Gin gets a bad rap. You mix it with tonic water or use it for a Negroni (or other cocktail), and that's really it. But the juniper-based spirit has so much more to offer than playing backup in a number of mixed drinks. From the gin terms to know to the best bottles to buy at your liquor store, here is a guide to all things gin.
Best Budget Gins
Best Everyday Gins
- Best Gateway Bourbon: Hendrick's
- Best London Dry Gin: Sipsmith London Dry Gin
- Best American Gin: Amass Dry Gin
- Best Japanese Gin: Roku Gin
- Best Craft Gin: Forthave Spirits Blue Gin
- Best Old Tom Gin: Porter's Tropical Old Tom Gin
The Short List
Best Overall Gin: The Botanist Islay Dry Gin
If the barrier to entry for getting into gin is learning to love juniper, then The Botanist makes it easy. While bottom-shelf gin tastes little more than juniper-soaked alcohol, The Botanist combines juniper with 21 other botanicals, locally sourced from Islay, to craft a spirit that achieves various flavor profiles one would want from a gin — sweet, herbal, piney. Usually costing no more than $30 or $40, The Botanist's gin is a Just Get This pick, and it'll work damn well with whatever drink you fancy.
Best Upgrade Gin: Monkey 47
There are, you guessed it, 47 botanicals in Monkey 47. There's a lot of flavors going on in the gin, but that just means there are more reasons for you to continue to drink it. In one session, you may pick up on the lingonberries, while another sipping session can make the elderflower the standout. Before you know it, you'll be reaching for a glass of Monkey 47 over your favorite bourbon.
Best Cheap Gin: Gordon's
Gordon is a bottom-shelf gin, but it's not your typical bottom-shelf swill. For a little over $10 at most liquor stores, Gordon's offers a lot of bang for your buck. It's not something you may choose to drink neat as it's a bit harsh, but it will offer the juniper berry flavor you want in a Negroni, Tom Collins or martini. If you're making a huge batch cocktail, grab a bottle of Gordon's to stretch out your dollar.
Gin is a complicated spirit. Namely, a lot of things (called botanicals) go in to it. But you can't have a gin without the notorious juniper berry. Unlike bourbon, there are not many legal requirements for something to be considered gin. There's no minimum juniper berry ratio, no definitive base recipe, or leading gin authority. Merriam-Webster defines gin as "a colorless alcoholic beverage made from distilled or redistilled neutral grain spirits flavored with juniper berries and aromatics." So yeah, gin is complex because gin can be basically anything as long as it tastes a bit like juniper berries.
Gin is a distinctly English beverage. Heck, the most well-known and popular gin style is London Dry, which is basically the de facto version of the spirit whether or not the bottle labels it as such. It's up to a distiller to create its own botanical concoction, which can cause some internet debates on why one gin distiller is better or worse than another. The clear spirit tastes piney, because of juniper berries, and that initial note can give way to anything from citrusy and sweet to spicy and savory. Whatever you already think about gin, like it being only good for cocktails, then these bottles may change your mind.
Gin Terms to Know
Bathtub Gin: Any illegally made alcohol produced during Prohibition. The name stems from gin that was actually made in bathtubs, which was a bootlegger's way to distill gin during the Prohibition era. These gins were heavily sweetened to mask unsavory flavors, and most gin-based cocktails owe their existence to bathtub gin, which would further mute unpalatable tastes.
Genever: Dutch for "juniper," genever is the precursor to gin. The style of liquor is centuries older than gin, with one main difference: genever has to be distilled from grain while gin can be distilled from practically anything. According to European Union regulations, only the Netherlands, Belgium and select areas in France and Germany can classify their spirit as genièvre, jenever or genever.
Juniper Berries: The main botanical that must be used in gin distillation. They can impart a variety of flavors such as pine, citrus and black pepper. Fun fact: juniper berries are not actually berries, but cones (like pinecones).
London Dry: The leading gin style, which derives its name from its city of origin but does not dictate where a gin has to be made. To be London Dry, a gin's flavorings must be added during distillation, and no synthetic flavorings can be used. Nothing may be added after it's distilled except water to dilute the gin to the desired proof.
Navy Strength: A high-proof, 57 percent ABV gin that's typically reserved for mixing. The name is inspired by a British Royal Navy technique for determining the ABV of spirits: liquor was mixed with gunpowder and set to ignite — if the spirit hit the threshold, now known to be 57 percent, the powder would light. Despite the historical connection, Plymouth Gin coined the term in the 1990s as a marketing trick for selling a higher proof gin.
Old Tom: A sweetened gin. A palate that favored drier gins over sweeter ones led to its diminished presence and the rise of London Dry.
Best Budget Gins
Best Gin for Cocktails: Beefeater
Few gins are as classic as Beefeater, a London Dry gin that is actually made in London. While its city of origin is a moot point, Beefeater remains a go-to for a number of cocktails because it's affordable and complements whatever other ingredients go in your mixed drink of choice. While some gin brands tout a more-is-better approach when it comes to botanicals, Beefeater uses nine, which is enough to provide a shelf staple for those itching for a drink.
Best Budget Sipper: Tanqueray
When it comes to botanicals, Tanqueray finds that less is more. It uses four botanicals — Tuscan juniper, coriander, angelica root, and licorice — resulting in a drier gin because of the lack of citrus botanicals. While Tanqueray usually finds its way into cocktails, it makes for a surprisingly good sipping gin. Juniper may be the predominant flavor note of the gin, but if you can get past the initial punch, the lingering taste is pleasant and encourages another sip.
Best Value Gin: Bombay Sapphire
You'll recognize the blue bottle anywhere. Bombay Sapphire's vapor-infused gin uses 10 botanicals for a spirit that is as affordable as it is recognizable. The vapor infusion retains the vibrancy of the botanicals, ensuring that their flavors are left intact in the final product. Bombay Sapphire has been a mainstay in the gin category for decades, and it'll stay that way for many more.
Best Everyday Gins
Best Gateway Gin: Hendrick's
Hendrick's is the gin for those who don't like gin. Its standout characteristics are the additions of rose and cucumber essence, which soften the gin, giving it a more floral and crisp flavor and feel. It's a bit pricier for a spirit that's going to act as a gateway to gin, but it is a good middle-of-the-road option for those looking to change their opinions. Plus, because of its massive popularity, it's available in more or less every bar in America.
Best London Dry Gin: Sipsmith London Dry Gin
Craft gin owes its existence to Sipsmith, which started in 2007 in London. Because of a British excise act from 1823 that banned distillers from obtaining a license for a still under 1,800 liters, the brand's founders couldn't license their 300-liter capacity still. Sipsmith's founders led Britain to change its law, and now the world has Sipsmith gin and a variety of other craft gin distillers. Its London Dry Gin is the apex of the style. Expect juniper on the forefront, which leads the way to citrus notes finished by warm baking spices.
Best American Gin: Amass Dry Gin
First and foremost, Amass is a botanicals brand (it even makes hand sanitizers), so it makes sense for Amass to get in on the gin game. Distilled in Los Angeles, the Dry Gin features 29 botanicals sourced from around the area. The most interesting additions to the gin are mushrooms — reishi and lion's main — which give the gin umami notes, making it all the more satisfying to drink. When it comes to this gin, come for the juniper, but stay for the other 28 botanicals.
Best Japanese Gin: Roku Gin
The House of Suntory took the craftsmanship it applies to whisky to gin. In fact, Suntory's been making gin since 1936. Roku uses eight common gin botanicals, like coriander seed and citrus peels, with five Japanese-sourced botanicals, such as green tea and sanaho pepper. The gin is distinctly Japanese in flavor that is still rooted in its English legacy.
Best Craft Gin: Forthave Spirits Blue Gin
Brooklyn-based Forthave makes small-batch liquors and liqueurs with a focus on the botanicals being used. Its Blue Gin (which isn't blue) uses 18 botanicals, which makes for a flavorful, yet delicate, gin. It's full-bodied, because it's unfiltered, providing a creaminess that's as satisfying neat as it is fulfilling in a mixed drink. Blue is just different enough from standard gins to provide a new drinking experience, while sticking close enough to the source material to comfort those wary of change.
Best Old Tom Gin: Porter's Tropical Old Tom Gin
Old Tom Gins can notoriously fall anywhere between good and sickly sweet. Porter's version of the style luckily falls on the "good" end of that spectrum. It mixes a classic gin base with tropical botanicals — such as pineapple and guava — for a juicy sweetness that doesn't end up being too cloying. The gin is drier than your typical Old Tom Gin, but we think that makes this a better option than most on the market.