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 genever uses local grains for malty, heavy-bodied gins. In Canada, gins are being produced with spruce and fir, while Porter’s gin makes gin from 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 selected tried-and-true gins that shine in martinis, Negronis, and gimlets, and of course, the best gin for a simple G&T.
Shelby Allison, a Chicago-based creative consultant, 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 NYC, 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."
Price at time of publish: $27
Type: New American Gin | ABV: 45% | Volume: 750mL | Predominant Botanicals: Coriander, orange blossom, citrus
Bombay Sapphire Gin
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 former bartender at the Mila Rooftop Bar at The Glenmark in Glendale, California. “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.”
Price at time of publish: $20 for 375mL
Type: London Dry Gin | ABV: 42% | Volume: 750mL to 1L | Predominant Botanicals: Citrus, almond, licorice
Best Pink Gin
Glendalough Rose Gin
Made high in the hills surrounding Dublin, Glendalough wild forages the botanicals in all its gins from the Wicklow Mountains surrounding the distillery. (The distillery even has a forager on staff.) Their standard wild gin is made with juniper, elderflower, angelica root, clover, and heather, while their pink gin is blush-hued and floral, with lush notes of rose petals, white peppers, mulberries, and juniper.
The distillery’s rose gin is made by gently vapor-distilling three different types of rose petals, including wild roses from the countryside, heritage roses, and Damask rose. It’s complex and aromatic, beautiful and buoyant in a G&T, and bright and aromatic in a spritz.
Price at time of publish: $35
Style: Pink Gin | ABV: 37.5% | Volume: 750mL | Predominant Botanicals: Rose petals, juniper, elderflower
Best for Gin and Tonics
Bols Genever Original Gin
“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.
Price at time of publish: $36
Type: Genever | ABV: 42% | Volume: 750mL | Predominant Botanicals: Apricot, oak, caramel
Best for Martinis
Monkey 47 Gin
“For a martini, I like Monkey 47,” describes Spencer Elliott of Bounce Sporting Club in New York City. “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. Its subtle flavors and unique style lend to a quite refreshing and surprisingly smooth complexity that is completely unique to the brand.”
Price at time of publish: $40 for 375ml
Type: Dry Gin | ABV: 47% | Volume: 375mL to 1L | Predominant Botanicals: Pine, pepper, vegetal
Best for Gimlets
“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, California. “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.
Price at time of publish: $38 for 750mL
Type: Plymouth Gin | ABV: 42% | Volume: 750mL to 1.75L | Predominant Botanicals: Apricot, oak, caramel
Best for Tom Collins
“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 Brooklyn, New York.
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!”
Price at time of publish: $28
Type: London Dry Gin | ABV: 41.5% | Volume: 750mL | Predominant Botanicals: Preserved lemon, subtle herb, mint
"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.”
Price at time of publish: $36
Type: New American Gin | ABV: 46% | Volume: 750mL | Predominant Botanicals: Leafy, orris root, mint
Gray Whale Gin
While many of your favorite gins likely come from England, America’s distilling scene is having a gin moment. Homegrown producers are re-envisioning London dry and Old Tom gin with an American lean, highlighting locally sourced, all-American botanicals. Case in point: Gray Whale Gin, a California-based gin brand that sources ingredients from the West Coast, including Baja limes, Sonoma fir, wild-foraged sea kelp from the shores of Mendocino, and almonds from Central California.
Each botanical is tied to the annual 12,000-mile migratory path of the gray whale along the Pacific coastline, with proceeds going back to ocean conservation efforts. The gin is made from a base of corn and distilled six times to give the spirit a creamy, mouth-coating texture. It’s surprisingly delicious on its own, though the gin is bright and citrus-driven, making it versatile in gin and tonics, bloody marys, and Ramos gin fizzes. Try it with a splash of coconut water with a few dashes of bitters.
Price at time of publish: $35
Type: New American Gin | ABV: 43% | Volume: 750mL | Predominant Botanicals: Fir, kelp, mint, lime
Best for Negronis
Portofino Dry Gin
If you’re going to make the classic Italian drink — supposedly created in 1919 at Caffe Casoni in Florence — it makes sense to match the drink with an extra Italian gin. Portofino Gin uses botanicals grown on the hills surrounding the seaside town of Portofino in the North West of the country. It’s juniper and citrus forward, slightly bitter and floral, with bright notes of grapefruit and rose petals. All facts which make this gin excellent in a martini, but those citrus notes lend itself particularly well to a martini and adds a brightness to the gin-heavy negroni.
The gin is distilled at Antica Distilleria Quaglia, a Piedmont distillery that produces a wide variety of Italian amaros and vermouths, so expect the flavors to pair particularly well with the red vermouth and bitter notes of a classic Negroni.
If you can't find Portofino, we do also recommend Monkey 47 for a Negroni. It's complex, flavorful profile will nicely complement the oft-overbearing Campari.
Price at time of publish: $46
Style: Dry Gin | ABV: 43% | Volume: 750mL | Predominant Botanicals: Lemon zest, grapefruit, bergamot
Ki No Bi Kyoto Dry Gin
“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 in Nashville. “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.”
Price at time of publish: $105
Type: Dry Gin | ABV: 45.7% | Volume: 750mL | Predominant Botanicals: Yuzu, oaky, earthy, ginger
Free Spirits The Spirit of Gin
As the name suggests, Free Spirits’ Spirit of Gin channels the nose and the botanicals (or “the spirit”) of a Plymouth gin and conjures it into a no-proof product. The brand skips the typical fermentation and distillation process, instead infusing liquid with botanicals, amino acids, and B vitamins to create a liquid that mimics the floral, silky flavors of a Plymouth Gin. It’s smooth and floral, with a bright and clear juniper nose, followed by subtle spices of coriander, cardamom, and citrus. While it doesn’t have the backbone to make a non-alcoholic martini, it’s a great substitute in a G&T or a negroni — the brand also makes a non-alcoholic aperitivo riff.
Price at time of publish: $37
Style: Plymouth Gin | ABV: 0% | Volume: 750mL | Predominant Botanicals: Grapefruit, pine, coriander
In our research, we found that bartenders adore the herbaceous and delicately floral Fords Gin. Drinking on a budget? Bombay Sapphire Gin may cost less than other bottles—but it sure doesn't taste like it.
What to Look for in Gin
There are four main styles of gin. London dry gin is very dry with a strong juniper taste. Plymouth Gin is fruity and aromatic, Old Tom gin is sweeter and smoother than London dry gin. New Western, also called new American gin, new world gin, or international gin, is a gin where the juniper taste is less prominent and calls for an expanded cast of botanicals to make the blend. Genever, a Dutch variation that is the origin of all other gins, is sweet when aged and drier and lighter when young.
Pink gins, as the name may hint, have a rosy hue to them. This color can come from a number of sources, from the addition of bitters into the gin or the maceration of botanicals and fruits, like strawberries, roses, or pink peppercorns, post-distillation. Thanks to innovation in the non-alcoholic space, there are now plenty of zero-proof gins that mimic the juniper characteristics without the proof, for when you’re craving a negroni or spritz but not the hangover.
To be classified as gin, the spirit must contain juniper berries. Beyond that, there is a wide range of tastes and flavors from herbs, spices, fruits, and flowers that are added to the gin during distillation. Some gins are made with just a few botanicals, while others mix many different flavorings. London dry gin typically uses a limited list of botanicals, including lemon and orange peel, coriander, angelica, anise, and cinnamon. Distillers of new American gin get more creative by adding all kinds of other botanicals to their spirits, such as Japanese gin, which incorporates local produce such as yuzu, green tea, and other botanicals. Some bottles list the full list of botanicals on the label, and you can take your cues from there.
Except for genever, gin is almost always mixed as a cocktail. London dry gin and new American gin are the most versatile gins for all kinds of cocktails, including martini, Negroni, gin and tonic, and gimlet. Plymouth Gin works best for cocktails with fruit.
Is gin stronger than vodka?
No, on average, gin and vodka are similar in their alcohol content but in the high-percentage spectrum of vodkas, vodka is stronger than gin. The minimum ABV (alcohol by volume) percentage of gin varies; in Europe it is 37.5 percent and in the United States 40 percent ABV.
Is gin sweet or bitter?
Gin has a pine taste from the juniper berries, which are its signature ingredient. However, the prominence of the pine taste varies depending on the style of gin and the botanicals that are added during distillation. Fruity, aromatic gins are smoother and sweeter than a classic dry gin.
How do you make a great gin and tonic?
"As for gin and tonics, I think the world is your oyster," says Heather Perkins, bar manager at DiAnoia’s Eatery in Pittsburgh. "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."
Can you drink gin straight?
You can, in fact, genever is mostly served straight, but gin is usually mixed into cocktails such as gin fizz, Tom Collins, martini, Negroni, gin and tonic, and gimlet.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
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. Over the last two years she has been researching the rich world of international gins for her upcoming gin book. She interviewed 10 gin experts for this article.