Everything You Need to Know About Gin, From Best Brands to Best Mixers

Courtesy House of Suntory

“Dutch courage” and “mother’s ruin”—is there a more storied, versatile spirit than gin? 

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Whether you love experimenting with new flavors or prefer a crisp London Dry that stays true to the spirit’s bold beginnings, when it comes to the best gin there’s truly an infinite range of flavor profiles and personalities.

By using botanicals native to a particular region, gin brands all over the world have found their own unique take on the versatile spirit. Whether it’s a funky dry gin like Monkey47 from Germany’s Black Forest that’s packed with botanicals like lingonberries or a Japanese gin like Suntory’s Roku with ingredients like sansho pepper and yuzu peel. One thing is for sure, centuries since its first iteration, the gin-aissance is yet to slow its pace.

With so many gins to choose from, how does a gin drinker know which bottle to go for? Should you be pouring different gin styles like London Dry, Old Tom, or Navy Strength gins for different cocktails? Are cask-aged gins or contemporary, flavored bottles like the pink gins lining liquor stores worth a try?

A bottle of Citadelle Original on juniper berries
Bruno Delessard/Courtesy Maison Ferrand

A Brief History of Gin 

Gin is essentially high proof vodka that’s flavored with botanicals. Most importantly though is that there are always juniper berries present. If it doesn’t have juniper berries, it wouldn’t be gin, so you’ll always find a pine-scented punch of juniper in a bottle of gin. And the history of this bold juniper spirit goes back a long way.

While many people know gin comes from the Dutch spirit genever (which was drank for calming medicinal reasons by local troops before battle, hence the term “Dutch courage”) gin’s history dates back to 70 A.D. when Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides published an encyclopaedia on herbal medicine in which he described the use of wine-soaked juniper berries to cure chest ailments. The next pre-gin iteration then fast-forwards to 1055, when Benedictine monks in Salerno, Italy, wrote about a juniper-infused tonic made of wine in the Compendium Solernita.

However, gin didn’t really become popular in England until late 17th-century when the Brits brought genever over and lost the malt barley wine to create “gin”. Thanks to some loose distilling laws, the Gin Craze swept over London creating a period of gaudy, over-the-top consumption that nearly destroyed the city and coined the term “mother’s ruin.” According to History.co.uk, it’s estimated that the average Londoner drank a staggering 14 gallons of the stuff a year back then until laws were put in place.

After all these years, how is the spirit still having its moment? According to Amass master distiller Morgan McLachlan it’s thanks to refreshingly new experimental flavors from new gin brands around the world. “Gone are the days when gin was just about juniper,” McLachlan told Departures. “More and more distillers are bringing fresh new botanicals into the fold, which is leading to some truly special, thoughtful spirits.”

A grapefruit cocktail made with Salcombe Gin
Courtesy Salcombe Distilling Co.

What Should a Good Gin Taste Like?

Sipsmith’s master distiller Jared Brown believes the first thing to look for in a good gin is “a spirit that warms rather than burns.” He told Departures, “good spirits warm, bad spirits burn.” The warmth comes from the alcohol. Burn comes from impurities that are removed when distillation is at its best. “In gin, I next look for the classic soft pine and sweet citrus of Mediterranean juniper. After that, I look for a balance of citrus and spice, of earthy, creamy, and floral notes. I also appreciate a long and rounded finish.”

The Best Gin Brands on the Market Now

Luckily, there are many good gins on the market for every palate. While London Dry gins like Beefeater ($20) and Sipsmith ($36) remain the classic choice for Martinis and gin and tonics, you’ll find a slew of other gin styles making their way to home bars, from resurrected “Old Toms” like Hayman’s ($33) that are slightly sweeter to contemporary styles like cask-aged gins (whisky lover’s should try Milk & Honey’s Levantine Gin Oak Aged ($49), pink gins for rosé fans and rye-based US gins like Aviation or St. George’s Terroir gin ($35) for a creative American twist.

RELATED: How to Make a Flawless Martini, According to the Experts 

Here are some of the very best gin brands available now, from traditional London Dry to avant-garde American craft gins.

A bottle of Monkey47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin, Germany
Courtesy Wine.com

Monkey47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin, Germany
To buy: $80, Wine.com

A bottle of The Botanist Islay Dry Gin, Scotland
Courtesy Wine.com

The Botanist Islay Dry Gin, Scotland
To buy: $40, Wine.com

A bottle of Sipsmith London Dry Gin, England
Courtesy Wine.com

Sipsmith London Dry Gin, England
To buy: $37, Wine.com

A bottle of Citadelle Gin, France
Courtesy Maison Ferrand

Citadelle Gin, France
To buy: $26, Wine.com

A cocktail made of Salcombe Gin 'Rosé Sainte Marie, England
Courtesy Salcombe Distilling Co.

Salcombe Gin 'Rosé Sainte Marie, England
To buy: $43, Drizly.com

A bottle and cocktail of Vim & Petal Gin, Ohio
Rachel Barehl/Courtesy Vim & Petal Gin

Vim & Petal Gin, Ohio
To buy: $30, Middlewestspirits.com

A bottle of Amass, California
Jose Moreno/Courtesy Amass

Amass, California
To buy: $50, Drizly.com

A bottle of gin and tonic of Suntory Roku Gin, Japan
Courtesy House of Suntory

Suntory Roku Gin, Japan
To buy: $33, Wine.com 

Jaisalmer Indian Craft Gin, India
To buy: $60, Totalwine.com 

A bottle of Hepple Dutch Gin, England
Courtesy Drizly

Hepple Dutch Gin, England
To buy: $43, Drizly.com

A bottle of Nolet's Silver Dry Gin, Netherlands
Courtesy Wine.com

Nolet's Silver Dry Gin, Netherlands
To buy: $41, Wine.com

A bottle of Four Pillars Navy Strength Gin, Australia
Courtesy Wine.com

Four Pillars Navy Strength Gin, Australia
To buy: $45, Wine.com

A bottle of Gin Mare, Spain
Courtesy Drizly

Gin Mare, Spain
To buy: $35, Drizly.com

These Are the Best Gin Mixers

It doesn’t get much simpler than these classic mixers. For a refreshing gin and tonic it’s all about good quality tonics like Fever-Tree ($5). Make yours on the stronger side, like The American Bar’s Head Bartender with one part gin to two parts of tonic. If you’re after something a little less bitter but just as simple then a Gin Rickey is what’s called for, that’s a mix of gin and soda. Want something a little different? Try Earl Grey tea or ginger beer for a calming alternative to tonic.

RELATED: The Best Uses for Sweet and Dry Vermouth to Up Your Cocktail Game

The Best Gin Cocktails

There are a thousand and one ways to enjoy gin in a cocktail. If you add one part vermouth to five parts London Dry gin you’ve got yourself a flawless Dry Martini. Add Campari and sweet vermouth to create a Negroni. For a refreshing, long drink add fresh lemon sour mix and club soda to get a Tom Collins (or a personal favorite, the Bee’s Knees which is fresh lemon juice, honey syrup and gin). Sweet toothed-drinkers can try Raffles’ famous Singapore Sling. Reach for lime juice and simple syrup to get a Gimlet or try vodka and Lillet Blanc with your gin for Ian Fleming’s twist on the martini, the Vesper.