Navy strength gin may not get as much love as other high-alcohol spirits like overproof whiskey or Bacardi 151, but the souped-up gin is equally worthy of your affection—and respect. At 114 proof, the gin variety lives up to its tough guy origins. Originally enshrined in naval law, navy strength gin could be stored around gunpowder because, if the liquid spilled, the wet powder would still light. That is to say, this gin is straight flammable.
But it won’t just burn your insides. These amazing navy strength gins use that firepower to intensify their characteristic botanicals and spices. Perfect in classic cocktails like Gin & Tonics—because their taste won’t get watered down—or potent stirred drinks, a few can even be sipped straight. Proceed with caution, these gins aren’t playing around.
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If you’re interested in high-proof gin but are worried the spirit’s distinctive botanicals will taste like high-octane mouthwash, Plymouth’s Navy Strength offering is your bottle. The brand’s standard bottling is a fantastic alternative to the classic juniper-forward London Dry style, and the navy strength mostly stays true to that reputation, presenting as a hotter, more intense version of the same citrusy, floral flavors. Though the juniper does creep in more, earthy spices like coriander and cardamom are turned up too. Those spices lead, along with nose hair-singeing heat, followed by oily lemon peel, mellow juniper and a good amount of burn.
Along with Plymouth, Hayman’s is pretty much the standard-bearer for the entire navy strength category. The high-proof gin’s citrus shines bright like a diamond, with lemon and orange expressing pungent aromas, tart juices, and mouth-coating oils. As you might expect, Hayman’s bursts with juniper, but the characteristic berry takes on the floral influence of violet, which is also prominent in the blend. Unlike other overproof spirits that leave a breathless fire on the finish, Hayman’s lingers with cream and sweet orange. Many navy strength gins are fantastic in G&Ts, but Hayman’s violet personality be better suited to an Aviation.
When you think of overproof gin, you may imagine a normal gin dialed up to 11. It would be only natural to recoil from the thought of extreme juniper and harsh botanicals stampeding out of the overproof, white-hot booze. Sipsmith leans hard into gin’s juniper-heavy character with a “triple juniper” technique—and proves a deluge of dry, grassy, berry power can actually be quite enjoyable. After an initial shockwave of piney, resinous juniper coats your palate like a car air freshener, you’ll find subtler flavors leaping out from beneath the pine needles, like licorice, lime and cinnamon.
Those familiar with Australian-made Four Pillars Dry Gin will get a lovely surprise the first time they try the brand’s extra-fortified option. The two bottlings are completely different. Gone from the navy strength are any fruity orange hints that characterize the standard Dry, replaced by bright finger lime that can stand up to the high proof, as well as unconventional spices like ginger and turmeric. Once you brush away the heady perfumes billowing from the gin, you’ll find a health tonic-like limeade flavor, with tons of orange and spice on the palate, and thick malty undertones.
While many overproof gins strive for clean, bright, citrusy high notes to buoy the gin up from its weighty heavy proof, Conniption leans savory. After the high proof drives a truck through your palate, leaving it numb and gasping for flavorful relief, Conniption fills that void with savory cooking spices like Indian coriander, caraway, cardamom and, most clearly, rosemary. Sweeter accents on the nose—like snickerdoodle, orange and fresh bark—and on the finish—like figs and raisins—make Conniption layered and complex.
The Swedes know a thing or two about botanical infused spirits—just look at dill and caraway-punched, Scandinavian aquavit. This Swedish distillery has proven their expertise extend to gin as well, with an award-winning London Dry distinguished by its use of local Swedish lingonberries in addition to juniper, English meadowsweet, Indian black pepper and Madagascar vanilla. Hernö distillers don’t change their winning formula for their navy strength bottling; they simply dilute the gin less. Yet that simple alteration creates a whole new flavor profile. Hernö Navy Strength is somehow creamier, with the vanilla rising to the forefront and coating your lips with the numbing liquor like vanilla chapstick. Classic juniper takes on a rich buttery mouthfeel, and citrus emerges in a simmering afterglow.
Ableforth's Bathtub Gin is a sleeper hit that’ll give you quite the wallop if you’re unprepared. As opposed to most traditional gins, which add botanicals and spices before distillation, Ableforth’s makes their Bathtub Gin by infusing these flavors into the spirit after it undergoes distillation, making it an “infused gin.” The spices are easily accessible on both the nose and palate, though a tad less nuanced than with traditional distillation. With clove anchoring dried spices like cinnamon, cardamom and a hint of curry, this navy strength gin doesn’t hold back on the flavor. It may just be the super strong wintertime sipper you need to break through the cold.