The best gins to drink in 2021: 27 great gin brands tested
Updated: The best gin for gin and tonic and more.
If you are looking for the best gin, then you have come to the right place. ShortList has a gaggle of experts on hand to taste test great gins all to let you know which gin is the best for you.
Now, choosing the best gin is not an easy thing. Everyone's taste buds are different and thanks to the sheer amount of gin brands available right now (we seriously aren't complaining here), the choice can be overwhelming. And then there's the fact that the best gin for gin and tonic isn't necessarily the greatest gin overall.
Gin has, quite deservedly, seen an explosion - there's been many varieties and gin brands over recent years which means there are plenty to choose from. This is because over the last decade or so, the UK relaxed its gin producing rules, which has meant that small batch gin makers have cropped up everywhere - and there are plenty of small batch gin makers on this list.
UPDATE: We've been lucky enough to taste test a number of gin brands recently but the one that has really stood out and is now in our best gin brands guide is the London Dry Gin from Warner's. Small batch and made from locally sourced produce, it really is a great gin on its own or with some Indian tonic.
And that's where we circle back to the initial problem: when it comes to picking the best gin, there are bloody loads. Too many, if anything, so we’ve done you a favour and sieved through the rest and brought you only the best gins, all test tasted by the Shortlist team.
Make sure that you vote for your favourite tipple and if your gin of choice isn't in the list, let us know below and we'll try and get it in to sample so we can see how it compares to our list.
If you are looking for a slightly cheaper tipple (that is still fantastic) then head to our best supermarket gin list, where we've done hundreds of hours of taste testing. If you want pink gin or a gin that's sweeter, then let our best flavoured gin list be your guide. And you will also need a mixer - that's where our best tonic water list comes in.
Below we have a number of fantastic gins listed that have successfully gotten through our taste test. And if you want to learn a little more about gin, then we have everything from how to make the best gin and tonic, how to taste gin like a pro to a definition of all the different gin varieties. Enjoy!
The best gin
1. Pink Marmalade Gin
A new addition to our list, this colour-changing gin is a premium brand that would make a fantastic gift. It turns from blue to rose pink in your glass and contains a mixture of flavours, including juniper berries, dried orange zest, lime leaf, almond, liquorice root and many more.
2. Monkey 47
An incredibly fun gin that hales from the Black Forest in Germany. The name comes from the number of botanicals that go into this unique gin, and the fact it’s bottled at bedtime-inducing 47% proof. Palate-wise it’s complex (there are, also, pleasingly, forty-seven different tastes packed in there). Woody, spicy, fruity, and herby: it is pretty much everything a gin can be.
Just brilliant, isn’t it? You don’t need us to tell you that. It contains 11 botanicals, along with cucumber and rose to give it that distinctive flavour. To best enjoy, have it with cucumber, in the sun. Obviously. This is a classic stepping stone gin for those looking to branch out beyond the basics. Try it out in the early part of your gin odyssey.
4. Ableforth's Bathtub Gin
Made using the traditional method of Cold Compounding, in which the spirit is slowly infused with botanicals including orange peel, coriander and cardamom, this gin has strong notes of citrus and spice. The award-winning gin is best served over ice with tonic and a wedge of orange.
5. Tanqueray No. Ten
Now this is one where you will need tonic. One of our writers described this as having “a huge bouquet” before rather harshly being pelted with lemon slices. But he has a point: there’s an earthy richness twinned with citrus that really keeps you on your toes. Looks great to order, too, in its lurid green bottle, and tastes great to drink.
6. Cotswold Gin
Cotswolds Dry Gin has been distilled with a blend of aromatic botanicals - think freshly hand-peeled grapefruit, lime and local Cotswolds lavender. The gin is made using a method called non-chill filtering, which basically means the oils are retained, giving the bottles a cloudy, pearlescent finish when mixed with tonic. The result? Not only does this look the part but tastes thoroughly delightful.
7. Isle of Harris Gin
From the use of locally sourced Sugar Kelp, to the fact that every beautifully-designed bottle is hand-sealed, the Isle of Harris Distillery makes sure to put the Scottish Isle at the heart of their distilling process. The gin itself is infused with nine botanicals including a sweet citrus of orange peel, complemented by the fresh herbal flavour of crushed coriander and the base of Juniper. The Sugar Kelp adds a maritime note to this award-winning gin. Every bottle is shipped directly from the distillery in the Outer Hebrides.
8. Warner's London Dry Gin
Warner's London Dry Gin is made on a farm in Harrington, using home-grown ingredients and it shows. The fragrance and freshness of this gin is something else, rich with juniper and spice but with a mellowness thanks to vanilla. It's best served without garnish but with Indian tonic and ice. At a recent taste test we tried it just like that and neat, and it really is a lovely, refreshing drink.
9. Bucks Brothers - Buckinghamshire Dry Gin
Bucks Brothers dry gin is made by a couple of brothers in Buckinghamshire - it's relatively new with the brothers creating the gin while the world is on lockdown and it takes fantastic. It's copper pot distilled and has a real earthy quality to it. If you want a gin with a fruit twist then there's also a pomegranate and sloe gin available and a imencello one on the way.
10. Thomas Dakin (70cl)
Thomas Dakin has a taste that isn't for everyone - and it's all to do with one of the 11 botanicals they use for the gin. It's uses horseradish that gives the drink a savoury kick in its aftertaste. It's quite a full flavour but mix it with something citrusy like a bitter lemon tonic or some orange peel and you have a lovely flavoursome taste. Interestingly, this gin's origins are found in Warrington but it is branded Manchester on the bottle. Given Thomas Dakin is opening up a new distillery in Manchester, we can forgive them.
11. Opihr Oriental Spiced London Dry Gin
We've been sitting on this one for a while, not quite sure if the taste was for us. It's usually our rum that we like spiced but then we paired Opihr with a ginger ale and were blown away. This is a bit like the Thomas Dakin on this list, which uses horseradish, it's not for everyone but if you want a kick with your G&T then Opihr offers that and more, with hints of cardamon and black pepper.
12. Cantium Gin
We were really impressed with the taste of Cantium Gin. Distilled in Kent, the gin uses locally sourced botanicals. There's Lavender, Cobnuts, Apples, Blackberry and Hops and roasted Kentish Chestnuts all in there and it makes for a fresh, rounded taste that worked well with a cucumber-based tonic. The gin comes in a reusable flask (just give it a bit of a wash first) which is a nice touch, although it is a touch more expensive than some of the others on this list. We think you'll hear a lot more about Cantium in the near future.
13. Malfy Gin Con Arancia
It's rare we will add a flavoured gin to our best gin list but this is just a fantastic gin from Malfy. Known for its premium gins, the Malfy Gin Con Arancia has all the taste of the Amalfi coast and then some, offering a vibrant punchy taste of blood orange that comes with a sharp gin after hit. It's a drink to be savoured and one that demands lots of fruit, tonic and ice in the glass.
14. LoneWolf Cloudy Lemon Gin
We were lucky enough to visit the Brewdog Brewery last year and were surprised just how much effort it was putting into its spirits range. So much, we just had to get a bottle of their gin in to taste. In the end we got two: its dry gin and this cloudy lemon variant. If the sun ever comes out again, then this is the gin to go for. It's a creamy gin, rather than being acidic and goes really well with a plain tonic. The lemon blast is natural, not chemical, and we can't get enough.
15. Colonsay Cait Sith
We first heard about Colonsay Cait Sith (pronounced Caught Shee) on World Gin Day. Since then we have been sent a bottle and it is deserving to be in this list. It's a Scottish gin that's Old Tom style (which is sweeter than a London dry variety), so it's less about the botanics and more about the orange, pink grapefruit and vanilla taste. It's a really refreshing gin that we had with tonic and lots of ice. It also has one of the nicest bottles we have seen, so if you are all about the shelf appeal, then this is the gin for you.
16. Conker Gin
Made in Dorset's first gin distillery, Conker Gin is a multi award-winning spirit. Those at Conker Spirit do their best to source local produce so it is made from a blend of British wheat spirit and New Forest spring water. It is then infused with local botanicals including marsh samphire from the Dorset coastline, coriander seeds grown in Sussex and gorse flowers from Dorset. The final taste is juniper-led with a sweetness from elderberries and a citrus finish.
17. Tobermory Gin
It took us a while to get round to tasting Tobermory Gin as it came to us with an adult colouring book. Once we put the pencils down, though, this is a great-tasting gin from the Isle of Mull. The Hebridean gin is distilled with botanicals including juniper, tea, heather, elderflower, sweet orange peel and uses a splash of spirit from its whisky distillery. This makes for a G&T with something of a kick, packed with earthy notes. We had it with ginger ale, too, and that was a lovely pairing
18. Bloom London
The branding says it’s floral, most reviews say it’s perhaps too perfume-y, but we just weren’t getting that. Not in a sickly way, anyway. Deliciously citrus, it’s easy on the juniper making it a great gin for non-gin loving gin drinkers. And we realise how odd that sounds. Essentially: if you want to start an evening with a gin, this is the one.
19. Greyson’s London Dry Gin at Aldi
Yes, the worst kept secret in bargain food-shopping is also home to, officially, one of the world’s best gins. Formerly the Oliver Cromwell London Dry Gin, and now Greyson's London Dry Gin, it won a gold medal at the International Wine and Spirits Competition and it’s hard to argue (especially with its price set at a lip-smacking £14.19) with its bone dry and straight-forward flavouring, this gin is unfussy and versatile with notes of juniper, lemon, and orange peel before fading to reveal hints of hot wax. Your booze cupboard deserves this bargain.
20. No.3 London Dry Gin
It was only right that No.3 made our list after winning the International Spirits Challenge ‘Best in Class’ gin trophy four times - along with another 20 awards since 2010. The main flavours in this ‘world class’ spirit are the classic gin botanicals of juniper, citrus and spice. That means that it’s crisp, 'zingy' taste is followed by the warmth of cardamom and a final dryness from angelica. Best served with tonic, a big wedge of grapefruit and a sprig of rosemary.
21. Martin Miller’s
This is our favourite summer gin thanks to its slight, but not intense, perfumed charm. A self-consciously ‘old-school’ gin (despite being first created in 1990), distiller Martin Miller wanted to create a gin that “tasted of gin” and not, in his words, “of some highly flavoured confection”. Distilled in the Black Country from ten botanicals, Miller’s is blended with Icelandic water to simple, stunning effect.
22. The Classic Edinburgh Gin
Known for all manner of fruity variations, The Classic Edinburgh Gin is an offering worthy of even the most refined palate. Its distinctive bottle and graphics are pleasing on the eye, while its smooth flavour will have you happily sipping away contently for longer than you care to admit.
23. William Chase
This is the ultimate tonic partner, with flavours of juniper, apple and elderflower alongside subtle citrus. Some serve with a slice of fresh apple but we like it just the way it is. The finished gin is distilled over 100 times with the entire process taking over two years, from orchard to bottle. You can genuinely taste the effort that goes into it. And it 48% you can taste the booze that goes into it. Treat it with care.
24. Brockmans Intensely Smooth
You might not be surprised to hear Brockmans Intensely Smooth is… intensely smooth. Like having George Clooney pull out your chair and light you a cigarette… only a gin. Made with Bulgarian coriander, blueberries, blackberries, and bittersweet Valencia orange peels, the result is a gin bursting with flavour that doesn’t forgo balance for punch.
25. Theodore Pictish Gin
This Scottish gin is “powered by the spirit of the Picts” - an ancient tribe that once settled near the distillery’s home (because, of course it is). The gin contains 16 botanicals that Greenwood Distillery believe the Picts could have encountered. Citric Pomelo and Kaffir Lime give it a fresh, citrus flavour with a floral bouquet from Oolong tea, chamomile and lavender.
26. Beefeater 24
Made in the heart of London at the Kennington distillery using a recipe that took eighteen months to develop, Beefeater 24 includes Seville orange peel, lemon peel, bitter almond, angelica root, angelica seed, juniper, liquorice, orris root, coriander, and a blend of Chinese green and Japanese sencha teas with grapefruit peel. What does that mean? Well, it means a liquorice-influenced finish means that you won’t forget drinking it. Save until late in the evening.
Handcrafted in small batches at Balmenach Distillery in Scotland’s Speyside region, Caorunn is an unusually herbal experience thanks to its use of Rowan Berry. The well balanced fruity flavours of the gin make it exceedingly drinkable: dry and crisp when neat, use tonic sparingly so as not to lose its subtle notes.
Image Credit: Raw Pixel
How to taste gin like a pro
Take it neat: If you really want to get the flavours of the gin, then your first taste should be neat, without tonic or ice.
Find the right glass: As with most spirits, any glass that has a tulip shape works best. This is when the glass is fatter at the bottom and slimmer at the top. These glasses are said to offer the best way for the drink to be tasted - the bulbous bottom gives the gin a chance to swirl around.
If you do it in a standard shot glass, then you are mostly just getting the ethanol fume and that isn’t a good thing.
Have a coffee break: Coffee beans are a great palette cleanser. Take a bunch and break them up in your palm and give them a good sniff before and after a taste test. This will prime your buds for tasting gin and getting the most out of the notes. A simple sip of water will really help with making sure your tongue is ready, too.
Once that’s done, coat your palm with gin, leave it a few seconds so the alcohol disappears, cup and smell - this will offer up the aroma notes of the gin before you actually taste.
Swirl and sniff: this goes for any type of tasting - swirl the liquid (in a tulip glass) before you sip and give the notes a good sniff before tasting. When it’s in the mouth coat the whole of the moth and then swallow, breathing out as you do.
What to look for when buying gin
One of the simplest ways to make sure you are getting the right gin for your taste buds is to study the botanicals that have been used.
If you are looking for a floral gin, then find ingredients that are plant and flower based. If you prefer your gin with a bit more fruit, then look for any added fruit infusions.
What different gin varieties are there?
One of the simplest ways to make sure you are getting the right gin for your taste buds is to study the botanicals that have been used. If you are looking for a floral gin, then find ingredients that are plant and flower based. If you prefer your gin with a bit more fruit, then look for any added fruit infusions. In the broadest of strokes, though, here are the most famous varieties of gin:
What is London Dry gin?
If you want a real blast of juniper with your gin, then look for a London Dry variety. Interestingly - and confusingly - London Dry gin doesn’t have to be made in London, it is a production method that distillers have to abide by.
What is Plymouth Gin?
Up until 2015, this was gin made in Plymouth UK (hence the name). Now, there is only one distillery in Plymouth. Plymouth Original Strength is 41.2% and isn’t quite as dry as the London gin variant.
What is Old Tom gin?
This is a recipe that dates back to the 18th Century and is sweeter than London Dry and is famous for being used in the Tom Collins cocktail.
What is Navy Strength gin?
If a gin is 57% ABV then it is Navy Strength, the term given to gin that wouldn’t spoil gunpowder when it got in the explosive mix on the high seas. Due to the high ABV, this gin is better mixed and in cocktails.
What is small batch gin?
In 2009, the UK allowed small batch distilling to take place which is why gin exploded during 2010 and has been the same ever since. It essentially means gin that isn’t distilled in industrial quantities and, in turn, by big manufacturers. This means you can get some cracking gin from smaller distillers.
What is bathtub gin?
This is gin that was originally not made by professionals (so in the home) and because of this the quality varied. It’s now a brand owned by Ableforth which uses a different distillation process to normal gin - it’s definitely not made in a bathtub but a copper still.
How to make the perfect gin and tonic
Sam Carter, senior ambassador at the Bombay Sapphire Laverstoke Mill Distillery, tells us (and you) how to make the perfect gin and tonic.
“Preparation is key. You need to make sure you have everything to hand so when it comes to making the drink it’s easy and stress free.
Here’s what you need…
- Large clean highball glass
- Good quality ice cubes - this will chill the drink quicker resulting in less dilution and keeping it colder for longer.
- Bottle of your gin of choice (I use Bombay Sapphire due to its fresh forest floor pine notes and spicy character).
- The finest chilled organic tonic water (my favourite is made by FeverTree and using the 200ml bottles means it is always fresh)
- Fresh green lime
- Sharp knife
- Chopping board
- Bottle opener
- Long spoon
1. Start by rolling your lime on a chopping board with the palm of your hand for 10 strokes. What this does is massage the fruit to get the juices flowing. You’ll be able to get a higher yield of juice from each wedge so it’s good for your wallet.
2. Now you’re ready to cut your lime into wedges. Stop! To do this, don’t cut it in half from head to tail but through the circumference of the fruit then, whilst resting the flat area on the board, cut the two halves into four wedges (cut across the segments).
You should end up with eight perfectly formed wedges which are juicy and raring to add aroma and flavour. Oh, and, if you don’t happen to use up all your lime wedges in one go place them in a sealable container and pop in the freezer. This way they are ready to be used next time as lime flavoured ice cubes.
3. Next take one of your perfectly cut lime wedges and between thumb and forefinger, squeeze into the bottom of the highball glass then drop in the wedge.
4. Grab a bottle of Bombay Sapphire around the neck and if you’re lucky enough to have a barman’s pourer in your bottle then turn it upside down over the glass and count to five. This should give you a double measure (50ml). If you don’t have a pourer then you could use the cap. This measures 15ml - measure out 3 of these add one last splash for luck.
5. Next, fill the glass to the top with ice then stir for a few seconds with the long spoon.
Open your chilled bottle of FeverTree tonic water just before you need it so it’s lively then pour 100ml over the ice.
Let the bubbles settle then stir for a couple of revolutions to mix the drink and create a consistent flavour. If needed, add more ice cubes to bring the water line to around 1cm from the top of the glass (not more tonic) then add a second lime wedge (not squeezed) perfectly positioned on the top of your tipple to add aroma and visual appeal, but little extra flavour.
I’m not keen on ‘rimming the glass’ with the lime wedge juice as it has a tendency to overpower the drink and also makes the outside of the glass wet and sticky. Finally add a clear straw to the glass if you want it.