Gin is seeing a revival as a hip and modern spirit for the younger crowd. Compared to whisky, it’s seen as a more vibrant and refreshing liquor and a versatile player in the craft cocktail world.
In a way, this isn’t at all surprising. Gin is undoubtedly one of the most exciting spirits in the world. It’s a blank canvass with an endless variety of creative ingredients and processes you can use. Indeed, there’s also a resurgence of gin brands, young and old, that are experimenting with new takes on this old favourite.
There’s no better time to be a gin lover. But with the overwhelming number of choices, where do you even begin? To help you out, here are some exemplary gins that we feel you should start with. We’ve purposefully included more craft gins on this list to jumpstart your journey – you can go back to the classics afterwards.
The Best UK Gin 2020
- ABV: 43.4%
- Flavour Profiles: citrus, pepper
Hendrick’s Gin took the world by storm back in 1999 when distiller Lesley Gracie decided to move away from tradition. She used two new ingredients, rose and cucumber, and started a new revolution of handcrafted gins. Years later, Hendricks continues to revolutionise the gin world with regular limited-edition releases. This Lunar Gin is one of them.
This version of gin uses 11 unique botanicals on top of the signature cucumber and rose of Hendricks. The result is a distinct floral and spicy bouquet, punctuated with hints of citrus. It’s a calming, even sensual, take on a gin with more warm flavours coming from the spices.
This is a fantastic gin for a nightcap, best served as a gin and tonic to preserve all of the beautiful qualities of this limited edition batch.
- ABV: 42%
- Flavour Profiles: citrus, orange, earl grey tea
This is a faithful take on a classic London Dry gin, save for one ingredient – earl grey tea. It turns out, the strong tea and citrus flavour of earl grey is a perfect match for the orange peel, juniper, and other spices in this gin. It adds a new layer of complexity and elegance to an otherwise familiar spirit.
TEA Earl Grey Gin is specially handcrafted in Cambridge and is infused with Assam Earl Grey Tea sourced with the help of a Savoy tea master. The orangey, citrusy, and slightly earthy gin is a fantastic addition to a dry martini.
- ABV: 43%
- Flavour Profiles: citrus edge, crispness from the rhubarb, warm spice
The gin world never ceases to amaze with the unique concoctions they think up. Such is the impression with the Whitley Neill Handcrafted Gin, and its two signature ingredients.
At first glance, rhubarb and ginger might seem like an odd choice, but a sip will tell you that it makes sense. Rhubarb lends a nice crispiness to the gin that gives it a refreshing edge, which is nicely balanced by the warm aftertaste of ginger. This blends in exceptionally well with the other familiar gin elements like citrus peel, coriander, and of course juniper.
This is a refreshing gin that’s fantastic served on the rocks for you to appreciate its subtlety fully.
- ABV: 41%
- Flavour Profiles: orange, citrus
Malfly is a vibrant gin that’s generously flavoured with blood orange, giving it a unique profile right off the bat. Blood orange, by nature, has a distinct berry-like flavour on top of its usual citrus, and this is reflected well in the gin.
This is decidedly fruit-forward gin, sweet and heady, with the usual spice notes taking a back seat. That’s why Malfly is best used, counterintuitively, for cocktails where gin is not traditionally called for. Fruity cocktails like a Cosmo or even a Screwdriver will find a new twist with this bright gin.
If you want something fruity, refreshing, and different, Malfly Gin is highly recommended. However, we believe this is something that a gin purist might not take too much to.
- ABV: 40%
- Flavour Profiles: warm spices
Opihr is a London Dry Gin that puts the spice notes on the spotlight. Indeed, it uses spices of the Orient in its formulation, which includes such exotic ingredients such as cardamom, Moroccan coriander, and Indonesian cubeb berries.
The result is a complex, spicy gin that offers a unique flavour profile. The note is decidedly rich and robust, a far departure from the usual refreshing citrus that gin is known for. It’s excellent for creating oriental-inspired cocktails that highlight the warmth of the spices, or as a spicier accompaniment to a Bloody Mary.
Opihr London Dry Gin might take some getting used to, but the complex profile it serves is undoubtedly rewarding.
- ABV: 40%
- Flavour Profiles: sharp citrus and tartness from the grapefruit and pomelo
Chase is a distillery in Herefordshire best known for its Potato Vodka, and they’ve created one of the most refreshing gins around by adding in grapefruit and pomelo. These two fruits are known for their sharp citrus and decidedly tart notes, something that’s a wonderful addition to a gin base.
As a whole, this gin drinks cleanly with a heady bouquet of juniper and lime zest. The tartness from the grapefruit amazingly masks the alcohol burn, giving the impression that the gin is easy to drink.
Wonderfully balanced, this gin is an incredible addition to a Negroni. Of course, enjoying it on the rocks is an equally valid choice, too.
- ABV: 43.3%
- Flavour Profiles: tea, elderflower, orange
Tobermory Hebridean Gin marries two amazing spirits into one – gin and whisky. It uses hints of young whisky from its Tobermory stills, plus a splattering of unique ingredients like heather, tea, and elderflower.
The result is a gin that drinks with tons of complexity. On the palate, it presents a citrus-forward flavour, followed by subtle herbs and spices. This is then finished off with a creamy mouthfeel and hint of malt sweetness from the whisky. It’s genuinely one of the more complex gins we’ve tasted.
How Is The Best UK Gin Made?
Gin is a distilled spirit infused with fruits, botanicals, and other ingredients. For gin, life starts as a fermented beverage like malt wine. This is then distilled – a process which involves boiling the wine, allowing the alcohol to evaporate then collecting it. The result you get from this process is a concentrated spirit with heightened alcohol content.
For gin production, this is redistilled, but this time infused with gin botanicals. A “basket” or chamber filled with these botanicals and herbs is placed on top of a pot still for the second distillation. As the alcohol vapours rise, it extracts the flavour from the gin basket, getting their unique notes in the process.
Gin can also be flavoured via a direct infusion process, such as in compound gin. Here, essences such as nutmeg or coriander are added directly to the finished gin before bottling.
How to Taste the Best UK Gin
Gin is a complex spirit that’s meant to be savoured, so you can fully appreciate all the subtle and nuanced flavours that the distiller worked hard to perfect. There’s an art to tasting gin that’s just chugging it down in a shot glass.
It starts with getting the right gin glassware. This part is essential, as a proper glass can help accentuate the flavours and improve your drinking experience. Look for a glass with an inward curve to help concentrate all of the aromas. A stemmed glass is a nice touch as well so you can avoid touching the gin and heating it with your hand.
Next, take a page off the whisky taster’s playbook and add a splash of water to your gin. This helps remove some of the alcohol “bite” from the gin, allowing you to taste subtle flavours even more.
Before you sip, don’t forget to take a whiff! Smelling is an integral part of the tasting process, as it prepares your mind of what profiles to expect. You can also check for any off aromas, which is a sign of a poorly made gin.
Lastly, take a long sip. With the gin watered down, you can better swirl it around your mouth to get the full experience. Note the flavours you’re tasting. Aside from juniper, are there citrus flavours? How about spicy, floral, or woody tones? Subsequent sips should reveal more character to you.
If possible, note your taste observations in a notebook or note app. Tracking every gin you taste, as well as your impressions can help you grow as a gin connoisseur. Not to mention, you’ll have better knowledge when you’re buying your next bottle.
How to Buy the Best UK Gin
Unlike other spirits like whisky or vodka, gin has a lot more flavour profiles and ingredients, making it much more interesting to shop around for. To help you expand your gin knowledge, here is some crucial information you need to know.
The Types of Gin
Gin can be classified roughly into several types, each with a defining characteristic. These act as a guide, so you can get a rough idea on how the gin might taste like (or at least, what it’s supposed to taste like).
London Dry Gin is the most common type of gin, and what most people actually imagine when they hear the word gin. It has a neutral and classic flavour, headed predominantly by juniper. Citrus peels, coriander, and some minor botanicals complete the tasting note. Classic British gins like Tanqueray, Beefeater, and Gordons are all London dry gins.
Craft Gins, also called international gins, are where some of the newer, more experimental gins are grouped. They are characterised as being more adventurous and bold when it comes to their ingredient choices. Any fruit, herb, spice, and even tea are fair game here, so it’s harder to predict what the collective tasting profile of craft gin is like. The category was undoubtedly spearheaded by Hendricks Gin, and several British, American, and international gins all followed suit.
Sloe Gin is a speciality gin that’s made with blackthorn fruit (sloe), giving it a distinct reddish colour. Compared to other types of gin, the alcohol content of sloe gin is usually lower at just around 15 to 30% ABV. It has a distinct berry-like flavour and a prominent sweetness coming from the sugar used in the production process.
Old Tom Gin is another special version of gin. It’s slightly sweetened compared to a London dry, but less so than an authentic genever. Old Tom Gin is a generally rare type of gin, with only a handful of distilleries producing it.
Price vs Taste
Unlike aged spirits like whisky or tequila, gin has a more “neutral” price scheme with any “luxury” or “premium” branding. The cost generally goes up when production is lower, a.k.a. when buying from small-batch distillers. Of course, this isn’t an indication of quality or taste, unless you’re familiar with the brand.
So it’s best not to rely on price when buying. Instead, look at the flavour profile and ingredients of the gin – something that most brands will clearly state. Is it something you’ll dig and like?
One way to try out a gin – without committing to a whole bottle just yet – is to hit your local cocktail bar. These usually carry a wide selection of gins that you can freely order (neat, preferably, so you can taste all the subtle flavours). Take note of which ones you like, and go from there.