When you order gin, it usually comes with an addendum of tonic, vermouth or another flavor-modifying mixer. Unlike whiskey, rum or even tequila, gin isn’t typically meant to be sipped stripped down—its flavor is often too abrasive on its own, thanks to a generous helping of juniper. But there are exceptions to every rule.
Some gins manage to tame pine-like juniper with citrus, baking spices and other botanicals, creating a rounder, more subdued or complex flavor. Though we’re not saying you’ll want to forego tonic and citrus all the time, it’s worth seeking out gins that are balanced enough to be sipped on their own. Here, five of the tastiest gins on the market—with or without a mixer.
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Created as an homage to the gin distillers of yesteryear, London-based Portobello Road kicks the classic juniper-driven blend of botanicals up a notch. The brand added another eight botanicals to give the spirit balance. You find bright notes of sweet and tart citrus zest, familiar hints of coriander, and depth from baking spices like cassia bark (a cousin to cinnamon) and nutmeg. While it could be mixed seamlessly into any number of drinks, it works particularly well in no-frills drinks like the Gin & Tonic.
Bartenders aren’t strangers to working with honeybees and their scrumptious byproducts—and neither are distillers. Based in Vermont, Caledonia Spirits makes a point to support local agriculture, sourcing grains and other materials from farmers in the area, including the raw honey used to infuse the distillery’s Barr Hill Gin with sweet, floral flavors and a silky texture. Swap whiskey for this gin in an Old Fashioned and you won’t be disappointed.
The spirits industry has been making quite a fuss about Australian gin recently—and with examples like this it doesn’t take a savant to figure out why. This gin was the first from Four Pillars and remains the brand’s core expression. The idea was to buck tradition and use botanicals that hinted at the country’s ties to Europe and Asia, starting with Aussie lemon myrtle and Tasmanian pepperberry, then adding layers with Mediterranean orange and spices from the Middle East. It tastes like no gin you’ve tried before, leading with spice and finishing with sweet citrus notes. While you could go for a G&T, this gin is even more comfortable in a lime-forward Gimlet.
Though we’ll admit that sipping this gin on its own might be a tall order for the typically gin adverse, as it possesses that classic, juniper-forward flavor, this spirit is an impressive example of the genre. Made in the London Dry tradition since its inception in 1996, Junípero hails from San Francisco and claims to be the first craft gin made in the U.S. after Prohibition. Though its flavor leads with juniper, you’ll also find plenty of peppery notes and baking spice. The bright, fresh gin earns its keep in a Gin Rickey or an Aviation.
Scotland usually brings to mind images of lush, green hills and whisky distilleries situated on craggy island coasts, but this distillery is doing things just a little bit differently. Instead of a smoky, peat-afflicted scotch, The Botanist is putting Scottish botanicals into focus with gin. Made with 22 botanicals foraged on the Hebrides islands that complement some of the most common gin botanicals like coriander, orris root and, of course, juniper, the gin is floral with a bit of spice. It’s lovely over ice with a slice of orange peel and just as delightful in a Martini.