7 Best Gins, According to a Spirits Expert
Including the best for a martini, negroni, gin and tonics and more!
Our Top Gin Picks
- Best Overall: Monkey 47
- Best for Martini: Plymouth Gin
- Best for Gimlet: Tanqueray 10
- Best for Negroni: Beefeater
- Best Women-Owned Gin: Future Gin
- Best for Gin and Tonic: Greenhook Gin
- Best Non-Alcoholic Gin: Amass Riverine
There’s been a running joke among certain bartender circles that gin is the original flavored vodka. I’ve even heard stories of people trying to sell gin to skeptical vodka drinkers as “juniper-flavored vodka.” And you know what, they’re technically right. Unlike a spirit such as brandy, rum or whiskey (where the flavor derives from the raw fermented ingredient) gin is made by adding chosen flavorings to a neutral base spirit. In other words, flavored vodka.
This article has been reviewed since its original publish date for accuracy, pricing and availability. We stand by our list of top gin picks.
Where Does Gin Come From?
Gin has a wild and globe-spanning history, but the short version is that it originated in Holland as kidney medicine before ending up as the recreational beverage we know and love today. Because it relies on a collection of far-flung botanicals, gin can be thought of as the world’s first global spirit, and since its beginnings has been associated with modernity and urban life. (Also, if you want a fun way to spend a few hours, google “gin craze;” you won’t be disappointed.)
The word “gin” comes from the Dutch word for juniper, which means that the predominant flavor of gin is a bright, pine-y note derived from the berries of the juniper bush. Beyond juniper, some of the most common elements in classic gin are coriander, cardamom, citrus peel and licorice. You’ll also find more obscure botanicals like orris, cubeb, grains of paradise and cassia, to name a few. It’s safe to say that the list of botanicals you might find in any given gin is in the triple digits. And yes, there is even cannabis-infused gin.
Despite its Dutch origins, gin is most commonly associated with the UK, and for good reason. Three of the most iconic gin brands: Beefeater, Tanqueray and Bombay Sapphire, hail from there. But you can find gin almost everywhere, and you’ll see below that some of the best gins hail from outside the British Isles. Here I’ve put together a list of some of the best gins for every occasion, no matter if this is your maiden gin voyage or you’re an old salt(y dog). (Sorry)
It might come as a surprise to find that one of the world’s best gins comes from Germany’s Black Forest, but one taste, and you’ll need no further convincing. Monkey 47 starts with a sugar cane distillate that’s infused with, you guessed it, 47 botanicals ranging from lingonberry to pomelo to ginger. I do not really consider gin to be a “sippable” category of spirits, but this might be the exception. This liquid has a lush texture and kaleidoscopic complexity that would suit well in any application, be it a (dirty) martini, gin and tonic, or corpse reviver No. 2.
Plymouth Gin is made by Black Friars Distillery in the southwestern coastal town of Plymouth, England. The name actually refers to a style of gin, but funny enough Black Friars is the only distillery producing Plymouth Gin, so the two are synonymous. As opposed to its more pointy and piquant UK cousins, Beefeater and Tanqueray, Plymouth has a softer overall profile, which makes it a perfect base for an elegant, subtle martini. They even make a “Navy Strength” version that clocks in at an eye-watering 57% ABV, when you need a little more firepower.
You might think that the “Ten” in the name refers to the number of botanicals in this gin, but you’d be wrong. The “ten” actually refers to the number on the still that’s used to distill this gin, which features the original Tanqueray’s four botanicals of juniper, coriander, licorice and angelica root, plus chamomile and fresh citrus. This brighter, fruitier profile works great when shaking with lime juice for a tart, zesty gimlet.
A few years ago I participated in a quest for the “perfect” Negroni, where I got together with fellow bar professionals and tasted dozens of variations. (Tough job, but someone’s gotta do it, right?) That experience helped me realize that the spicy-and-floral notes hold up the best when combined with Campari and sweet vermouth in a classic Negroni recipe. Whether you like yours up or on the rocks (I’m an on-the-rocks gal myself), Beefeater is a great choice for this iconic three-ingredient cocktail.
Believe it or not, Americans make great gin! In an overwhelmingly male-dominated industry, Future Gin was founded by four women who infused flavors of southern California into this great all-purpose gin. Here you’ll find SoCal stars like Meyer lemon and honeysuckle alongside the classic botanicals you know and love.
Yep, there’s even a gin from Brooklyn. This Greenpoint-based distillery uses a distinct low-temperature style of distillation that allows for a more delicate and subtle extraction than traditional stills that use higher heat. The chamomile-ginger notes are a great cushion for the bracing bitterness of a good-quality tonic water, so it’s my go-to more often than not. In fact, the good folks over at Greenhook have saved us a step and recently launched their own canned gin and tonics, perfect for an easy weeknight quaff or your next picnic party.
While the team at AMASS goes to great lengths to underscore that it is not a gin replacement, the botanical profile, which includes juniper, mint, coriander and orris (i.e. iris flower root) are a pretty close proxy to your traditional London Dry gins. I find this works in all manner of cocktails (even try subbing this for vermouth in your next low-ABV Martini) and I’ve even found myself sipping this on the rocks on more than one occasion.
John deBary is the author of Drink What You Want: The Subjective Guide to Making Objectively Delicious Cocktails; CEO and Founder of Proteau, a zero-proof drinks company; and is also the Co-Founder and Board President of Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation.