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Gin, though usually considered an easy-sipping clear spirit, is a complex category. There are herbaceous gins, citrus gins, malty gins, and gins spiced with roots and herbs. There are gins that shine in a martini, and breezier gins designed to pair perfectly with a gin and tonic. Thanks to a wave of new producers around the globe, many gins now showcase local botanicals—Malfy Gin out of Italy is crafted with bright Mediterranean citrus, while Dutch genevers use local grains for malty, heavy-body gins. In Canada, gins are being produced with gin while Porter’s Gin makes gin from the Buddha’s Hand.
To help navigate the realm of gins, we asked a team of professional bartenders for their can't-live-without bottles. These cocktail experts have selected tried-and-true gins that shine in martinis, Negronis, and gimlets, and of course, the best gin for a simple G&T.
Read on to learn more about the best gins available.
Shelby Allison, the co-owner of Lost Lake in Chicago, swears by Ford’s Gin as her go-to spirit in a range of cocktails. “It was created specifically to work in a wide variety of classic recipes that call for gin—a promise it really lives up to, and that's why it's our workhorse, go-to gin at Lost Lake. Fords Gin is herbal when you need it to be herbal, it’s floral when you're looking for delicacy, there are citrus notes and savory notes. It coaxes complex notes from coconut, it plays fantastically with Caribbean baking spices, and it's generous when sharing the stage with rum.”
She continues, “It’s also priced so it is accessible to fit your gin cocktail needs. Overall, Fords Gin isn't trying to reinvent the wheel—just make a really good wheel.”
Linden Pride, co-owner of Dante, notes it is particularly excellent in a martini. “Preferred as a 50/50 martini, Fords Gin has the bright citrus notes, and mild juniper palate that gives this gin the strength to be easily distinguished in a martini, whilst having the nuances to balance with the fragrance of the vermouth."
Wallet-friendly Bombay Sapphire is a versatile spirit that plays particularly well in a melange of cocktails. “It’s just a classic for a martini!” says Matthew Habib, a bartender at the Mila Rooftop Bar at The Glenmark in Glendale. “Its unique flavor is very distinctive; you will know what you are drinking.”
Made with Italian juniper berries and orris root, Spanish almonds and lemons, grains of paradise from West Africa, and Chinese licorice, Bombay Sapphire is the product of a 1761 gin distillery founded by Thomas Dakin in Warrington, England. The London Dry Gin, spotted easily because of its distinct, bright blue bottle, is aromatic and crisp, and holds up delightfully in a martini.
It’s also Habib’s favorite because it’s a classic gin he’s enjoyed countless times over the years. “It’s always a favorite because I have shared it with a family member or an old friend. It brings you back.”
"To say Hardshore Gin is world class is an understatement,” praises Adam Sousa, creative director of Blyth & Burrows in Portland, Maine. “Their spirit is a Swiss Army Knife of gin that still maintains its integrity in almost any cocktail form. Looking for a Negroni? Go for Hardshore Gin; even go heavy on it.” He loves it in a gin and tonic and advises the craft gin thrives in a martini.
“It’s one of my favorite gins for a 1:1 martini. With a floral blanc vermouth, it's a wonderful warm-weather slow sipper. I think that the care taken with Hardshore's Gin should set a standard. From hand-picked botanicals (literally) to the local grains used for mashing, the team at Hardshore is producing a truly unique and incredibly versatile gin.”
“For a martini, I like Monkey 47,” describes Spencer Elliott of Bounce Sporting Club. “A gin that might hit your wallet a bit more than the others but delivers just as much. Rich and smooth this gin pairs excellently with a bit of vermouth."
Made in Germany’s Black Forest with 47 different types of botanicals, Monkey 47 is diverse, complex, and lovely in a spirit-forward drink like a martini. Stephanie Reading, the bar manager at Birdie G’s in Los Angeles, agrees. “For my martinis, I tend to choose a lighter, more delicate gin—one with subtle flavors and a rounder finish than a classic London Dry. That said, I've really gotten into Monkey 47, which in my opinion makes a delicious, dangerously drinkable classic martini. It's subtle flavors and unique style lend to a quite refreshing and surprisingly smooth complexity that is completely unique to the brand.”
Ryan Gray, of Mother’s Ruin, also loves Monkey 47 in a Negroni. “The Negroni is a simple drink to make but an easy one to mess up. Campari can be a bit of a flavor bully in drinks so you need a gin that stands up to it. Monkey 47 is the gin for me as it’s a deeply complex gin with a lot of big flavors that work in harmony with the rest of the ingredients in this cocktail."
Emmanuelle Massicot, assistant general manager and beverage director of Kata Robata in Houston, agrees. “Even though there are 47 different botanicals, it still has pronounced citrus flavors which balance the bitter flavors of Campari nicely.”
“My go to pick up for a gin and tonic has to be Bols Genever,” declares Elliott. “I love the bright apricot and oak flavor of Bols with a bubbly yet earthy tonic, the combo is wonderful. With either a twist of lemon or orange this is my favorite G&T.”
What is a Genever? The botanically-rich gin was actually the original gin iteration, made by Dutch sailors out of ports from herbs and spices collected from their travels. It’s sweeter than a traditional London Dry Gin, making for a completely unique drinking experience for the average gin fan. Genever is usually distilled from rye, malted barley, or corn, giving the spirit an almost whiskey-like profile. Bols is a beautiful iteration of a Genever: with 22 botanicals, this genever is clear, with hints of juniper, caramel, and vanilla.
“My favorite gin is so hard to pick, but I’d have to go with Plymouth,” says Andy Elwell, bartender at Harlowe in West Hollywood. “They’ve been producing it the same way forever, and it still works.” The brand has been distilling in Plymouth, England, since 1690, beloved by bartenders of yore and today.
It’s very different from your standard London Dry Gin—made with juniper, citrus, and coriander, it’s less dry and boasts a subtle sweetness. An abundance of different roots added to the blend of botanical also makes it more earthy and round than your standard gin.
That said, the subdued palette of the gin lends itself well to a full roster of classic gin cocktails, gimlets included. “I believe it is good for everything,” Elwell describes. “It’s like a well-rounded fighter: it may not knock you out in the first round, but it’ll go all twelve rounds with you and still be standing.
“My favorite is Porter’s Gin from Scotland because it is not too floral or herbaceous like other gins can be,” describes Victor Bautista, the bar manager at Concord Hill in Williamsburg.
New to the US, the classic London Dry Gin uses the usual slate of botanicals, but also calls for Buddha’s hand citron, a rare citrus found in Asia. This citrus makes for a well-balanced gin with smooth citrus, perfect for G&Ts, highballs, and longer drinks. Made in Aberdeen, Scotland, the gin was designed by three friends, one of whom was a renowned bartender at Dandelyan in London.
“It is great on the rocks with a splash of tonic and a squeeze of an orange wedge,” Bautista continues. “That makes for a delicious and refreshing gin and tonic!”
“As for gin and tonics, I think the world is your oyster,” says Heather Perkins, Bar Manager at DiAnoia’s Eatery. With only two ingredients, it's more important that your tonic and gin are a complement to one another. You can adapt the tonic for the gin or adjust the gin for the tonic, depending on what you have. This is where you can experiment and have fun, especially with garnishes.
For wet, American-style gins think heavy citrus and fresh herbs with citrus-forward tonics. Philly branded, Bluecoat Gin, is the perfect example of this style gin, pairing it with Fever-Tree's Citrus Indian Tonic is very refreshing. Merely garnish with a dried lemon as you have enough live citrus already. Or try an herbaceous driven Italian gin, Puicinque, and pick the Mediterranean Tonic from Fever-Tree. This picks up on more of the thyme, rosemary, and pine throughout the gin. A squeeze of lime and a sprig of thyme goes a long way on this pairing."
“A pretty recent addition to the U.S. gin market, Tod & Vixen’s Dry Gin 1651 was made in consultation with three of the most influential beverage industry personalities,” describes Tom Lasher-Walker, of One Minute Mixology and former bartender of The Savoy in London and Attaboy in Manhattan.
What results from the collaboration is a gin with English providence with a flavor profile designed for American bartending. “Leo Robitschek, Jeffery Morgenthaler, and the late Gary ‘gaz’ Regan all had a hand in its production and botanical recipe,” continues Lasher-Walker. He notes the bartending trio designed the gin to shine particularly well in a Negroni, Regan’s signature. “The gin is a solid workhorse of a spirit with strong juniper notes and a healthy 48% ABV. It’s also non-chill filtered, giving it a good body and depth!”
“KI NO BI is a versatile gin that is just as amazing being sipped neat as it is mixed into a cocktail,” describes Jordan Johnson, Lead Bartender at The Register. “It’s created with Japanese botanicals such as yellow yuzu from the north of Kyoto Prefecture, hinoki wood chips (Japanese cypress), bamboo, gyokuro tea, and green sanshō (Japanese peppercorn) berries. By distilling six distinct gins (Base, Citrus, Tea, Herbal, Spice, and Floral) separately and then blending them together to perfection you are left with a well-balanced but dynamic gin that is a pleasure to drink.”
“I like to think of it as the perfect gateway spirit to enjoying gin. From a Negroni to a dry martini to a classic gin and tonic at room temperature. Chilled or built into a citrus-forward cocktail or a classic gin and tonic, in my opinion, The Kyoto Distillery’s KI NO BI deserves a place on your bar.”
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Kate Dingwall is a sommelier and spirits writer. She has been writing about the bar and spirits world for five years and has her BarSmarts and WSET certification. She interviewed ten gin experts for this article.