If you’re not a big gin drinker, you might assume that all gin tastes the same. This herb and botanical-filled clear spirit is definitely juniper-centric, first and foremost, as it’s the main flavor, but beyond that, gin allows for almost endless variation. Even the classic, well-known, and historic gin brands are subtly different, using different herbs and botanicals to even out their flavor profiles.
Arguably even more so than with other spirits, in gin there are the big names and then, after a big gulf, everything else. What exactly propels one brand into stratospheric popularity as opposed to another? Is it marketing? Has it just been around forever so everyone has heard about it? Is it just dumb luck? Are the handful of brands that sell more and get more acclaim than countless others really the best gins available or are they simply overrated?
To try to separate hype from quality, we figured the best idea was to turn once again to the classic blind taste test. For our latest, we took eight of the best selling, most well known, and potentially overrated gins on the market today and rated them blind. This includes some well-known, historic London Dry gins as well as some newer, more contemporary brands. We nosed, tasted, and ranked them to try to determine which of these well-known gins are overrated and which are accurately rated.
- Beefeater London Dry Gin
- Bombay Sapphire London Dry Gin
- Tanqueray London Dry Gin
- Hendrick’s Gin
- The Botanist Islay Dry Gin
- Aviation American Gin
- Gordon’s London Dry Gin
- Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin
Part 1: The Taste
There isn’t much going on with this gin’s nose unless you are a rabid fan of juniper. The pine-scented berry as well as slight citrus and even less pepper is literally all I could smell on the nose. There’s slightly more going on with the palate, but not much. It’s very juniper-centered with some lemon zest and maybe some pepper and licorice. Still fairly boring and juniper-focused.
While juniper is ever-present, this gin has a bold, almost overwhelming aroma of lemon and other citrus fruits that moves into slightly floral, earthy, herbal scents. But that’s about it. The palate is very juniper-centered with some lemon peel and wintry spices. I tried to find more, but just couldn’t. Overall, not a bad gin but pretty unexciting.
The nose is highly complex with juniper berries, bright pine, lemon zest, orange peel, cracked black pepper, and herbal, floral notes. The palate continues this trend with more juniper, pine needles, orange peel, lemon zest, chamomile tea, anise, cinnamon, and gentle spices. It’s dry, warming, and highly memorable.
A nose of earthy grass, bright juniper, orange peels, maybe some cracked black pepper, and other herbs. The palate followed suit with more of a punch of juniper, licorice, coriander, and citrus zest. It’s fairly complex and has enough aromas and flavors that it will take another sampling or two to find them all. All in all, a pretty well-balanced, complex gin.
The nose is pine needles, juniper, pepper, and not much else. Maybe a little earthy, herbal aroma, but it’s hard to place. The palate is almost too heavily relying on juniper. It’s difficult for anything else to get through. There are slight notes of citrus and pine, but the whole thing was really dominated by over-the-top juniper.
Complex aromas of pine, juniper, cucumber, bright citrus, and slight floral scents are prevalent on the nose. Sipping it revealed even more flavor. What starts with juniper berries moves quickly into orris root, chamomile tea, lemon zest, cucumber, and a gentle, earthy, slightly herbal, floral backbone that brings everything together nicely.
A lot is going on with this gin’s nose. Lemon zest, orange peel, pine, juniper, and lightly floral aromas met my nose before the first sip. While the palate began with piney juniper berries, it quickly evolved into notes of cracked black pepper, herbal mint, lemon zest, and light spices. Overall, a very complex gin that will require multiple samplings to truly reveal all the flavors.
Juniper, juniper, juniper, and not much else. There’s a slight hint of citrus zest and maybe some anise, but that’s about it. If you’re into that sort of thing, good for you. I prefer a little more depth. The palate wasn’t much different with more pine-tree juniper essence as well as slight cinnamon and maybe some coriander and pepper. This isn’t a bad gin, it’s just a little too juniper-centered for my liking. I wish there were at least a few other noticeable aromas and flavors.
Part 2: The Rankings
8) Gordon’s London Dry Gin (Taste 5)
Average Price: $18.99
Created more than 250 years ago by a man named Alexander Gordon, this London Dry gin is well-known for its bold, juniper-forward flavor. Made the same way since the late 1700s, the recipe also includes coriander, angelica root, orris root, licorice, orange peel, and lemon peel.
It’s hard to say Gordon’s is overrated because it’s really fairly cheap for a big-name brand. But it’s so aggressively juniper-centric that it tastes even cheaper than its low price.
7) Beefeater London Dry Gin (Taste 1)
Average Price: $20.99
Named for The Yeomen Warders at the Palace of London (the monarchy’s bodyguards, basically), this gin is one of the most highly-awarded London Dry Gins ever made, with flavors like juniper, Seville oranges, lemon peels, and other herbs and botanicals.
For being one of the most awarded gins in the world, Beefeater is a bit of a one-trick pony. Juniper (and to a lesser degree citrus) is the dominant flavor and it doesn’t allow any other flavors to shine. Verdict? Overrated.
6) Bombay Sapphire London Dry Gin (Taste 2)
Average Price: $21.99
There are few gins brands more popular than Bombay Sapphire. But does that really mean that it’s one of the best available? One of the more exotic gins on the market, Bombay Sapphire is flavored by Juniper, Grains of Paradise, cubeb berries, orris root, and various other herbs and botanicals.
It’s clear from this blind tasting that Bombay Sapphire London Dry Gin, while a decent gin, is at the very least slightly overrated. It’s not as complex as I would have expected with all of its exotic ingredients.
5) Tanqueray London Dry Gin (Taste 8)
Average Price: $21.99
A favorite of bartenders throughout the world, Tanqueray London Dry Gin is known for its simplicity. While some brands opt for a large number of ingredients, Tanqueray relies simply on juniper berries, angelica root, licorice root, and coriander. That’s it.
When I read about the simplicity of Tanqueray, I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t really love it when tasted blind. I’ve mixed this gin into gin & tonics in the past and the addition of citrus propelled the flavor. It’s just a little overrated on its own.
4) Aviation American Gin (Taste 4)
Average Price: $26.99
Even if you’re not a gin drinker, you probably know about Aviation American Gin, thanks to its affiliation with (and commercials starring) Ryan Reynolds (who is famously Canadian). This highly popular gin gets its flavor from the addition of juniper, orange peel, lavender, cardamom, and various other herbs and botanicals.
While juniper is unsurprisingly the main flavor in this gin, there are enough other complementary flavors that make it a very memorable, flavorful gin. It’s safe to say Aviation is not overrated.
3) Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin (Taste 7)
Average Price: $72.99
When people think of Germany’s Black Forest, most picture chocolate cake, ham, or the Brothers Grimm. But it’s also home to Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin, a spirit that gets its name from its 47% alcohol, but also because from the 47 herbs and botanicals used to flavor it, including juniper, bramble leaves, lingonberries, and spruce shoots.
I worried that Monkey 47 might not fare well because there are so many flavors, that they would all meld together and I wouldn’t be able to discern each individually. I was wrong. Verdict: Not overrated.
2) Hendrick’s Gin (Taste 6)
Average Price: $35
Even though Hendrick’s was only launched in 1999, it’s become one of the most popular brands in the world. Hendrick’s has a unique flavor thanks to rose petals and cucumbers, but also contains 11 other herbs and botanicals, including juniper, angelica, orris, caraway, and chamomile.
I’ve purchased Hendrick’s in the past and mixed cocktails with it, but I don’t think I ever really took the time to sample all of the aromas and flavors. It’s so much more than just a cucumber and rose-flavored gin. Definitely not overrated.
1) The Botanist Islay Dry Gin (Taste 3)
Average Price: $39.99
One of the islands of the Inner Hebrides off the coast of Scotland, Islay is well known for its whisky distilleries. One of the most well-known Scotch distilleries there, Bruichladdich, launched this gin back in 2011. Flavored with 31 herbs and botanicals, including 22 that were hand foraged on the island, it’s a truly unique, flavorful gin.
There’s a reason The Botanist Islay Dry Gin is popular. It’s complex with myriad flavors, but it manages to have enough juniper and classic botanicals to remind you that you’re drinking gin. It’s definitely one to try if you haven’t.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
When I took a look at the final rankings, it became quite clear to me that I prefer a more flavorful, complex gin than a classic, traditional London Dry. We can argue “overrated” or not all day, but it’s obvious that if a gin relies too heavily on juniper berries and not much else, it won’t make the top of my rankings.