I’ll admit, I used to think I could use any of the value-priced bottles of gin when it came to making cocktails. These tend to have a relatively simple flavor profile, mostly juniper-forward, and often harsh on their own -- but that’s alright because I thought gin one of those spirits that’s all about the high-alcohol punch, something that would yield to the assertive flavors of vermouth rosso, Campari, orange liqueur, rosemary simple syrup, and who knows what else. I’d look at the Beefeater, the classic London Dry dating back to 1853, with the Tower of London Yeoman Warder on the label, then look at the shelf below the Beefeater, and that’s when I’d reach my hand out to grab a bottle.
But then I tried my first taste of better gin -- something with a more complex and subtle flavor profile and a smoother finish. It was Hendricks, a Scottish gin in a chic, dark bottle that pushes its cucumber and rose infusion and touts itself as “unusual.” It’s not, but it’s smooth and friendly and plays well with tonic and lime. I tried it and thought oh, that’s what gin can be. It’s just one step up from Beefeater, costing 10 bucks more a bottle. But ever since then, I’ve been more awake to what gin can be, and I’ve kept my eye out for lesser-known labels with personality.
Yes, it’s a neutral spirit (from anything from corn to rye to corn to grapes) infused with juniper berries, and that’s what gives it its primary flavor profile. But every distiller crafts their own unique recipe with additional botanicals. That’s where the fun of complex and subtle flavors comes in.
We spent some time tasting new-to-the-market gins, talking with distillers, and returning to some old favorites to compile this list of gins that are worth spending a bit more on.