Everyone is entitled to their taste and preference when it comes to spirits, but consider the difference between a vodka martini and a gin martini. The former supplies the alcohol, and maybe some flavor from the vermouth, a twist, or a few olives depending on how you take it. But a martini of this sort is more a vessel for intoxication than a true gustatory experience (although some vodkas certainly have some character). Now consider the latter option. Gin is by definition full of flavor—juniper is the conductor leading a symphony of botanicals which play together harmoniously and complementary. An ice cold, expertly proportioned gin martini can reach sublime heights. This is a classic, evocative, and deceptively simple cocktail that changes character based on which gin you choose to showcase, which is why it’s so damn good.
Make no mistake, gin remains very popular, with distilleries all over the world producing versions of this centuries-old spirit that capture the character of the particular locales from which they spring. Gin is mother’s ruin no more, a shift that has been a long time in the making.
The old guard still distills London dry-style gin in the U.K. The main rules of this designation are that juniper must be the dominant flavor (as it is for all gin) and botanicals must flavor the gin during distillation, with no flavor or color added afterwards. (London dry gin does not, in fact, have to be made in London.) Brands like Beefeater and Tanqueray are classics for a reason, but the world of gin has expanded enormously over the past 20 years as new distilleries tinker with the formula.
Gin is now definitely a global spirit, with excellent examples being made everywhere from the US to Mexico to Southeast Asia, and even the UK has seen an infusion of new gin distilleries. The best thing about this is that each spirit is an attempt to capture some essence of its geography, often using locally sourced botanicals to flavor what otherwise would essentially be, well, vodka. With so many bottles to choose from, we’ve broken down some of the best gins out there to try now by highlighting stellar examples of the new and old school.
Here are the best gin brands available now, from traditional London dry to brand-new innovations.
The Old School
Tanqueray is one of the best-selling gins in the world, and a superb (and affordable) example of the London dry category. The flagship expression combines bright flavors of juniper and citrus in equal proportions, making this a go-to bottle for cocktails. There’s also Rangpur, which highlights the flavors of the Indian lime of the same name, and No. TEN, which was designed as a more modern gin with pronounced notes of white grapefruit, lime and orange.
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Beefeater is another classic London dry gin, with a juniper- and citrus-forward recipe that dates back to the 1860s when James Burrough began to distill gin in London. The botanicals are steeped in neutral grain spirit for 24 hours before distillation. In addition to classic Beefeater, there’s also Beefeater 24, made with additional botanicals like Japanese sencha and Chinese green tea; Burrough’s Reserve Edition 2, rested in red and white Bordeaux casks to pick up color and flavor; and the strawberry-flavored Beefeater Pink.
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Plymouth Gin has been produced at the historic Black Friars Distillery since the late 18th century. The botanical mixture includes juniper, lemon peel, and angelica root, resulting in a simple yet flavorful spirit that works well in pretty much any cocktail you can think of. If you are looking for something that packs a bit more punch, try the Navy Strength expression, which is bottled at 57 percent ABV, allowing it to shine more when mixed with other ingredients.
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Bombay Sapphire is a ubiquitous and easy-drinking gin, but that’s not a dig at the quality. The distillery “vapor infuses” botanicals like juniper, licorice, and almond into the alcohol. There are two other expressions available: Bombay Sapphire East, made with Asian botanicals, and Bombay Dry Gin, made with just eight botanicals.
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Gordon’s was reputed to be Hemingway’s favorite gin, and it was an essential ingredient in James Bond’s Vesper cocktail in Casino Royale (and yes, it tastes good shaken, not stirred, despite what the martini purists espouse). Gordon’s is a simple, satisfying, and cheap gin, whether you are drinking it from a plastic handle or a more refined 750ml glass bottle. You’ll find big notes of juniper with a bit of garden herbs and black pepper to round things out. It’s the perfect martini gin for any occasion.
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Hendrick’s has been one of the biggest success stories in the new-school gin movement since it launched in 1999. The Scottish gin is unique in its use of cucumber and rose as the main botanicals, and master distiller Lesley Gracie keeps coming up with new expressions to add to the portfolio. The latest is the Neptunia, a gin inspired by the coastline that isn’t far from the Gin Palace where Hendrick’s is distilled. The exact botanicals aren’t revealed, but Gracie says the overall palate is “sea bottled in a gin,” with coastal herbs, ocean botanicals, and a citrus finish. Hendrick’s partnered with Project Seagrass for this release, and created a Magic-of-the-Sea spa kit of which the profits go directly towards this organization focused on seagrass meadow conservation.
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This New Zealand gin was released in America in the fall of 2021, and it’s special in both appearance and flavor. The gin is naturally black, due to a precise combination of botanicals used in the distillation process. Aside from the core use of juniper berries, sweet potato, aronia berries, pineapple, saffron, and Butterfly pea flower are all added at specific times and temperatures to create the liquid’s black color and unique flavor profile. And the gin begins to change color when you mix it with tonic or seltzer, shifting from dark black to a lighter lavender. This all might sound like a gimmick, but the spirit is worth trying based on flavor alone.
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Italy is better known for amaro and wine than gin, but Ginarte is a spirit that is making its presence known there both in flavor and presentation. This Tuscan gin is made in two steps: first local juniper berries are infused in a wheat-based spirit and distilled in an alembic still. The other botanicals are infused and distilled separately in two runs, including calamint, safflower, wild celery, pine needles, and elderberry. These three distillates are then blended and left to rest before bottling, a meticulous process that results in a light but complex gin. The “arte” in the name is front and center with the newest bottle, a collaboration with the Frida Kahlo Corporation that is emblazoned with a label celebrating the famous artist and icon.
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This brand was founded in 2015 by two commercial divers from Nova Scotia. That’s where the Still Fired Distillery is located, near the Bay of Fundy which the spirit is named after. The gin is made from a double-distilled corn spirit base, which is proofed down and then redistilled with eight botanicals, including juniper and dulse, a kind of seaweed. The maritime theme continues with an environmental endeavor—one dollar from every sale will go to benefit the Whale Sanctuary Project, an initiative to create a sanctuary for whales that were once captive animals.
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This is another new Canadian gin, this time from a Quebec City distillery called Stadaconé, which will likely make an impression on gin drinkers stateside as it becomes available this year. The spirit attempts to link Asia to North America with a fragrant and unconventional botanical mixture, including Kaffir lime, Tasmanian berry, coriander, and lavender. Of course, the juniper is present as well, making this a slightly spicy, slightly citrusy option for a martini or any other cocktail.
*available in the U.S. later this year
TUCK Gin was created in Connecticut, not usually the first state you think of in terms of gin (or any other spirit, to be honest). The core expression is a gin that veers towards the fruitier side of the palate, and is perhaps better suited for a gin and tonic than a martini. It’s infused with flavor from a mixture of grapefruit peel, jasmine, and two kinds of juniper, among other botanicals. The barrel-aged gin category can be difficult to figure out what to do with at times, but TUCK’s version is quite good, having been finished in French oak red wine casks. Try this one in a Negroni or sip on its own.
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Sông Cái Việt Nam Dry Gin
This Vietnamese gin uses botanicals sourced from the northern highland jungles by farming and foraging families, including green turmeric, pepper, black cardamom, and pomelo. The only imported botanical is in fact the juniper, which grounds this dry gin, but the palate expands from there. Sông Cái works quite well in a variety of cocktails, from a citrus-forward gimlet to a dry martini. And the distillery is working to reinvest back into the local community, via initiatives like reforestation programs, heirloom botanical preservation, and ensuring farmers are paid fair wages.
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Gracias a Dios Agave Gin 32 Botanics
Continuing our journey into gin made from parts of the world not usually identified with the category, this one comes from Oaxaca, Mexico. It’s made from an agave base spirit, the plant most commonly used for tequila and mezcal, and is infused with 32 botanicals meant to represent the 32 Mexican states. Juniper is present, along with citrus, lemongrass, rosemary, ginger, and eucalyptus. Gin lovers should check out this bottle, it’s unlike most that you’ve tried before.
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Irish gin is a category that has really come into its own over the past decade, and many whiskey distilleries on the island make their own unique versions of this clear spirit. Clonakilty Distillery has its Minke Gin, which is said to be inspired by the whales that roam the waters off of the coastline where the botanicals are foraged, including native rock samphire. The base spirit is distilled from whey, which gives the gin a bit more texture than your average neutral grain spirit, and the floral palate conjures up images of the lush, green Irish countryside.
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Sipsmith’s claim to fame is that it was the first copper pot still distillery to operate in London in nearly two centuries when it opened in 2009. Its other claim to fame is that it’s a very good modern take on London dry gin, flavored with juniper, orris root, cassia bark, and ground almond, among other botanicals. There are a few expressions available, including the more juniper-forward and higher proof VJOP (Very Junipery Over Proof) Gin, and the latest release here in the U.S., Lemon Drizzle, which has an almost limoncello character to it.
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Nolet’s comes from Holland, the ancestral home of gin, where its predecessor genever was first distilled. The distillery has been making spirits since the 1690s, the most notable (and profitable) of which is Ketel One vodka. A few years ago, Nolet’s Silver launched, a gin that eschews the traditional juniper-forward palate for uniquely sweet and fruity notes from the use of raspberry, peach, and Turkish rose as prominent botanicals. The more expensive Nolet’s Reserve is flavored with saffron and verbena, and is meant to be a sipping gin rather than a cocktail component.
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Fords has been around since 2012, when former Plymouth brand ambassador Simon Ford founded The 86 Co., a spirits brand that focused on bartender input to create its lineup. Master distiller Charles Maxwell makes the gin in London, steeping the botanicals (juniper, coriander, grapefruit, jasmine, etc.) for 15 hours before distillation. The latest release is the second batch of Officers’ Reserve, an over-proof spirit (109 proof) that was aged in Amontillado sherry casks as a throwback to the days of gin in the British Royal Navy. This comes two years after the first batch, and according to the brand will probably be the last.
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The Botanist Islay Dry Gin is made at the Bruichladdich distillery on Islay in Scotland, a region known more for its peated single malts than its clear spirits. This gin uses 22 different botanicals foraged on Islay, including heather, lady’s bedstraw, meadowsweet, and juniper. The result is a nice balance between floral and dry pine, making this a good gin to use in a simple martini or something more complex with fruit elements.
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Japanese beverage giant Suntory, known for highly coveted single malts from Yamazaki and Hakushu, released its first gin in the U.S. a couple of years ago. Roku means “six,” referring to the six Japanese botanicals that are used as flavoring agents here (along with other more traditional botanicals): sakura flower, sakura leaf, sencha tea, gykuro tea, sansho pepper, and yuzu peel. The result is a floral and citrusy spirit with just a hint of spice at the back of the palate.
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Monkey 47 Distiller’s Cut 2021
Monkey 47 is already an interesting gin, made at a distillery in Germany’s Black Forest from a blend of 47 botanicals. But each year the distillery also releases its Distillers Cut, a riff on the core expression, and the latest from 2021 is worth checking out. The 48th ingredient for this release is scarlet monarda, a beautiful red flower. The resulting spirit is fragrant, floral, and has just a hint of spice, making this an interesting (if expensive) gin to sample.
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If you want to trace the history of craft gin distilling in America, look no further than Junipero. It’s distilled by Hotaling & Co. (formerly Anchor Distilling) in San Francisco and is really an OG on the scene, given that it was created all the way back in 1996. The flavor is bright and crisp, with juniper and other botanicals leading the way, followed by a burst of citrus. The bottle got a redesign this past summer, with a look updated to what the brand says is inspired by “public art.” The liquid inside remains the same, though. It is a solid place to start exploring American gin.
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Bluecoat is distilled in Philadelphia, and it is a really great example of the unofficial American dry gin category. It’s made from certified organic botanicals, including coriander and a blend of citrus that complements the dominant juniper notes. There’s also a barrel-aged version to try, aged for at least 12 months in oak, and a gin flavored with elderflower. But for a classic martini or other gin cocktail, stick with the original.
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This gin from Vermont’s Caledonia Spirits is unique in that the only botanical infused into the spirit is juniper. Other than that, all the flavors are derived from raw northern honey, which comes sort of pre-loaded with botanical and floral flavors derived from the bees’ interaction with flowers. If you’re looking for something to try subbing into a cocktail like an Old Fashioned, give the Old Tom expression a try, which is barrel aged in new American oak and infused with a bit of raw honey.
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St. George Spirits
This Bay Area distillery makes all sorts of spirits, including some excellent whiskeys. But a highlight is this trio of gins that are flavorful and highlight the Northern California terroir. In fact, one is called Terroir Gin, which is steeped with botanicals like Douglas fir, California bay laurel, and coastal sage. There’s also Botanivore Gin, infused with 19 different botanicals meant to evoke a meadow in bloom, and Dry Rye, made from a mash bill of pot-distilled rye grain and flavored with just six botanicals. This last one has the heft and mouthfeel of a whiskey, but the spice and pepper of a good dry gin.
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There’s a lot of great booze being made in Brooklyn these days, including this gin, which is distilled in the Greenpoint neighborhood. It’s been around for nearly a decade now, putting it at the forefront of the urban distilling revival in NYC. The spirit is vacuum distilled in a copper pot still, and infused with botanicals like elderberry, cinnamon, lemon, and, of course, juniper. There’s also an Old Tom gin, aged for two years in ex-bourbon barrels and finished in Oloroso sherry casks, and a Beach Plum gin liqueur. Most recently, the distillery released a canned gin and tonic made with a proprietary tonic water.
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In North Carolina, Durham Distillery has been making a trio of gins for a number of years. There’s the flagship American dry gin, made by vapor infusing botanicals like Indian coriander, angelica root, and cardamom, which are combined with vacuum-distilled cucumber, citrus, and honeysuckle flowers. The Navy Strength expression ups the proof to a solid 114, putting it on par with some cask-strength whiskeys. And most recently comes the Barrel Aged Gin Series No. 1 2020 Release, aged in Utah distillery High West’s American Prairie bourbon barrels for ten months. Try this last one neat.
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Vim & Petal
Middle West Spirits is making some of the best booze in the state of Ohio, including this American dry gin. Vim & Petal combines 18 botanicals into its recipe, including Sichuan peppercorn, Indonesian cinnamon, and elderberry, which brings a freshness and bite to this gin. And, like some of the whiskey produced at the distillery, the base spirit is made from red winter wheat, providing a softness to the palate and adding to the overall quality of this spirit.
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Jonah Flicker is a freelance writer who covers booze, food, travel, and lifestyle for a variety of publications. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, two daughters, and one cairn terrier.
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