Gin was always the thing. Maybe it was because our fathers drank it, but gin was the drink my teenage contemporaries and I all aspired to as we took our first tentative steps to becoming old soaks.
Of course, in those days — the mid-Seventies — the choice was really limited to Gordon’s or White Satin. We’d sit behind the fives courts mixing quarter bottles of the stuff with Rose’s Lime Cordial and think ourselves the height of sophistication, even though I didn’t like it much. As we grew older, we added tonic, which I really didn’t like.
As a result I went off gin for years. It took the arrival of both Hendrick’s and Fever Tree Tonic to bring me back into the fold, since when there’s been a veritable gin revolution. There are now scores of brands to choose from and now that there are decent mixers available and first class mixologists, how can one not like the stuff?
Gin is the quintessential English drink and if you claim to dislike it, I don’t think you’re trying hard enough.
Sloane’s Premium Dry Gin, 40%vol (£23)
Brand spanking new, distilled in Holland and named after physician (and botanist) Sir Hans Sloane. The critics love it, and it grabbed Best Gin, Best White Spirit and Double Gold Medal at the recent San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Although it uses nine botanicals, including angelica from India, vanilla beans from Madagascar and coriander from Morocco, its dominant flavour is unashamedly juniper and it’s probably the best value classic gin around.
Foxdenton 48% London Dry Gin, 48%vol (£25)
A mighty powerhouse of a gin and although its high strength suits it, I’m not sure that so much should be made of it on the label. The beautifully crafted gin should be allowed to stand on its merits rather than its strength. It’s my gin of choice when making that most sublime of cocktails, the Negroni, and it’s perfect as a pink gin too, thanks to its heady scent and abundance of juniper. If you like this, you’ll adore the exquisite Foxdenton Damson gin.
Geranium Premium London Dry Gin, 44%vol (£25)
This might come in an over-sized aftershave bottle and be something of an acquired taste, but I love it. It’s the palest of pale pink (thanks to the geranium, natch), dry yet aromatic, crisp yet smooth, spicy yet well-balanced. There’s juniper there, for sure, but with an additional delicate touch of sweetness. It’s ideal in the Aviation cocktail, along with lemon juice, gomme syrup, maraschino and crème de violette.
Beefeater 24 London Dry Gin, 45%vol (£26)
Beefeater has been distilling since 1820, but has staunchly met the challenge set by the new wave of gins, creating such expressions as the Summer Edition, Winter Edition and London Market Special Edition. Beefeater 24, though, is my favourite, created in 2008 by the inimitable master distiller, Desmond Payne. With 12 exotic botanicals including grapefruit, Seville orange and Japanese Sencha tea and Chinese green tea, it’s soft, smooth and scented.
Cadenhead’s Old Raj Dry Gin, 55%vol (£27)
Something of a curiosity, this. You hardly ever see or hear about it and I don’t know anyone who drinks it. It is, though, really tasty. It might be an unnerving pee-sample colour and a fearsome 55%vol, but it’s delightfully flavoursome and complex. There’s the usual juniper and citrus thing going on, but underpinned by delicate notes of saffron. Well worth seeking out, especially for those who like their G&T to pack a punch.
Hendrick’s Gin, 41.4%vol (£27)
Produced in Girvan by a whisky-distilling family, William Grant & Sons, Hendrick’s appeared to much fanfare in 1999, with plenty being made of its Victorian-style advertising and opaque apothecary’s bottle. Despite this tedious PR, though, the gin is first-rate. With 12 different botanicals and the addition of two distillates — one of cucumber and one of rose petals — the resulting spirit is light and easy on the palate, delicate and refreshing. Hendrick’s led the way in the gin revolution, and we must give thanks.
Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength London Dry Gin, 45.2%vol (£29)
Batch-distilled in the Black Country, but blended and bottled in Iceland, using pure Icelandic water, this is an old favourite of mine, and despite the claims of myriad other brands, remains Mrs Ray’s gin of choice. Pitch-perfect in terms of strength and botanicals, it’s beautifully soft and smooth but rich and spicy too. It’s perfect with tonic (Fever Tree of course), or on its own straight from the freezer over ice.
Tanqueray Ten Gin, 47.3%vol (£30)
This has been a favourite of mine ever since its creation a dozen years ago and I never tire of it. Wonderfully smooth, thanks to its quadruple distillation, and full of zingy, citrus freshness, thanks to its use of whole oranges, grapefruit and limes rather than just peel, it makes a truly exhilarating gin and tonic. So citrusy is it, that I reckon that the usual addition of a slice of lemon is a little de trop.
Bathtub Gin, 43.3%vol (£32)
Hot off the press. My heart plummeted when I first saw it, with its ‘quirky’ packaging, complete with twine, brown paper wrapping and unreadable ‘Professor Cornelius Appleforth’ label. Having sampled it, though, I found that it was more than all right. Rustic, robust and earthy in style rather than cool and elegant, it’s the perfect ingredient for a Dirty Martini or the all-too-rarely-served Red Snapper (Bloody Mary with gin rather than vodka).
Berrys’ No. 3 London Dry Gin, 46%vol (£34)
An absolute copper-bottomed belter, launched 12 months ago to unalloyed praise (not just for the spirit but for its wonderfully stylish packaging too). By keeping it simple, with just three fruits (juniper berries, orange and grapefruit peel) and three spices (coriander, cardamom and angelica root), Berrys’ have come up with a truly elegant, poised and sophisticated gin. It’s fresh, vibrant and citrusy and although spot on with tonic, it’s as a Dry Martini with a suspicion of Dolin vermouth that it really shines.
Jonathan Ray is drinks editor of GQ and doesn’t like too much tonic in his gin.