Spring is the perfect time to wake up your senses with the broad range of botanical experiences found in the world of gin. But what bottles are worth seeking out? Gin, after all, is a broad, nuanced category. And, depending on what you’re drinking there’s a gin with a particular quality that works best. To break down what’s the best gin for gin and tonics, martinis, citrus cocktails, and sipping, we turned to world-renowned spirits expert and author David Wondrich, Editor in Chief of the new Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails, for his thoughts. Here, with his expertise, are some of the best gins to keep on hand and how to use them.
The Best Gin for Gin and Tonic
When it comes to the perfect gin for a Gin and Tonic, Wondrich follows the words of Chairman Mao: “Let a thousand flowers bloom.” “Tonic is a strongly-flavored enough mixer that you can get away with using even the weirdest, most innovative modern gins,” he says. Here are two ideal choices.
A new riff on Hendrick’s Gin in this limited release created to capture “the delights of the sea.” Adds coastal botanicals and citrus notes to the cucumber and rose undertones of classic Hendrick’s.
A totally unique gin, made with a double distillation of sugar beet molasses and a third distillation with 47 botanicals that include Lingonberries, all aged in clay pots. It’s particularly good with high-quality tonic, such as Fever Tree.
The Best Gin for Martinis
For Martinis, Wondrich prefers classic, straight-forward London Dry Gin. His rule: “A strong, heavy-juniper one if I’m using a lot of vermouth, or a lighter one if I’m cutting back on the vermouth,” he says.
Another expert tip on gin for Martinis comes from David T. Smith, author of The Gin Dictionary, who says that “coolness is key for a martini, so whether you like it shaken or stirred, a gin with a slightly higher ABV of 45% or 47% alcohol (such as the Nolet’s below) give you more of a chance to preserve its punch and power and the flavor won’t be lost by being too watery.”
Here are two gins ideal for your martini.
This classic pot still London dry gin is made the way London Dry gin used to be made––in small batches in copper pot stills, in the actual city of London. Many Sipsmith gins use botanicals grown by distiller Jared Brown in his own garden, and the base spirit is made from English barley. For a classic martini, with or without vermouth, Sipsmith is London Dry Gin as it was meant to be.
A very different approach than London Dry, this modern Australian gin is nonetheless exquisite for a martini. Infused with three types of olive oil and olive leaf tea, macadamia nuts, rosemary, bay leaf, and Australian lemon myrtle, this is a modern and delicious take on gin. It has a rich mouthfeel and would pair perfectly with an olive or onion garnish for a more savory martini.
The Best Gin for Sours
For sours and citrus cocktails that are perfect for this time of year, Wondrich prefers gins to be “bright and clean.” The below bottles fit the bill.
This balanced and highly versatile gin is made in the oldest distillery in England, and melds perfectly with spring cocktails. Wondrich loves it and says that it really makes a drink such as an Aviation or a White Lady sing.
While certainly bright and clean, Nolet’s is made in Holland, and uses non-traditional botanicals like Turkish Rose, peach, and raspberry––refreshing and delicate flavors that make it exceptional for citrus cocktails. For shaken cocktails, or a cool martini, the high ABV of 47.6% allows it to handle a cycle in a shaker without getting watered down.
The Best Sipping Gin
When it comes to sipping, David Wondrich enjoys “gin’s older Dutch cousin: genever, which has a base spirit that is closer to whiskey.” The two gins below are each made from base grains often associated with whiskey –– malted barley and rye –– making them both easy segue to gin appreciation for whiskey lovers.
If you can find the Old Duff Genever, that's the gold standard per Wondrich. This 100% Malt Wine version is made from a blend of 2/3 rye and 1/3 malted barley, and it’s a step back to the original Dutch spirit that predates both whisky and gin, but that later evolved into gin in England. Old Duff is made entirely in Holland using traditional pot stills.
With a base of 100% rye, this is a great gin for rye whiskey fans. St. George Spirits is one of the oldest craft distilleries in the US, and I’ve never tasted anything they make that I didn’t enjoy. Strong juniper and citrus notes make it stand up well in a martini or negroni, too.