Gin sales in the UK are expected to pass 100 million bottles by mid-2020 as the nation remains mad on juniper and citrus. The gin shelf has become so crowded that it can be difficult to spot the real gems among the bandwagoners and the marketing fluff. But even in this brave new world with hundreds of brands to choose from there are quality producers still innovating, refining, and rethinking this centuries old spirit.
Ki-No-Bi Kyoto Dry Gin, 45.7% (£45.95; The Whisky Exchange)
The Kyoto distillery makes gin that showcases the amazing produce found in Japan’s ancient capital. Head distiller Alex Davies – a veteran British distiller – sources locally grown yuzu fruit, sansho pepper, and green tea to make his signature Kyoto dry. This is a spirit with real identity that that evokes a strong sense of place. Already a hit with bartenders around the world, Ki-No-Bi is based on a rice distillate which lends a smooth texture to cocktails. It also makes a fantastic G&T but at its heart this is a sipping spirit; try it un-mixed, over ice.
Thompson Bros. Organic Highland Gin, 45.7%, (£32; Thompson Bros. Distillers)
The grounds of Dornoch Castle Hotel are home to one of Scotland’s smallest distilleries, where the Thompson brothers are hard at work making organic single malt. While they wait for the first casks of whisky to mature they’re also churning out one of Britain’s most distinctive gins. Made with elderflower, freeze-dried raspberry, and angelica root this award-winning gin is blended with a little of the distillery’s un-aged malt spirit for extra depth and fruitiness. This is a textured, complex gin that makes for a nicely weighty dry martini – stir 4:1 with a good quality dry vermouth and garnish with a lemon twist.
Hayman’s Small gin, 43% (£25; Waitrose)
The Hayman’s name has been associated with gin since the 1820s, but the company’s newly launched Small Gin proves the London distillery has an eye on the future. This concentrated gin is stronger in flavour than its full sized siblings, meaning that just a thimble-full (it comes with a thimble) served with tonic will deliver a satisfying juniper hit at a fraction of the ABV. The recipe is modelled on the classic Hayman’s London dry, with orris root and coriander seed supported by citrus, nutmeg, and cinnamon. This will be a welcome treat for anyone wishing to lower their alcohol intake of an evening, but still feel like they’ve had a proper drink.
Porter’s Tropical Old Tom, 40% (£34.25; Amazon)
Coming from the team behind cocktail bar Orchid in Aberdeen, Porter’s gin shows a modern approach to this age-old category. While most gins are made the traditional way, by re-distilling a base spirit with juniper and a selection of other botanicals, Porter’s is cold distilled under low pressure in a rotary evaporator. The upshot of using this piece of lab equipment to make gin is that more delicate botanicals can be preserved in the finished product. The Porter’s Old Tom – a sweeter style than London dry called for in many classic cocktails – showcases unusual ingredients like passionfruit, guava, and Buddha’s hand citrus while a backbone of earthy juniper keeps things from getting cloying. Generally speaking, Old Tom will make for quite a sweet G&T, so try this in a Tom Collins or a gin sour. Absolutely delicious.
Capreolus Hart & Dart, 47% (£55; Capreolus Distillery)
Barrel aged gins are a throwback to the spirit’s past, when its Dutch ancestors Jenever and Cornwyn were sometimes matured in oak for richer flavour. While a lot of contemporary entrants to this sub-category feel like the result of new brands trying to flesh out their product offerings, there are a few standouts that are well worth trying. Cotswold based gin and fruit eau de vie specialist Capreolus releases ultra-small batches of their floral, blood orange forward gin matured in rare mulberry wood casks. The resulting spirit is lightly spicy, with flavours of stone fruit and textural tannins. This will make an excellent Martinez, stirred 2:1 with sweet vermouth and a dash of bitters over ice and serve in a cocktail coup. Alternatively, sub this for the London dry in your Negroni.
Island Gin , 44 % (£38.50 for 70cl, £18 for a pack of three 5cl bottles and £29.50 for the 20cl bottle, Scilly Spirit)
Michael Morpurgo describes the Isles of Scilly as a ‘scattering of tiny islands kicked out into the Atlantic by the boot of England’. The remoteness of this British archipelago certainly gives its newest gin distillery an air of island mystique. Captured in their distinctive Bishop Rock lighthouse-shaped bottle, this gin evokes the cerulean blue sea and heritage of the islands from the very first glance. Expect piney juniper, a hint of cardamom and orange, herbal lime leaf and warm familiar notes of cassia. The savoury tones of the pepper and cardamom are balanced by a touch of sweetness from the orange and fennel.
Nc’nean Botanical Spirit, 40% (£30; Ncn’ean Distilery)
Another entry from a new Scotch whisky distillery, this botanical spirit isn’t technically a gin. The reason being that it’s based on the rich and fruity Ncn’ean malt spirit, not a neutral distillate as the rules dictate. It is however flavoured with juniper and other botanicals and goes great with tonic water, so it’s still a must-try for any gin lover. Juniper and grapefruit are joined by foraged ingredients from around the Highland distillery include sorrel, heather, and bog myrtle. This a fresh, herbal gin – sorry ‘botanical spirit’ – that works well with a light tonic water, grapefruit, and a sprig of thyme. Look out for the first whisky from this fully organic distillery some time in 2020.
Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz, 37.8% (£40.19; Master of Malt)
This bright purple gin came about as a result of Australian distillery Four Pillars receiving requests for a sloe gin. Blackthorn berries don’t exactly grow on trees in the Yara valley but being that it’s the heart of Australian wine country there plenty of grapes around. Made by infusing whole fruit in Four Pillars rare dry gin for around eight weeks, or until its good and ready, Bloody Shiraz is richly flavoured without being overly sweet or sticky. This is the point at which Australian wine making meets craft distilling and it’s a lovely place to be. As the grapes will vary from harvest to harvest, Bloody shiraz shows some variation between vintages but the common thread is cherry, raspberry, chocolate, and pepper. Serve over ice with a wedge of orange and little soda to lengthen it if you fancy.