Gin, tonic, and a twist of lime. One part gin (or more if you’re a juniper and booze fan) to three parts tonic. Add a squeeze and a wedge of lime and you have the makings of one of the simplest and most refreshing summertime cocktails ever conceived.
The history of the gin and tonic, like many classic cocktails, is shrouded in mystery. It’s believed by many that, while refreshing, the cocktail wasn’t created to fight off thirst on a hot summer’s day but to treat malaria. In the 1800s, members of the British East India Company were required to ingest quinine to keep themselves safe from the disease. To make their medicine go down smoothly, they mixed it with gin, water, lime, and sugar.
You may not be worried about malaria in 2021, but this simple gin-based highball endures. And it’s downright perfect for August weather if you have the right gin. You can’t just crack open a plastic handle of bottom-shelf gin and expect your cocktail to be refreshing and flavorful.
To pick the best gins for a classic g & t, we set up another blind taste test. But instead of simply sampling a handful of gins and picking the best to mix into the iconic drink, I literally whipped up cocktails for each taste. Check the results below!
Part 1: The Taste
I selected eight well-known, highly respected brands. My recipe was the same for every bottle — two ounces of gin to four ounces of Fever Tree Tonic and a lime wedge (squeezed over the drink and dropped in the glass). Here’s the lineup:
- Hendrick’s Gin
- Monkey 47 Gin
- The Botanist Islay Dry Gin
- Plymouth Gin
- Tanqueray London Dry Gin
- Beefeater London Dry Gin
- Sipsmith London Dry Gin
- Bombay Sapphire Dry Gin
Let’s do this thing!
This is a floral, herbal gin and it’s obvious in the cocktail’s nose. There’s also plenty of citrus peels (the lime is responsible for part of that) and various spices. The juniper is definitely there on the palate, but it doesn’t sit at the center and, in this case, that’s okay. The floral, spice, and citrus make this a really well-rounded cocktail.
This smells like a gin that was designed to be mixed with. It’s very floral, filled with citrus notes, and has the right amount of juniper aroma. Sipping it revealed more floral flavor as well as lemon peel, pine, coriander, and a nice “freshness” that can’t be pinpointed.
The nose of this cocktail is very citrusy. There’s also a good amount of juniper and a nice herbal quality. The palate is more muted than I’d expect. There’s lemon, lime, and quinine, but the juniper and other herbs aren’t as bold as I prefer in a gin and tonic.
It’s… pretty bland, in all honesty.
The nose is like a double whammy of juniper and citrus zest. It’s a great start for a classic, crisp g & t. There are also noticeable spices, especially coriander and clove. Sipping it brings forward hints of juniper, pine needles, lemon zest, herbal flavors, and a nice, gentle kick of spice at the finish.
From my notes: “This one wowed me.”
The nose is like a field of fresh flowers that evolves into citrus rinds, herbs, and a nice kick of juniper. The palate is juniper-centric with tangerine, lime, lemon, and light spice. All of these flavors work in unison with crisp tonic water.
I was knocked back by the heavy juniper aroma on this one. This was followed by slight spices and just a hint of very muted citrus. In fact, I felt that the only citrus I smelled was the lime I included in the drink. The flavor was more of the same with juniper taking center stage with a lot less citrus than I’d prefer. There also weren’t many other noticeable herbs and botanicals.
Nosing this cocktail revealed strong lemon, lime, quinine, slight spices, and just a hint of juniper. Once again, the juniper is more muted than I’d hoped — this time significantly so. The palate is filled with floral, spicy, citrus flavors, but not enough juniper presence to keep me interested.
One whiff of this drink makes me think that its base is a very complex, well-rounded gin. There are obvious notes of juniper, citrus, and a nice herbal, fresh quality. Drinking it brings me notes of lime, fresh mint, pine, and juniper berries. These flavors give the drink a very balanced flavor.
Part 2: The Ranking
Blind taste tests are a lot of fun. Most of the time, I’m sampling whiskey, gin, rum, or other spirits neat. What makes this one extra exciting is that the gin is already mixed into a cocktail. So not only do I not see the label, I have to sample it already mixed with tonic and lime. Surprises are bound to happen.
Which gin takes the top spot in my gin and tonic ranking? Keep reading to find out and click the prices if you want to buy a bottle of your own.
8) Beefeater London Dry Gin (Taste 3)
Average Price: $25
Beefeater touts itself as the world’s most awarded gin. It makes sense, the brand has been around since the late 1800s. Its flagship gin is its London Dry. Made with nine simple ingredients including juniper, Seville orange, lemon peel, and a few other botanicals and herbs, it’s dry, crisp, and well-suited as a base for this classic cocktail.
No gin on this list is bad — I intentionally picked winners. It’s just that this one tastes a little… cheap. And it relies a little too much on the citrus components.
7) Tanqueray London Dry Gin (Taste 6)
Average Price: $28
A popular choice among bartenders, this award-winning gin has been made the same way since its inception in the 1830s. It’s known for its well-balanced flavor that makes it a great base for your favorite gin-based cocktails. This absolutely includes the classic gin & tonic.
This isn’t a bad gin but it’s definitely gin for fans of heavy juniper and not much else. The floral berry pushes everything else to the wayside.
6) Bombay Sapphire Dry Gin (Taste 7)
Average Price: $30
Bombay Sapphire is one of the most popular gins in the world for good reason. It’s made with juniper berries, licorice, coriander, cassia bark, lemon peel, orris, and a few other herbs and botanicals. Each is expertly selected to make this gin a proper base for your favorite gin-based cocktail.
Like many of the other lower-ranking gins, this expression wasn’t as balanced as I’d hoped. The juniper presence was a lot lower than I desire for a cocktail base.
5) Monkey 47 Gin (Taste 1)
Average Price: $50
England and Scotland are some of the biggest gin producers in Europe. But these aren’t the only countries that make the spirit. Monkey 47 comes from Germany with its 47 ingredients (including bramble leaves, lingonberries, spruce, and angelica root) coming from the famed Black Forest.
The only thing stopping this gin from being ranked higher is the slightly muted juniper flavor. Everything else is there. It could just use a boost of juniper.
4) Hendrick’s Gin (Taste 2)
Average Price: $40
Hendrick’s Gin is one of the most popular gin brands in the world and has been since its inception in 1999. While it’s made with eleven herbs and botanicals, the main flavors are cucumber and rose. This gives it a truly unique flavor that was formulated to be mixed into a cocktail.
This gin — with its citrus and floral qualities and the perfect amount of juniper — gave my cocktail a very fresh, thirst-quenching flavor that I won’t soon forget.
3) The Botanist Islay Gin (Taste 8)
Average Price: $40
The Botanist Islay Gin is an interesting spirit. This extremely popular, reasonably new gin is made by Bruichladdich (well-known for its whisky) on an island known for Scotch. It’s made from 22 botanicals and herbs that were hand foraged in the Inner Hebrides.
This is a high-quality gin with a ton of ingredients for sure. Sometimes that can leave things muddled but this tested well with me. A gin & tonic is light enough to draw out the spirit’s many flavor notes without masking them.
2) Sipsmith London Dry Gin (Taste 5)
Average Price: $35
Sipsmith is one of the newest gin brands around. Since its launch in 2009, it’s managed to make one of the most awarded London dry gins on the market. It’s dry, refreshing, filled with juniper and other botanicals, and quite lovely in a g & t.
Balance seems to be a top priority for me in gin & tonics. In all honestly, it’s hard to top the complexity and balance of this gin. It’s well-suited for the bite of a nice cocktail.
1) Plymouth Gin (Taste 4)
Average Price: $35
Plymouth Gin is one of the most respected brands in the world. It’s made with seven, simple ingredients including juniper berries, coriander, orange peels, lemon peels, angelica root, cardamom, and orris root. It’s as classic as gin gets and well-suited for mixing.
This is the best gin on the list for a classic gin & tonic. It’s floral, citrusy, juniper-centric, and bold. It’s hard to beat the balance of flavors. I’ll definitely come back to this gin this summer.
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