As springtime approaches, a young man’s fancy often turns to one thing: Gin, a spirit practically designed for drinking in warm weather. Whether you’re into a classic martini, an old-fashioned gin and tonic, or something more exotic, the world of gin is more varied and complex than ever. Gins are hitting the market from all over the world, including unusual botanicals, and pushing the boundaries of the spirit. Whether you want something ultra-traditional or utterly unique, this look at the top ten gin releases from the last year — our final “top ten” style look back at 2019 — should offer something to fit the bill. (Note that we also include barrel-aged gins and aquavit, gin’s Nordic cousin, in this roundup.)
1. Joseph Magnus Vigilant Navy Strength Gin – There is something of a cult following for many of the bourbons coming out of Washington D.C.’s Jos. A Magnus Distillery, but their Vigilant Navy Strength Gin deserves equal fame. This one is distilled from corn with a unique combination of botanicals including harissa, figs, hops, and hibiscus. At navy strength and with that diversity of flavors it’s built for complex cocktails, but this one is also unique enough and approachable enough to sip all on its own should you choose. 114 proof. $37 -DB [BUY IT NOW FROM DRIZLY]
2. St. George Dry Rye Gin – This is the third gin release from California’s St. George Spirits, and the first to use rye as a base. On the nose it’s an intriguing blend of gin and whiskey, with peppers and vanilla both showing. The palate adds citrus and spices, and it rocks even in a simple gin and tonic. It’s one of the few rye-based gins around, and on the basis of this gin’s success, there definitely ought to be more. 90 proof. $35. -MG [BUY IT NOW FROM DRIZLY]
3. Roku Japanese Gin – Japan conquered whiskey, now it’s taking on gin. Suntory’s Roku uses just six botanicals to make for a fruit-forward gin which is thick with yuzu and fragrant notes of coconut, brown butter, and sage. The juniper notes wash over you on the finish, making for a unique connection between East and West. 86 proof. $28 -CN [BUY IT NOW FROM DRIZLY]
4. Elephant Gin – This London dry style gin is made in Germany and celebrates the spirit of Africa, via both its botanicals and its namesake. (15 percent of the company’s profits go to elephant-related conservation charities.) It’s also a very solid gin, juniper forward with lots of pepper and notes of fruit and spice. Pour one out for Babar. 90 proof. $35 -CN [BUY IT NOW FROM DRIZLY]
5. McQueen and the Violet Fog Gin – The name is, at the very least, a curiosity. The gin is something else entirely, an earthy, floral-heavy monster that speaks of Turkish rugs and potpourri. Complex but versatile, with a significant fruity quality, it’s a particular winner in tall drinks. 80 proof. $33 -CN [BUY IT NOW FROM DRIZLY]
6. New Riff Kentucky Wild Gin Bourbon Barreled – One of two barrel-aged gins on our list this year comes from Kentucky, where barrels are plentiful but clear spirits not so much. New Riff Distillery is acclaimed for its bourbon and rye, but its founders put the same amount of passion and skill into this Bourbon Barreled Kentucky Wild Gin. It’s pot-distilled with 12 botanicals, including hand-foraged rarities like local juniper and spice bush, then barrel-aged for at least five months in one of their own bourbon barrels. The result is a nicely balanced blend of dry spices, bright botanicals, and sweet, creamy barrel notes that shows the best of New Riff’s considerable talents. 94 proof. $30 -DB [BUY IT NOW FROM DRIZLY]
7. Batch Industrial Strength Gin – Batch’s overproof expression comes across as a fairly traditional expression of gin, heavy on the juniper with notes of lemon pepper, cotton balls, and eucalyptus underneath. Big and punchy, with a crisp, lemony finish. 110 proof. $37 -CN
8. Svol Swedish-Style Aquavit – Brooklyn’s Svol released two aquavits this year, one Danish, one Swedish. The Swedish option, which is heavier on the dill, is the killer here, with a light sweetness and a fennel-heavy finish. Aquavit’s not everyone’s jam, but this one’s worth a try no matter your level of aquavit mastery. 80 proof. $35 -CN [BUY IT NOW FROM DRIZLY]
9. O.R.E. 118 Raw Vegan Gin – We hadn’t given a lot of thought to the vegetarianness of our gin before, but O.R.E. 118 has opened our eyes. This grape eau-de-vie is infused with some traditional elements (juniper) and some oddities (black sesame seeds, ginger root), giving it an intensely spicy note. Vegan or not, it’s solid stuff. 82 proof. $35 -CN [BUY IT NOW FROM DRIZLY]
10. Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Reserve Tom Cat Gin – Barr Hill Tom Cat – Barr Hill Tom Cat Gin – a play on the “old tom” style – is aged in bourbon barrels for six months and touched just so with honey to give it a slight sweetness. Notes of hops, cloves, and burnt caramel all evoke spirits other than gin, but the punch of juniper in the middle reminds you of the gin’s true nature. Use this one in lieu of whiskey in your favorite cocktail – not Tanqueray. 86 proof. $57 -CN [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]
Digests contributed by Christopher Null, Drew Beard, and Mike Gerrard.
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