It’s been an interesting botanical-filled few weeks at Food & Wine—our edit team has tasted more than fifty gins for an upcoming piece in the magazine. We’ve sipped the gamut, from pedestrian London dries to spirits that truly highlight gin’s full potential. While our Ray Isle will be sharing his shortlist in our May issue, I couldn’t wait to share my list of off-the-beaten-path favorites. Keep your eyes peeled for these labels—while some of them might be harder to find, they’re worth tracking down for spring (or even sooner if you’re interested in sipping any winter gin cocktails).
St. George Spirits, Terroir Gin — $35
A veteran of the liquor scene with a broad range of products, St. George is a craft distillery out of San Francisco. It’s well known for producing classics, like its aptly named ‘All-Purpose Vodka’—but the more innovative drinks are what really grab my attention.
And while they make several gins, my stand-out favorite has to be the Terroir Gin. It makes me feel like I’m in the redwood forests of Big Sur. A fundamental component of gin is that it must be juniper-flavored, but St. George departs here and veers into the distinctly pine-flavored. It’s a noted change, and one that carries more weight than one might think. It’s intensely herbal and aromatic; sage leads the pack, but there’s a compelling note of underbrush in the forest, too.
Related: An American Gin Renaissance
Four Pillars Distillery, 58.8 Gin Navy Strength — $38
Navy strength gin has a fascinating story behind its burly moniker. During its days of imperial colonizing and general pillaging, the British navy kept its sailors well-supplied with gin, which was a (perceived) solution to many of waterborne life’s problems. However, should the gin be bought from a less-than-reputable seller, it may be diluted down to an unacceptable level. Thus, a test was born: should gunpowder be soaked in the gin, and the gunpowder failed to ignite, the gin was unacceptably weak. The threshold to pass this test, as it turns out, is exactly 114 proof—or 57% alcohol. So the tradition of high-proof or ‘navy strength’ gin was born.
Four Pillars’ offering is certainly no lightweight—in fact, it’s the only gin on this list at navy strength—but the 58.8 doesn’t sacrifice anything for its high ABV. Forward and eloquent, its spicy Australian ginger, finger limes, and turmeric botanicals combine for a powerful experience without being overwhelming. I find it best fits in a G&T—the distillers recommended it ‘after a particularly long day at work.’ What I wouldn’t give to be on an Aussie beach sipping one of those!
Bruichladdich, The Botanist Islay Dry Gin — $40
Bruichladdich is justifiably known as a bit of a modernizer in the single-malt world; its bottles, which forgo the traditional, somewhat dusty seals and royal writs in favor of clear sans-serif text and bright colors, nevertheless contain scotch that holds up among a very strong field. They push the edges of what traditional single-malt scotch looks like—the Octomore, a periodic release, is marketed as ‘the most heavily peated [smoky] Scotch in the world’.
Its gin is made from the original Victorian stills—there are no computers involved in the distilling process. The master distiller and their team judge everything by feel and a few select tools. The resulting gin is a savory, herbaceous take on the spirit. Twenty-two wild-harvested herbs contribute to it, resulting in a complex drink that evokes the Scottish wilds from whence it came. I’d say the Botanist is a good choice for any cocktail that revolves around its booze.
Related: How To Make the Perfect Martini
Neversink Spirits, Neversink Gin — $45
Another domestic, Neversink is not only notable for its hints of apple-pie spices and licorice, it’s also based entirely on upstate NY apples. The ability to do so is a function of how the gin is made; much like its sister spirit vodka, gin can be made from essentially any agricultural product. While most examples are made from grains like barley, grapes, potatoes, and even sugar cane can be used.
Here, the apple base results in a totally unique spirit, lush and full in the mouth, and a distinctly apple-y finish. It’s probably the least ‘classic’ gin on this list—evoking comparisons to eau-de-vie and applejack from our editors. Of course, while juniper is certainly still present, it takes a backseat to the pleasingly warm apple spice.
Related: The Best-Ever Gin & Tonic
Stonecutter Spirits, Single Barrel Gin — $48
While its botanicals are well within the standard range of distillates found in gin, Stonecutter Spirits’ Single Barrel Gin distinguishes itself with just that: the barrel. Oak barrels, traditionally almost exclusively reserved for amber spirits and wine, have found a home in some craft distillers’ cellars for a new task: aging clear spirits. This new trend of aging is notable for a number of reasons—perhaps chiefly that gin was the spirit of choice during Prohibition precisely because it didn’t need to be aged.
Here, Stonecutter creates the initial gin with a flavor profile designed for the aging process; some of the botanicals include cardamom, orange peel, green tea, and rose petals. After the distilling process, the booze is rested in used bourbon barrels for four months. The process results in singular spirit—fireplace aromas and Christmas spices, underlaid by snow-covered pine forests. It’s truly a warming drink, and the oak aging lends it a whiskey-like charm that suits it to drinking simply over ice. Best accompanied by a fireplace and a purring cat, methinks.
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