If you aren’t an avid gin drinker, you may not realize that there are subtle flavor differences between literally every bottle of gin on the market. Because although gin has a juniper base, the rest of the herbs and botanicals are completely up to the distiller. As are the levels of those botanicals and much of the production process itself. A great example is the addition of rose and cucumber to Hendrick’s Gin. This gives the expression a more floral, sweeter flavor than many of its counterparts — helping it to shine in a gin gimlet.
To show just how nuanced and wildly different gins can be, we decided to blindly taste eight well-known gins that all clock at around $30-$40. As always, the blind taste test construct removes all preconceived notions and leaves the taste-testing completely up to our senses — without a push in any direction due to packaging or brand notoriety.
If our test inspries you to try a bottle of gin, these can all be found at your local liquor store. Or click the prices to order online.
Part 1: The Taste
I selected eight gins for this blind tasting. While they aren’t the most expensive bottles on the market, they’re also not bottom shelf swill. All are near in that $30-$40 price range and just as well-suited for sipping as they are for mixing.
- Hendrick’s Gin
- Sipsmith London Dry Gin
- Tanqueray No. Ten
- Barr Hill Gin
- Plymouth Gin
- Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin
- The Botanist Islay Dry Gin
- Koval Dry Gin
Let’s get started!
A lot is going on in this gin. Right away, I noticed scents reminiscent of a field of wildflowers, vibrant lemon zest, fresh oranges, and a nice hit of herbs fill my nostrils. Taking a sip brought up more floral hints as well as lemons, oranges, and grapefruits, but there’s also a lot more left to find. The finish is dry and ends with more floral and citrus notes.
All in all, a very exciting gin.
When I took a moment to nose this gin, I found aromas similar to a field of flowers, that ever-present juniper, resinous pine, and a nice herbal backbone. There isn’t much new going on with the palate — more juniper, fresh grass, fir tips, and a slight, unexpected, honeyed sweetness.
In all honesty, the honey notes make this gin a little sweet than I’d prefer.
On the nose, I discovered a very citrus-forward spirit. There are orange peels, lemon zest, a good deal of juniper, all alongside an herbal backbone. Sipping it revealed more citrus zest, herbal tea, juniper berries, and pine trees. The ending is subtly spicy and sweet.
All in all, this is an in-your-face citrus gin that won’t appeal to all drinkers.
Before taking a sip, I paused to draw in the aromas of bold juniper berries, lemon zest, subtle cooking spices, subtle pepper, and fresh herbs. The palate held notes of coriander spices, juniper berries, orange peels, and more spicy pepper. But it didn’t seem like there was much more in the flavor department after that. The last few sips were spicy and lingering.
All in all a “typical” gin, but nothing to write home about.
Immediately I was excited by the complexity of this gin. The nose is filled with fragrances of grapefruit, orange peels, juniper, and a has a pleasing spicy backbone. On the sip, I got hints of spicy cinnamon, vanilla beans, juniper, herbal notes, and cracked black pepper. The ending was bright, warming, and finished with a nice mix of floral sweetness and spice.
This is definitely a gin I would like to return to for future samplings.
From the first nosing, you can tell that this is a classic London dry gin. That’s because starts with aromas of juniper, lemon zest, orange peels, and herbal, root scents gin drinkers expect. Once I had a drink, I started to pick up more juniper berries, bright grapefruit, lemons, licorice, and subtly spicy pepper. There’s more juniper and citrus at the finish.
This gin, while staightforward, ticked all the boxes I’m looking for.
I first noticed that the nose was very floral. Almost too much flowery scent. There’s a good deal of rose water, juniper berries, orange peels, and sweet tropical fruits. You don’t usually expect that many scents for one gin. Sipping this gin revealed the expected juniper, coriander, lemon zest, as well as just a hint of cracked black pepper. My last sip was floral, with a lot of juniper.
The sweetness and floral flavors were a little intense for my palate.
On the nose, I got scents of bright juniper berries, flowers, freshly cut grass, lemon peels, and subtle spices. The palate revealed more juniper, cardamom bite, vanilla beans, and spicy pepper. It’s pleasingly warming, dry, and ended with a nice combination of citrus zest and subtle spices.
It felt like there were always more flavors waiting to be discovered.
Part 2: The Ranking
You never know how a blind taste test will go. There were definitely some surprises with this one. Based on the final rankings, you can tell my palate is centered around floral gins.
8) Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin (Taste 3)
Average Price: $39
Ireland isn’t commonly known for its gin prowess. But that could change if Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin keeps racking up awards. Produced by The Shed Distillery, this gin is a combination of classic, eastern botanicals, and locally sourced Irish plants and herbs.
With a name like “Gunpowder” you might assume this was a high-proof, over-the-top, harsh gin. You’d be wrong. In all honesty, this name might turn people off to the spirit inside — which is fairly accessible. It just didn’t have enough going on in the flavor department to take a higher spot on this list.
7) Hendrick’s Gin (Taste 7)
Average Price: $30
One of the most popular gins in the world, Scotland’s Hendrick’s is made using eleven herbs and botanicals. What starts as a juniper-centric spirit gets a boost with the infusion of rose and cucumber. These additions are why this is a go-to brand for bartenders and cocktail fans alike.
Hendrick’s has only been produced since 1999. In that time, it’s become one of the most popular gins in the world. It’s easy to understand why. The flavors are well-suited for a classic gin and tonic. I was, however, surprised at how low on the list this popular gin landed.
Without the eye-popping bottle, I found it to be surprisingly bland.
6) Plymouth Gin (Taste 4)
Average Price: $33
One of the most well-known gin brands in the world, this English gin has been produced since 1793. This classic, simple gin is made using only seven ingredients (juniper, coriander, orange peels, lemon peels, angelica root, cardamom, and orris root). It’s beloved for its earthy, fresh, subtly sweet flavors.
At one point, Plymouth was more than simply a brand, it was a style of gin. It could only be produced in Plymouth, England. Sadly, Plymouth is the only brand left making this style.
While still a well-made product, its simple ingredients didn’t make much of an impact on my palate.
5) Barr Hill Gin (Taste 2)
Average Price: $39
Barr Hill Gin touts itself as the “America’s most awarded gin.” This expression from Vermont’s Caledonia Spirits was Made to pay tribute to the state’s bees. It starts with gin distilled using the brand’s proprietary botanical extraction still. Like most gins, it starts with fragrant juniper berries. But, on top of other botanicals, it gets an added kick for the addition of raw honey.
This is an interesting gin. While many classic gins rely solely on juniper and botanicals, this expression gets its unique flavor from the addition of sweet honey. I thought I would enjoy the honey more, but I would have preferred it to be a little muted.
4) Koval Dry Gin (Taste 8)
Average Price: $35
When you think of Koval, you probably envision its highly awarded whiskeys. But its Dry Gin is one of the best craft gins on the market. The distillery doesn’t list the ingredients, but it does say it’s made using “woodland spices.” It’s juniper-forward and highly floral.
This is a unique, flavorful gin. We like to keep this on hand at all times because its subtly spicy, floral flavor works well as a complement to the citrus flavors in a gin gimlet.
This gin landed right where I thought it would — it is and will continue to be one of my go-to gins.
3) Tanqueray No. Ten (Taste 5)
Average Price: $38
If you’re a fan of Tanqueray and you want to take a step up in the flavor department, grab a bottle of Tanqueray No. Ten. First released in 2000, this expression gets its name from the copper pot-still named “Tiny Ten” that it’s distilled in. On top of the usual botanicals, this expression also includes chamomile, grapefruit, and various other citrus fruits.
While I was surprised that this mass-produced gin landed at such a high position, I probably shouldn’t be. If you’re the type of person who drinks gin neat or on the rocks, this is a good choice. The heavy citrus flavor also works perfectly in a classic gin and tonic.
2) Sipsmith London Dry (Taste 6)
Average Price: $32
Sipsmith has only been around since 2009 but has gained a loyal following in the past decade. This classic, British-made London dry gin is produced using ten botanicals including juniper, coriander, licorice, angelica, orris, almond, cinnamon, cassia, as well as orange and lemon peels.
Sipsmith might not have a long history, but it’s already perfected the London Dry gin style. This complex, well-balanced gin is awesome for mixing or drinking neat. It deserves its high ranking. It’s flavorful, filled with fresh botanicals, and works well in a gin and tonic.
1) The Botanist Islay Dry Gin (Taste 1)
Average Price: $36
If you didn’t know it already, The Botanist Islay Dry Gin not only comes from the whisky-centric Scottish Island, it’s also produced by Bruichladdich. Made to transport drinkers to the sheep and Scotch-filled island, this award-winning gin is made using nine classic gin botanicals as well as 22 more that were foraged from the island itself.
Wow, a gin made by a Scotch distillery took the top spot? If you’re a gin cocktail drinker, you can’t do much better (for the price) than The Botanist Islay Dry Gin. It’s loaded with flavors that somehow manage to work together in perfect unity. The best aspect is that pretty much every time you sip it, you’ll find something new and exciting to test the limits of your palate.
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