includes local botanicals like rose root, sea buckthorn and rowan berries and inspired strong responses from our panel, some negative, but many fiercely positive. ‘Super spicy, cooling and minty,’ said one, while another described it as ‘delicate and fragrant’, recommending it in a Martini with some Riesling. One taster just wrote ‘I REALLY LIKE THIS GIN,’ all in capitals, which is all the endorsement you need.
41.5% abv. £34. Dunnet Bay Distillers, 01847 851287
64 VII Hills London Dry Gin
If your gin’s got celery, artichoke and fennel, you’ve got to accept it won’t be for everyone. But postives included a peppery, watercress note, some anise, and a fruity, floral element. Tasters didn’t like the barky astringency; ‘sucks the moisture out of my mouth,’ complained two panellists. In summary, this was ‘masculine, earthy and savoury,’ which does have its uses.
43% abv. £34. VII Hills
63 Beckett’s London Dry Gin
Defined by its use of English juniper berries, the flavour profile here did indeed feature juniper. This was a crowd-pleaser of a gin, crisp with some good spicy notes, a citrus kick and a little bit of fruit on the palate. There were concerns that it didn’t pack enough punch on the palate though, and maybe wouldn’t stand up in a mixed drink. Possibly lacking in alcohol, thought a few of our panellists.
40% abv. £31.50. Kingston Distillers, 020 8819 4872
63 East London Liquor Company Premium Gin Batch No 1
As the name says, this is produced in East London, and there’s nothing conventional about it. Tasting notes varied wildly, with some praising a ‘lovely biscuity aroma, like baking bread’, and a ‘creamy and buttery’ element too, along with ‘caramel, vanilla, white chocolate and double cream on the nose, with salt, lard, smoke and walnuts on the palate’. Not exactly gin, you’ll agree, but a rather fascinating spirit nonetheless.
45% abv. £26. East London Liquor Company, 020 3011 0980
54 Two Birds Sipping Gin
Despite being labelled ‘gin’, there was little to identify it with this category – and its scores suffered. That price point didn’t help it much either. But evaluated on its own merit, our panel had effusive praise for it. They described caramel, tobacco, cardamon, cedarwood – and a comparison was made to Metaxa.
47.3% abv. £48. Union Distillers, 01858 414256
50 Forest Gin
This Peak District gin had a lot going for it, but alas not the price. Locally sourced botanicals combine with organic juniper and coriander seed, resulting in a juniper-forward gin supported by citrus notes, herbal flavours and a touch of sweetness. ‘Like a comfy sweater’, praised one taster.
42% abv. £60. Forest Gin
Also tasted: Bobby’s Schiedam Dry Gin, Greenall’s Wild Berry Gin and Jinzu
Many thanks to the team at The Shrub & Shutter for hosting the tasting and for all their help on the day.
Clinton Cawood, Imbibe
‘These weren’t all going to be outstanding, but the main issue with those that weren’t was their inability to stand up to tonic, which is almost a prerequisite for a gin. There were a number of good examples though, with good juniper character, mixability, and price point.’
Bobby Hiddleston, independent
‘These gins were too expensive, which isn’t their fault, as costs and tax don’t favour the producer. But these will never gain any legs in the market.’
Troels Knudsen, ex-MASH
‘A couple of years ago it felt like the gin bubble would burst any minute, but the category keeps going from strength to strength, with a continuous stream of interesting and exciting new releases.’
Michele Mariotti, American Bar at The Savoy
‘The gins I sampled were moving away from juniper, and I found mouthfeel to be disappointing. There seems to be the lack of a bridge between producer and user, which is us bartenders. Price points were also sometimes unjustifiable’
Teddy Robinson, Grind & Co
‘Few had that much juniper and one particularly traditional gin provided an interesting contrast. I think the category has reached that level of maturity that people can try different things.’
Matt Uden, The Shrub & Shutter
‘The amount of gins that have been launched this year is ridiculous! It was exciting to try so many of them all in one place. Some of the gins have been made using very obscure ingredients.’
Damian Williams, Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour
‘A number of gins covered the same flavour profile as existing brands, often at double the price, or just didn’t offer anything new. The quality gins, however, were exceptional. Just don’t expect all of these brands to be on the shelves in 12 months!’
Adam Wright, Grind & Co
‘It’s quite an exciting category, with trends in foraging bringing out more interesting botanicals. The fact that there were so many here says a lot – that it’s a very overcrowded marketplace. I think we’re about to hit the peak.’
- Traditional-style gins were our panellists’ favourites here, where juniper notes were dominant, and strong, distinct botanical character made these able to withstand some mixing.
- Prices varied significantly, but £30-£35 was the sweet spot for our panel. Some high-priced gins lost points in spite of being decent spirits.
- Mixability was a big issue for our tasters, and many thought it was lacking overall here. For a gin to be successful, they thought, it needed to at least be able to stand their ground next to tonic, and not every example here had the botanical intensity, or abv, to do that.