Olivier Ward (editor of Gin Foundry) talks us through some of the best British gins, from well known brands such as Tanqueray, Hendrick’s and Bombay Sapphire to craft gins including Two Birds Gin and modern classic Portobello Road.
We love gin here at olive magazine, but with so much choice out there, how are you supposed to know which bottle to buy? Here Olivier Ward (editor of Gin Foundry) shares his top gins produced in the UK, all with varying flavour profiles. Which British gin will you pick?
With English wine growing in stature internationally, and Craft distilling moving from urban hubs and out into the countryside, Tarquin’s Gin isn’t just representative of a burgeoning movement; it’s one of the leading lights within it.
To taste, Tarquin’s Dry Gin is a well-balanced gin with all the classic botanicals coming through on both the nose and the palate. The juniper is prevalent (as it should be) but a strong lemony coriander reminds us of a deep pine forest on a hot summer stroll – earthy notes and warm orange blossom faintly joining in.
Distiller and owner Tarquin Ledbetter’s Devon violets (which he grows in his back garden) only come through after a couple of sips, but are balanced by the amount of citrusy and rooty/earthy botanicals mingling around.
Hendrick’s Gin, Scotland
First launched in 2001, Hendrick’s Gin has been the success story that has set the template for modern gin brands to follow. There’s no doubt that Hendrick’s Gin has been spearheading gin’s resurgence since the early 2000’s and can now be found in all bars across the globe, with glasses of Hendrick’s and tonic served with cucumber instead of lemon or lime. We’d recommend that if you don’t like gin or don’t know where to start, this is the place to do so as Hendrick’s is not a big juniper gin.
But while the juniper may be lighter, it still creates the base for a clean, floral and refreshing gin. It definitely adds a fresh quality to the ensemble helped along by rose, which can definitely be picked up on the aroma. Cubeb berries, elderflower, chamomile, and yarrow are some other botanicals that bring a more unusual offering to the mix, giving the floral edge some depth while also complementing the more commonly used coriander, angelica root, lemon & orange peel, and orris root – who work to provide a solid backbone.
Launched in 2000, Tanqueray No. 10 is an exceptionally smooth and fresh tasting gin. It’s handcrafted in small batches using an unique quadruple distillation process, with the heart of the gin created in the affectionately named Tiny Ten still. Using fresh, whole citrus fruits during the process greatly adds to the depth of character inherent in Tanqueray No.10 Gin.
Indisputably a step up in class, this gin is smoother than Tanqueray’s classic offering. It has a full-bodied grapefruit and citrus hit and is recommended by many bartenders as the perfect choice for a martini gin. There’s still plenty of juniper in the mix, as well as a lovely floral note on the nose. The smooth citrus finish and the relatively high strength (47.3% ABV) makes this gin one of the very best on the market.
Two Birds Gin, Market Harborough
Two Birds Spirits is a relatively new craft gin. Its London Dry Gin has a distinct initial mixture of pine-fresh juniper and orris root on the nose. On first taste, the earthy pine backbone prevails, with a touch of sweetness that looms later into a spicy note. The juniper maintains right into the finish, which is very smooth and delicate on the palate.
It’s a great gin for someone looking to start their journey in craft gin, as it’s reminiscent of the bigger names like Gordon’s Export Strength and Beefeater, but with a personality of its own. Keep an eye out for its recent Old Tom Gin, too.
Featuring two additional botanicals – Bergamot orange peel from Calabria in southern Italy and Ambrette seed from Ecuador – on top of the 10 botanicals that feature in its flagship gin Bombay Sapphire, Star of Bombay is packaged in a sexy-looking bottle with an amazing amount of detail. It is slightly musty on the nose, with dried flowers and an underlying spice.
Almost strangely, the classic notes of juniper, angelica and coriander have been intensified, but ambrette is immediately apparent. It’s jammy to taste, with piquant spice, bergamot and ambrette seeds offering an exotic twist. It’s an intense gin, but one that also retains the lightness of Bombay. At 47.5% ABV, the finish is both long and richly aromatic, but not oily or full – just rich when it hits and leaves behind a vivid memory. The best new release of 2015 by far.
Portobello Road Gin, London
Portobello Road Gin has established itself in bars and cabinets alike over the past three years, with its classic flavour and a name that’s reminiscent of an iconic bar.
Designed by the team at Portobello Road and distilled at Thames Distillery nearby, this is a gin that is hard to knock. With its booming juniper, classic coriander seed core and peppery nutmeg finish, it’s a perfect choice for those who like a classic G&T with a wedge of lime. Great price and great design – expect it to be a lot more visible in the next few years, as legions of gin fans discover this modern classic.
Distilled and bottled in Scotland, Caorunn firmly takes on the mantle of a national product. The distillery is situated in the heart of the Cairngorm National Park, at the foot of the Haughs of Cromdale. It’s inspired by the landscape that surrounded them – Simon Buley (one of the distillers) wanted to use the ancient skills and recipes of spirit-making, using age-old Celtic botanicals that grow on the surrounding hills of Balmenach Distillery.
It includes six traditional botanicals (juniper, coriander, lemon peel, orange peel, angelica root, cassia bark) and adds further Scottish botanicals including rowan berry, heather, dandelion and coul blush apple. Drunk on its own, the gin is crisp, dry and well-balanced yet still full-bodied.
The botanicals jump out in the palate with spices, citrus and floral notes all working well to compliment a dry juniper note that leaves you with a crisp, clean finish. The recommended Caorunn G&T serve is a thin wedge of red apple (fitting in nicely with the Coul Blush Apple used to make the gin itself).
Warner Edwards Gin, Harrington
Created by best friends Sion Edwards and Tom Warner, Warner Edwards Gin is made in a 200-year-old converted barn in Harrington, Northamptonshire.
Its flagship Harrington Dry is soft on the nose, with warm citrus from the orange peel and piney juniper. There’s a touch of juniper on the nose and a good dose to taste. It’s orange forward gin for sure, but coriander, cardamom and juniper anchor the gin while balancing out the flavour profile. Warner Edwards is a beautifully soft and crazy smooth gin with a sweet and moreish lingering aftertaste. It’s a must try for any gin fan.
The advantage of having been in the gin making business for generations is that one can always look to the archives to find inspiration from the past. This is very much the case with Hayman’s Royal Dock Gin, as records show that it was supplied to both the Royal Navy and trade from 1863. More precisely, it was delivered to the Royal Dock in Deptford, South London (established in 1513 by Henry VIII) on the River Thames.
The Royal Dock and the surrounding areas were known as one of the largest Navy food and drink headquarters, with London being the largest port in England. Other ports famously made their own Navy Strength Gins, notably Plymouth and Liverpool, but with the Navy’s thirst for gin reputed to be several tens of thousands of barrels a year, the London dock would have been awash with the stuff.
Navy Strength Gins are at 57.5% ABV and as a result, Hayman’s Royal Dock has an aromatic nose with citrus and floral notes, namely orange blossom wafting out as soon as you begin to pour. The mouthfeel is smooth, but also carries an unrivalled botanical intensity of flavour thanks to the higher strength. It’s a classic of the genre and a must-have gin for lovers of this over proof style.
Rock Rose, Scotland
Proving the British craft distilling movement has gone all the way to the Northern tip of Scotland, Rock Rose harnesses their regionality in their gin. One of the few craft distillers to also have a British made still, they vapour-infuse all the botanicals in a steam basket at the neck of their custom made John Dore & Co beauty.
Rock Rose is bright and packed with fruity berries and a delicate astringency, with rose root, sea buckhorn and Rowan berries native to the area picked to compliment juniper and other traditional botanicals. Combined with a beautiful ceramic bottle and a passionate team, this gin is set to fly in the next 18 months.
Olivier Ward wrote the above, and all the gins he recommends are available from ginfoundry.com
The olive team have chosen plenty more favourite British gins below
Made in Aberdeen, this is a classic gin with bold juniper and bright citrus notes. It’s created using a combination of old and new techniques. Light flavours are extracted from delicate botanicals through cold distillation so as not to damage them with heat, while other more robust ingredients are distilled at one of the UK’s oldest gin distilleries, allowing the unique characteristics of each to shine through.
Victory Gin, London
A peppery gin made with 10 botanicals, this cold-distilled gin is light and fresh with bright notes of orange and anise, warmth from cardamom and black pepper plus a subtle sweetness from liquorice and chestnut.
Named after a 16th-century Dutch explorer, this light gin features classic botanicals like juniper, orris root, cassia bark and angelica, but also uses jasmine, giving it a beautifully floral nose that’s perfect for this time of year.
Sipsmith London Dry Gin, London
You can’t have a list of British gins and not include Sipsmith. In 2009 the first new licence to distill in London since 1820 was granted to Sipsmith Independent Spirits and since then, a raft of new micro-distilleries have followed. This original recipe is bold, complex and aromatic with a floral nose followed by dry juniper and citrus on the palate.
You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but this smooth, juniper- led gin lives up to its classy label. It also has a hint of floral sweetness thanks to the wild sweet gale that’s foraged from Boatyard’s farm in Fermanagh. £44/70cl, Harrods
Make your own gin
So you like drinking gin? But how about making your own? Award-winning Salcombe Distilling Co boasts a gin school at its Devon home. Best known for its refreshing citrus spirit, the team now has its own classroom, complete with mini copper stills for budding distillers. After a quick distillery tour (with G&Ts in hand), students are given a guide to the hundreds of botanicals on offer (from spicy to floral, herbal to citrussy) and can get creative with their own recipe. It then takes less than an hour to infuse and imbibe the base spirit, giving you plenty of time to choose your gin’s name, and to sample some more Salcombe, before your personal blend is bottled and given a bespoke label. £100 per person or £150 for two. salcombegin.com