In the last few years, hundreds of new gins have hit the market, each featuring an esoteric botanical selection, standalone appeal ("so good you don't need a mixer"), a sense of terroir, or something else that makes it sound one-of-a-kind. Most of the bottles are sold regionally at first—in a few select states—and then branch out nationally, making them, for all intents and purposes, brand new in your neck of the woods.
Here's the story behind why there's a glut—and which ones are actually worth seeking out.
The Recent Deluge of Gin
Since the turn of the millennium, the return of classic cocktails brought with it a renewed attention to gin and several new and interesting brands, mostly from overseas. Even more recently, the craft distilling movement (and loosening of laws preventing small-batch distillation) brought a whole new slew of American gins to the market. The actual number is mind-boggling: More than 500 new distilleries opened in the US in the last decade—and it seems like all of them are pumping out a juniper spirit.
Making gin doesn't require any great skill or even effort. You can add juniper oil to vodka, or soak juniper berries in neutral spirit (like Crater Lake gin does) and call it gin. Even in gins that are neutral spirits redistilled with juniper and other botanicals in the traditional way, the distiller nearly always buys the base spirit from somewhere else rather than making it in-house.
Making good gin, however, is hard. The balance of botanicals, some of which are only in the mix to make other botanicals stand out, can take years of experimentation to get right. Most distillers try to replicate what established brands are doing, and then add extra botanicals from there.
And unlike bourbon, gin doesn't need to sit around aging in barrels (though barrel-aged gin is now a thing) before distillers sell it. Many new small-batch distillers really want to make whiskey that they can sell in a few years time, but in the short term they put out a gin and vodka. And since it's more about paying the rent than a labor of love, these new gins are boring at best and inconsistent from batch to batch.
Better gins, like the ones mentioned below, are made by people with a cocktail background—bartenders, brand ambassadors, and liquor reps have all donned the distiller's cap and launched their own companies. So how do you know which of these new gins are any good before you spend your hard-earned money on them? I asked a whole bunch of bartenders for their favorite brands. These are the chosen few.
From: The Black Forest, Germany
From: Seattle, WA
From: The Highlands of Scotland
From: Brooklyn, NY
From: London (and bottled in California)
From: Alameda, CA
From: Islay, Scotland
From: Sebastopol, CA
From: Brooklyn, NY
From: Hardwick, VT
From: Ballard, WA
What makes it special: The name is a clue. This bartender-made gin in the London dry style is made with "gobs of juniper" and has notes of bitter orange peels. Tasmanian pepper berry—an uncommon botanical to include—is the likely reason my tongue is vibrating as I write this.
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