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20 of the Best Gins to Drink in 2021

Esquire (UK) Logo By Stacey Smith, Esquire Editors of Esquire (UK) | Slide 1 of 21: If lockdown has taught us anything, it’s that we get bored easily and that we need booze. Come aperitivo hour, you could reach for your tried and tested bottle of Gordon’s, because that’s just what’s there, or you could buy yourself something a little bit new. A little bit different. And give drinks o’clock the boost it needs.Picked by the expertsBest for a gimlet: Chapel Down Bacchus GinBest for a dirty martini: Four Pillars Olive Leaf GinBest for a dry martini: Ableforth's Bathtub GinBest for negronis: Silent Pool Rare Citrus GinBest gin gift: Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry GinBest everyday gin: East London Liquor CompanyBest served with cucumber: Hendrick’s GinBest tropical-tasting gin: Adnams Orange & Sea Buckthorn Gin Best floral gin: The Cotswolds Distillery Wildflower Gin Best pink gin: Mirabeau Rose GinBest blackcurrant gin: Tanqueray Blackcurrant Royale GinBest Plymouth gin: Plymouth GinPicked by the Esquire editorsCanaïma ginThe Botanist Islay GinCrafty Hills & Harbour GinRoku GinKi No Bi Kyoto Dry GinJaisalmer Indian Craft GinBoatyard Double GinColonsay Cait SithWhat exactly is gin?Unlike drinks that are classified according to their distilling technique or the ingredients used, gin is a matter of taste. By which we mean that gin is only gin if it has juniper as its predominant flavour and an alcohol content of at least 37.5% ABV. Juniper berries have been used to make spirits practically back to year dot, but the gin of today is thought to be a derivative of the Dutch genever, commonly said to have been invented by chemist Sylvius de Bouve in the seventeenth century. Like most things relating to gin’s murky beginnings, this is hotly disputed. A basic form of gin was found in England around the same time, but was consumed as a sort of medicine (so not exactly enjoyed). But come what may, by the time Dutch King William III was established on the throne, gin was a part of life in this country. It hit its first prime in the 1700s, in what was called the ‘Gin Craze’, though you’d be forgiven for assuming the term relates to the spirit’s more recent renaissance – last year, the UK industry was valued at £2.6bn.While genever tends to be more floral and fragrant, thanks to the malt-wine at its core (which demands more sugar and seasoning to balance it), gin is dryer, sharper and has a greater focus on juniper. It requires a base spirit that is usually (but not always) neutral in taste, and which can be made from a number of things, including potatoes, grapes and grains. Often, it's not actually made by the people who turn it into gin, but rather bought in from dedicated stills and then mixed with that brand's specific set of flavourings – juniper berries, of course, plus any other botanicals desired (popular ones are orange, lemon, cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander and angelica root). Said mixing is generally done through a process of redistilling, but a more basic method is simply to steep the spirit with the other ingredients – this will make a ‘compound’ or ‘bathtub’ gin.Types of ginLondon Dry is the UK’s tried and tested style. It absolutely does not have to come from London, or from England at all, but it does have to be dry in the traditional sense of the word – by not containing much sugar. It also cannot have any artificial flavours in it, and the flavours it does have must have been imparted during the redistilling process – no adding in afterwards. These examples are likely to be sharp and clean tasting with more pronounced citrus notes, rather than anything too aromatic.Distilled gins are similar to London Drys, but their flavours can be added after re-distillation and can be natural or artificial. They account for a lot of the wackier combinations (and colours) out there.An Old Tom gin will be sweeter than a London Dry but not quite as sweet as genever (it’s often called “the missing link” between the two). The name comes from the tomcat-shaped wooden signs that apparently adorned the outsides of certain pubs in Victorian times, surreptitiously advertising shots of gin when the nation’s thirst for the stuff had panicked the government into hiking taxes on it as a deterrent. Today’s examples tend to be gentler and less tart than London Drys, often with big hints of liquorice and a notably smooth consistency.There are myriad stories surrounding the origins of Navy-Strength gin but the name tells you all you need to know. Approach with caution, but remember that a beefier alcohol content can temper flavours, so you’re unlikely to get any nasty surprises with these (bar the hangover).Plymouth Gin is even more straightforward. It can only be made in Plymouth and has been trademarked to one brand, so you should know exactly what you’re getting.Then there's sloe gin, which technically isn't a gin at all – it's a liqueur, not a spirit. Made by mixing gin and sloe berries, it's rich and sweet, and comes in at a lower alcohol level (at least 25% ABV in the EU).How to drink gin in 2021We may be a nation of gin and tonic devotees, but that doesn’t mean that your imagination has to stop at ‘ice and a slice’ (of lemon, or even lime) when making one. Take a look at the bottle to find what botanicals your gin was made with and choose a few as your garnish. Cucumber, coriander, chilli, a bay leaf, a twist of black pepper – when it comes to the perfect G&T, variety is the spice of life. One of the reasons gin remains so popular is that it can carry big flavours, so make the most of it.The boom in gins has inspired an accompanying explosion in gin cocktails, particularly the negroni, although the classic martini is also enjoying a resurgence. Both are best created with dryer gins, because broad and flowery flavours tend to get lost. You need a gin that's going to give your drink a kick.Or, if all else fails, just pour your gin over some ice and be done.How we testWe selected 72 gins of varying types and prices, and laid them out before our trusted panel of experts and consumer boozehounds. Each was fully appraised for its complexity, length and finish, with in-depth discussions on how best to serve.Their favourites are below, followed by our editors’ picks that were also deemed worthy of a mention. Cheers!

If lockdown has taught us anything, it’s that we get bored easily and that we need booze. Come aperitivo hour, you could reach for your tried and tested bottle of Gordon’s, because that’s just what’s there, or you could buy yourself something a little bit new. A little bit different. And give drinks o’clock the boost it needs.

Picked by the experts

Picked by the Esquire editors

What exactly is gin?

Unlike drinks that are classified according to their distilling technique or the ingredients used, gin is a matter of taste. By which we mean that gin is only gin if it has juniper as its predominant flavour and an alcohol content of at least 37.5% ABV.

Juniper berries have been used to make spirits practically back to year dot, but the gin of today is thought to be a derivative of the Dutch genever, commonly said to have been invented by chemist Sylvius de Bouve in the seventeenth century. Like most things relating to gin’s murky beginnings, this is hotly disputed.

A basic form of gin was found in England around the same time, but was consumed as a sort of medicine (so not exactly enjoyed). But come what may, by the time Dutch King William III was established on the throne, gin was a part of life in this country. It hit its first prime in the 1700s, in what was called the ‘Gin Craze’, though you’d be forgiven for assuming the term relates to the spirit’s more recent renaissance – last year, the UK industry was valued at £2.6bn.

While genever tends to be more floral and fragrant, thanks to the malt-wine at its core (which demands more sugar and seasoning to balance it), gin is dryer, sharper and has a greater focus on juniper. It requires a base spirit that is usually (but not always) neutral in taste, and which can be made from a number of things, including potatoes, grapes and grains.

Often, it's not actually made by the people who turn it into gin, but rather bought in from dedicated stills and then mixed with that brand's specific set of flavourings – juniper berries, of course, plus any other botanicals desired (popular ones are orange, lemon, cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander and angelica root). Said mixing is generally done through a process of redistilling, but a more basic method is simply to steep the spirit with the other ingredients – this will make a ‘compound’ or ‘bathtub’ gin.

Types of gin

London Dry is the UK’s tried and tested style. It absolutely does not have to come from London, or from England at all, but it does have to be dry in the traditional sense of the word – by not containing much sugar. It also cannot have any artificial flavours in it, and the flavours it does have must have been imparted during the redistilling process – no adding in afterwards. These examples are likely to be sharp and clean tasting with more pronounced citrus notes, rather than anything too aromatic.

Distilled gins are similar to London Drys, but their flavours can be added after re-distillation and can be natural or artificial. They account for a lot of the wackier combinations (and colours) out there.

An Old Tom gin will be sweeter than a London Dry but not quite as sweet as genever (it’s often called “the missing link” between the two). The name comes from the tomcat-shaped wooden signs that apparently adorned the outsides of certain pubs in Victorian times, surreptitiously advertising shots of gin when the nation’s thirst for the stuff had panicked the government into hiking taxes on it as a deterrent. Today’s examples tend to be gentler and less tart than London Drys, often with big hints of liquorice and a notably smooth consistency.

There are myriad stories surrounding the origins of Navy-Strength gin but the name tells you all you need to know. Approach with caution, but remember that a beefier alcohol content can temper flavours, so you’re unlikely to get any nasty surprises with these (bar the hangover).

Plymouth Gin is even more straightforward. It can only be made in Plymouth and has been trademarked to one brand, so you should know exactly what you’re getting.

Then there's sloe gin, which technically isn't a gin at all – it's a liqueur, not a spirit. Made by mixing gin and sloe berries, it's rich and sweet, and comes in at a lower alcohol level (at least 25% ABV in the EU).

How to drink gin in 2021

We may be a nation of gin and tonic devotees, but that doesn’t mean that your imagination has to stop at ‘ice and a slice’ (of lemon, or even lime) when making one. Take a look at the bottle to find what botanicals your gin was made with and choose a few as your garnish. Cucumber, coriander, chilli, a bay leaf, a twist of black pepper – when it comes to the perfect G&T, variety is the spice of life. One of the reasons gin remains so popular is that it can carry big flavours, so make the most of it.

The boom in gins has inspired an accompanying explosion in gin cocktails, particularly the negroni, although the classic martini is also enjoying a resurgence. Both are best created with dryer gins, because broad and flowery flavours tend to get lost. You need a gin that's going to give your drink a kick.

Or, if all else fails, just pour your gin over some ice and be done.

How we test

We selected 72 gins of varying types and prices, and laid them out before our trusted panel of experts and consumer boozehounds. Each was fully appraised for its complexity, length and finish, with in-depth discussions on how best to serve.

Their favourites are below, followed by our editors’ picks that were also deemed worthy of a mention. Cheers!

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