For years, gin fans watched vodka get all the love: That's what distillers made, consumers drank, and marketers sold. Not any more. Producers have finally embraced gin's dizzying array of botanicals and are now experimenting with new techniques and ingredients to make their spirits stand out from the pack. We've seen more than a dozen new gins come to fruition since 2012, but it's hard to know which ones merit a taste. So our panel of 10 judges sampled them all both straight and mixed (with seltzer or tonic) and distilled the results down to these winners in five different categories.
This Washington, D.C. newcomer knocked tasters out with its full-bodied flagship gin made with red winter wheat and infused with botanicals like fennel seed, angelica root, grains of paradise, and sage. "It's smooth and caramel-y," one panelist enthused, savoring the spirit straight. "This is a great sipping gin," another echoed, though he cautioned that the spirit's heavy flavors make it tough to mix with just tonic.|
For its latest release, the legendary British distillery lends its premium gin a Southeast Asian spin with the addition of Thai lemongrass and Vietnamese black peppercorns—elements that won over several panelists. "I like how the pepper's spice lingers," one taster offered. "This is not for sipping," another said, "but it makes a great mixer."|
Seeking to create a great local sloe gin (a fruity liqueur flavored with sloes, a relative of the plum), the Brooklyn distillery was disappointed to discover that the fruit doesn't actually grow in America. As a backup, Greenhook turned to wild, indigenous beach plums to create this sweet-and-tart, luridly red liqueur. "Perfect with seltzer on the beach," one panelist suggested. Try it with a twist of lemon peel.|
"This is not gin but magic," one taster said of the Illinois-based distillery's boundary-blurring masterpiece. The spirit is aged in freshly charred oak barrels, which impart a whiskey-like amber hue and notes of vanilla. The spirit tastes "soft and piney, like a forest floor," a panelist suggested. Try sipping the stuff on the rocks like a bourbon or mixing it in a Negroni or Manhattan.|
The panel's runaway seasonal favorite is the spring/summer offering from Chicago upstart Letherbee, run by moonshiner-gone-legit Brenton Engel. Infused with chamomile, cornflower, and rose hips, this limited-edition spirit "tastes like rolling in a field of juniper and buffalo grass," one taster says. Adds another panelist, "I want to drink this in the sun."|
The spicy, cinnamon-y profile of this Ohio-crafted spirit also had its share of fans, though the sweet, Dentyne-gum-like notes also had its detractors. Consider serving it as an offbeat digestif.|
Other Gins Tasted
Green Hat's spring/summer release was bright and easy to drink, but it lacked complexity. Greenhook Ginsmiths' dry gin was direct and straightforward—"the gin you want for your happy hour special," one taster opined—but proved a bit astringent when sipped neat. Letherbee's gin was admired for its spicy, grassy profile, but it was outshone by Vernal. Tanqueray Malacca proved too innocuous to awaken palates, and the highly perfumey profile of Nolet's Dry Silver Gin did not go over well with many tasters.
Also of note: The sample of the 86 Co.'s Fords Gin arrived too late for the tasting. However, the silky spirit's intensely citrusy, bitter profile blew this writer away. Highly recommended.