While it may not be reaching the heady heights (or drunken depths) of William Hogarth’s time, gin is enjoying a place at the table as one of Britain’s most loved alcoholic drinks. Traditionally made with juniper berries, there is an increasing trend for diversifying the botanicals used to mix gin and as a result, a host of boutique, organic, herbal-focused companies are bringing out their own gin brands.
With it being so close to Christmas, and what with our love of anything plant-based, the Gardens Illustrated team picked a selection of unique and intriguing gins and a couple of non-alcoholic options, to taste test. The notes below take in the ingredients, the interesting back story of the gin and the aesthetics, as well as the gin taste itself, because we feel it’s the whole package, including how sustainable or local the distilling process is, that builds to a lovely gin.
Discover which gins we thought were best in for botanicals used, taste, interesting backstory and more and perhaps these could be the perfect Christmas gin gift.
Warning: Obviously gin should be enjoyed only by a responsible adult!
Garden Swift, Capreolus Distillery
Botanicals used: An astonishing 34 botanicals including native flowers, homegrown herbs and organic blood oranges. Story: Barney Wilczak set up this tiny distillery, which mainly creates eaux de vie, in the heart of the cotswolds and is an old converted greenhouse. Local water is used in the process and the gin won spirit of the year in 2017. Aesthetic: Clean, simple, traditional with a sense of being modern, this gin is in a port-style bottle, which is a little disconcerting. Tasting notes: A sweet, earthy smell, the orange really comes through in this gin. It is a complex gin, as you might expect from such a number of botanicals, but amazingly the flavours all work together in harmony to create something very special. Score: 9/10 Affordability: £36 (for 50 cl bottle). Buy here
Botanicals used: Over 24 botanicals used including Bosnian and Macedonian juniper berries, liquorice root, bergamot, rose petals, kaffir lime leaves, linden, elderflower, orris, orange and lime peel, dried pears, Polish Angelica cassia bark, cubeb and local honey. Story: The brand was created by a group of friends who had a common passion for craft distilling. Situated on the Duke of Northumberland’s Albury Estate in Surrey, the Silent Pool team create their gins sustainably, using solar panels and a repurposed steam boiler, which uses locally sourced hardwood and vegetable oil in place of red diesel. Bottles are capped with tin rather than plastic and there is no cork use. Aesthetic: A very attractive aqua blue glass with gold botanical design and gold tin cap. Tasting notes: Subtle, crisp with a slightly sweet scent. Goes very well with classic tonics, but also a flavoured tonic such as elderflower. Score: 7/10 Affordability: £37. Buy here
Borrago, #47, Paloma Blend (non alcoholic)
Botanicals used: cardamom, lemon verbena, basil, rosemary, peppermint and lemongrass. Story: Borrago is named after the botanical name for borage. Although not part of the drink, borage is a favourite flower of the founders who recognised the importance of borage to pollinators. In a drive to help bees, they have given away over 100,000 borage seeds – sent out with the bottles ordered direct or at trade shows. Aesthetic: Tall, weighty bottle but slim so fits in the hand nicely – with attractive floral illustration and clearly stating alcohol and sugar free. Tasting notes: Quite an overpowering aroma from the bottle. There are a lot of flavours competing for attention, but a strong cardamom note wins through. Mix with a plain tasting tonic and plenty of ice. Don’t be tempted to serve a double measure. A strong middle note of lemon grass, suggests best as a summer drink, perhaps even as an aperitif to a spicy meal. Score: 4/10 Affordability: £19.99 (for 50cl bottle). Buy here
Botanicals: The botanicals used come from the beautiful walled garden of Gordon Castle in Scotland. Mint and rosemary are core botanicals. Story: The ingredients are harvested from their beautiful walled garden in Scotland, which dates back to 1470. The garden there focused only on raspberry growing for a time, until Angus and Zara Gordon Lennox made it their home in 2008. Since that point they have created a fully working garden, with the help of designer Arne Maynard. Aesthetics: The gin itself is crisp and clear, sealed within a gorgeous (but heavy!) glass bottle with a lavender and mint illustration that nicely reflects the prettiness of this gin. You can also get the bottle engraved. Taste notes: Subtle blend of lavender and mint that tastes both light and delicious. The perfect accompaniment to end a warm summer’s evening, served with ice and a sprig of fresh mint. A hint of spice also suggests a nice option for Christmas. Score: 8/10 Affordability: £34.95. Buy here
Kew Garden Organic Gin, The London Distillery
Botanicals used: A mix of over 20 organic botanicals (including six different types of lavender, two types of juniper) from around the world, including seasonal flora from Kew Gardens. Story: A collaboration between the London Distillery company and The Royal Botanic Gardens, the gin is distilled in a copper pot called ‘Christina’.
Aesthetics: Each is hand bottled and hand labelled. The beautiful box is made from recycled paper and uses vegetable oil-based inks and water-based varnish which have not been tested on animals. The artwork is inspired by plant drawings in Kew’s archives. Taste notes: A unique blend of flavours offer a deeply aromatic gin that is well balanced in taste. Floral aromas come from passion flower, lavender and orris whilst a more citrus offering takes centre stage through a harmonious blend of grapefruit, lemon, lime and orange. Smooth enough to drink on its own over ice but tonic and a slice of grapefruit will really enhance the soft citrus flavours. A masterclass in how balanced a gin should be. Score: 10/10 Affordability: £36. Buy here
olive magazine‘s drinks writer Hannah Guinness picks which garnishes work with which gins
Citrus gins: orange, lemon, mint, thyme, star anise, cardamom
Spiced gins: black and pink peppercorns, orange, cinnamon stick, fresh ginger, cardamom
Classic juniper-led gins: grapefruit, lemon, lime, black and pink peppercorns, coriander seeds, juniper berries
Wild Gin, The Old Curiosity Distillery
Botanicals used: Nine wild botanicals including cicely, bog myrtle, dwarf birch, yarrow and nettle, some of which can be found in the world’s largest blanket bog in the northern tip of Scotland. Story: This Edinburgh distillery has launched a gin to help raise awareness of the vital work done to preserve the Flow Country’s threatened peatland. The bog acts as a natural store for carbon which helps to offset the effects of climate change. Twenty per cent of the proceeds of the sale of the gin goes to RSPB Scotland’s work helping preserve it. Aesthetics: There is a rustic, wildlife theme on the classically shaped bottle, but the nicest thing about the label is that you can plant it. It has wildflower seeds embedded into it. Tasting notes: A very subtle bouquet. The gin itself is beautifully smooth and takes on quite a lot of the character of the garnishes you use. We particularly liked it with cucumber, but Old Curiosity suggests nettles. Score: 7/10 Affordability: £35.95 (for a 50cl bottle). Buy here
Bristol Dry Gin
Botanicals used: Coriander, Angelica root, lemon, lime leaves, elderflower, cubeb peppercorns. Story: Based under The Rummer Hotel in the heart of Bristol, sits the Bristol Dry Gin micro-distillery, which was established in 2016. Dubbed as ‘a gin for the people’, this gin has scrappy, fun, party-loving Bristol right at its heart. Aesthetics: A smart, modern design that refuses to sit anywhere near the word traditional. The bottle is also the perfect size for a lovely candle holder once finished. Tasting notes: Stick with this gin as the more you taste the more flavours come through. There’s a real citrussy theme to this gin that creates a satisfying bitterness. Score: 6/10 Affordability: £27. Buy here
Seedlip, Garden 108 (non alcoholic)
Botanicals: A floral blend of peas, hay and garden herb distillates. Back story: Founder Ben Branson came across 17th-century physician John French’s herbal distillation recipes and began experimenting with them in his kitchen, using a small copper still and herbs from his garden and family farm – creating the tagline for his range of non-alcoholic spirits ‘what to drink when you’re not drinking’. Aesthetic: A stylish, weighty bottle with innovative illustrations on the bottle. Tasting notes: Follow serving instructions and choose a good quality tonic. Take their advice on use of garnish, because it does seem to help complete the drink. The spirits don’t have the kick or length of taste of a gin but Garden 108 does have good flavour with a satisfactory bitterness that’s a relief having drunk too many sweet soft drink options. Score: 6.5/10 Affordability: £26. Buy here
Orange Sloe Bath Gin, Bath Distillery
Botanicals: A characterful mixture of sloe berries and orange are combined with raisin, cinnamon and star anise to give a fully flavoured festive tipple. Story: The home of the Bath Distillery is hidden away down a cobbled Georgian street in the centre of Bath and was the town’s first distillery in 250 years. Set over five floors the distillery is the birthplace of many of their own gin concoctions and is also home to their infamous Canary Gin Bar which is home to over 230 gins. The bar staff here really do know their stuff. Aesthetics: Opting for a modest design, this gin bottle is small and simple and the perfect size to carry around (although, is drinking gin on the go is allowed anymore?). The label features an intricate illustration which harks back to its heritage home of Bath. Overall tasting notes: A warming infusion for the festive season, this gin offers a soothing fruity combination with a subtle spicy kick. Enjoy neat with ice or freshly sliced orange to bring out the spices. Score: 7/10 Affordability: £36.50. Buy here
The Heatherwick studio-designed glasshouse at Bombay Sapphire distillery
Botanicals: Ten exotic botanicals including cubeb berries from Java, grains of paradise from Ghana, lemon peel, liquorice, orris and angelica. Story: The beautiful Laverstoke Mill has a heritage stretching back to Henry VIII who owned it. Now, Heatherwick Studio has renovated the mill into a site of specific interest and it features extraordinary glasshouses (see above) and has sustainability at its heart. This is a gin with eyes on the world, whilst also keeping its feet firmly rooted in its heritage. Aesthetic: An immediately recognisable rich blue bottle that hints at its exotic botanicals. The botanicals are inscribed on the side of the bottle. Tasting notes: A strong lemon and citrus smell, with a clean taste. This gin has a kick to it, so needs a good tonic that doesn’t absorb it’s complex flavours. Score: 6/10 Affordability: £22. Buy here
Monkey 47, Schwarzwald Dry Gin
Botanicals: The most botanicals used in a gin on this list: 47. Included is lingonberries that are locally sourced near the distillery in the Black Forest in Germany. Story: Monkey 47 was originally started by British RAF officer Montgomery Collins. After being posted to Germany after the second world war he helped to rebuild Berlin Zoo. When discharged he found he didn’t want to leave so stayed and started distilling gin. Aesthetic: A dark brown bottle that harks back to a victorian apothecary’s cabinet. The label features Max, the monkey Collins sponsored at Berlin Zoo. Tasting notes: A surprisingly traditional taste for the number of botanicals used. It’s hard to pinpoint the dominant flavour and the nose belies a touch too much alcohol. Once it settles, it becomes fruitier and more complex and there is a lovely perfume that permeates through the tonic. Score: 6/10 Affordability: £46 (for 50 cl). Buy here
Seville Orange Marmalade, distilled gin liqueur
Botanicals: The Seville oranges used by Rosebud Preserves to make this liqueur are certified organic and since 1990 have come from the same Spanish orchard. Story: Created by Rosebud Preserves on Rosebud Farm near Masham in North Yorkshire in two traditional nineteenth century barns production. Technically a gin liqueur, this is heavier and features molassed sugar. Aesthetic: Looks like a medicinal bottle, with an unassuming brown label. Tasting notes: You can drink this neat over ice, with a squeeze of lime. Without tonic is absolutely the way to drink this liqueur – don’t be confused by the tonic suggestion on the back of the bottle. The bitterness of the orange is beautifully complemented by sweetness. A rich, medicinal taste that is very distinct. It is significantly weaker than normal gins. Score: 8/10
Affordability: £29.95. Buy here