Spring Symphony: The Gin Variations
11 flavorful gins that stay on the juniper road
I’m not one of those people who think every spirit has a season for enjoyment. I’ll drink happily whiskey Manhattans in summer, rum Daiquiris and tequila Palomas all winter long. But I’m not going to lie. My go-to summer spirit is definitely gin. We’re in a great era for it, too, with incredible variations being released from all over the world.
A well-made dry gin is a classic beauty. It’s the little black dress of spirits—endlessly versatile, elegant and essential. However, producers are also playing with far-flung ingredients to great effect. Below I’ve chosen 10 gins that are fairly new on the scene, and show off some cool techniques, styles and flavors without overpowering or masking their defining ingredient: juniper.
Ford’s Gin Officer’s Reserve No. 01
54.5% ABV, $40
This wordly gin is based on a style historically enjoyed by officers of the British Merchant Navy, who were known to be a bit fancy, preferring their gin over-proofed and rested in sherry casks. For the first new expression in the Ford’s lineup since its launch in 2012, Simon Ford has worked with Thames Distillers to kick the proprietary recipe of 9 botanicals up a notch by resting it for 3 weeks in amontillado sherry casks, blending it with unaged gin and bottling it at 109 proof. This summer’s star Negroni ingredient reporting for duty!
Sipsmith Lemon Drizzle
40.4% ABV, $40
I used to send a gin mule to the UK to smuggle back this delicious treat, but Sipsmith Lemon Drizzle finally made its stateside debut just in time for warm weather sipping! The Sipsmith proprietary copper pot-stilled gin is bathed in lemon—lemon peel, lemon verbena and fresh lemons are vapor-infused into the recipe. The resulting gin really does taste like liquid lemon tea cake. You don’t have to do much to it. My preferred serve is with a simple splash of soda, but it’s a brilliant match for sherry Martini variations, even added to mint iced tea for the ultimate summer parlor-worthy sip.
Copper & Kings History of Lovers Pink Rose Gin and The Ninth Orange Gin
both 45% ABV, $35
History of Lovers has many romantic twists. It’s made with the distillery’s apple brandy as its spirit base, with rose hips, rose water, honey, sweet orange, tangerine, lime, pink grapefruit peels, jasmine and lavender petals among its botanicals macerated in it, then it’s redistilled with more rose, grapefruit and lavender in the gin basket. I was afraid it would taste like a tragic bath and body shop shop accident, but the florals are surprisingly subtle, fresh and yes, seductive. It’s especially good on the rocks with a splash of soda and lemon (with Nick Cave crooning on the stereo). The Ninth is a nod to the use of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in A Clockwork Orange. It’s produced in the same style and method as the History of Lovers but the florals are swapped for orange with a hint of coriander and jasmine, rested in Destillaré Intense Orange Curaçao barrels. What I like about both of these is though the florals and citrus are flavor-forward, they are still unmistakably gin, and do all the things gins can do. Copper & Kings owner Joe Heron suggests using the Ninth in an Edwyn Collins (after lead singer of post punk band Orange Juice), with grapefruit soda, garnished with blood orange or grapefruit.
43% ABV, $28
Though it launched last autumn, this gin from Suntory that recently won a gold medal in the 2019 NY International Spirits Competition is a must for spring and summer. The name in Japanese means “six”, referring to the number of extra botanicals—Sakura flower, Sakura leaf, Yuzu peel, Sencha tea, Gyokuro tea and Sansho pepper—infused, distilled and blended into the gin recipe. My seasonal allergies prevent me from fully enjoying a romp through the botanical gardens, but I can get there in spirit with this gin in my glass instead. Try it in a highball with a splash of yuzu juice and a shiso leaf garnish (The Roku Rickey), or in a 3:1 Martini garnished with a light spray of grapefruit peel oil (but so as not to disturb the balance of these botanicals, don’t ruin the drink by leaving the peel in the glass).
The gin starts with a traditional copper pot still process, which is then blended with one that has been vibrantly infused with orange peel, cassia, juniper, coriander, cardamom and clove. It’s still very ginny, but there is something that triggers my amaro-loving palate, and makes me want to relax on a balcony with it served in a tall glass, topped with amaro Sibilia and Aranciata soda. Though “bathtub” here has historical, not literal, connotation, it is awfully inspiring…
43% ABV, $35
You might be challenged to find this gin, which also won gold at the 2019 NY International Spirits Competition, but it’s worth seeking out. This limited release from this Frederick, MD distiller has added lavender, mint and cucumber and is rested in Madeira wine casks. When I tasted it, I was happy to sip it neat, but to cool off after a long day in the sun, this gin would be heavenly if mixed with a bit of lemonade or served shaken with lemon juice and simple syrup as a gin sour.
43.4% ABV, $35
Speaking of gardens, this limited edition release from Hendrick’s in the glamorous purple glass bottle is something you’ll want to sip barefoot while lounging in one. Master Distiller Lesley Gracie enhanced the floral notes of the proprietary recipe which includes rose and cucumber. This is the second gin from Gracie’s “Cabinet of Curiosities” from the Hendrick’s Gin Palace in Girvan, Scotland. Exactly which florals were chosen for the botanical mix is not specified, but I definitely taste lavender, as well as sweet citrus, making the spirit taste a bit like one of those lavender pastille candies. The obvious serve is topped with bubbles and citrus fruits or sliced cucumber, but I think these flavors would play spectacularly in a tropical tiki-style drink with some pineapple and coconut!
43% ABV, $50
“I’m distilled in the foothills of the Himalayas” is quite the pickup line for a gin. This studly offering in the nightclub-ready, all-black bottle is produced at the Rampur Distillery by the company Radico Khaitan, using Darjeeling green tea leaves, coriander, orange peel, lemongrass and cubeb pepper berries (google tells me these are native to Java and Sumatra), among other botanicals. I appreciate this gin for tasting like a balanced tea, without excessive florals or relying on a particular fruit note. The flavors would be especially appealing when mixed with more citrus for cocktails such as a Bees Knees.
43% ABV, $45
Using foraged seaside botanicals, this spirit was the first in the Scottish distillery’s collaboration with Heriot-Watt University’s Brewing and Distilling degree course. Scurvy grass, ground ivy and bladderwrack taste far better (and far less medically alarming) than they sound in a gin that’s also set off with aromatics from cardamom and coriander. Since this spirit is a wee bit salty, but still finishes sweet, you might be inspired to try it in your own take on a saline cocktail.
45% ABV, $55
“Bet they make a really cool gin” is probably not the first consideration when Los Angeles comes to mind, but distiller and The Spirit Guild founder Morgan McLachlan has produced a red carpet-worthy spirit for the company Amass—a project that will work with distillers in different cities to produce premium spirits. 29 botanicals were used to create the layered flavor profile that is meant to celebrate the city’s diverse cultural backgrounds. These include California bay leaf, lion’s mane and reishi mushrooms, cedar berry, cacao, sarsaparilla, ashwagandha, Kaffir lime leaf, long pepper, hibiscus, ginger and local citrus. While it sounds fussy, the ingredients harmonize together well for a simple, refreshing, zingy, dry gin style that will match a variety of cocktail twists. Or you can simply use it to kick up some spicy ginger beer for your own mule variation. The gin won a bronze in the 2019 NYISC.