Here is a collection of the gins I have tried, some information about them provided on labels together with my opinion about the taste.
Reviewed so far: Broker’s | Roku | Portobello Road | Tanqueray No10 | Greenhall’s | Bosford Rose | Whitley Rhubarb & Ginger | Tanqueray | Bloom | Ophir | Thomas Dakin | Bulldog | Oliver Cromwell | Whitley Elderflower
F irst let’s make one point, many of the mainstream gins are labelled under the category of London Dry Gin which describes the way in which the gin has been made. For a fuller understanding of the history of gin and the distillation process refer to my article here.
The importance of this point is that London Dry Gins have firstly distilled to a clear alcohol and had water added to create volume, thereby they are rather tasteless, because only the alcohol has been created by distilling a fermented base. All distillation must start from fermented ingredients.
Let’s say you ferment some barley or potatoes, this means you are activating the natural sugars and turning them into alcohol. At this point the alcohol content is small and limited. You then distill it, so separating the alcohol from the fermented mix, and it is this process that magically strengthens the alcohol by doubling or trebling the amount. At this point you basically have pure ethanol and it is diluted with water to the desired strength, and this is known as a neutral spirit.
Many beverages start off from a neutral spirit, vodka is in essence just that, a neutral distillate which is distilled several times. Whiskies are fermented from corn or rye then distilled three times. When the neutral spirit is artrived at, it is at this stage that a flavour is added to gins.
Gin is a juniper flavoured spirit and with London Dry Gins it must be the predominant flavour no matter how many botanicals are included. After juniper the distiller is free to add any other botanicals they wish in order to achieve their desired taste.
It is the choice of these botanicals that define the final gin. Some may heavily rely on juniper and these are decribed as ‘juniper rich’ like Hendricks, and others may contain as many as twenty-eight botanicals. The neutral spirit is then distilled again allowing the captured vapours to pass through the mesh of selected botanicals and thereby flavouring the resulting gin. This is the process that creates a London Dry Gin.
So to clarify my point about London Dry Gins, the difference between them is a matter of flavouring. It’s not easy to add such complexity and subtlety of flavouring to alcohol and so it has become an art form.
As a beginning or experimenting gin taster it will seem like they all taste the same, and the joy of drinking gin becomes an exercise of differentiating the flavours.
The UK, has seen a 12% increase in volumes sold in the year up to June 2017, and a 32% rise in British gin exports in the past five years, according to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association. Happy tasting!
BROKER’S LONDON DRY GIN
Having recently reviewed the Japanese Roku – Broker’s appears to be coming from the same national angle, in that its packaging is boldly stating that it is an English gin, complete with image of office gent (a broker) on label and a quaint bowler hat on the screw cap. It was created by brothers Martin and Andy Dawson in the 1990s. They were looking for a brand that would be recognised for its Englishness to reflect the fact that gin is the only spirit that has historically been produced in England and they settled on a gent with bowler hat and umbrella, hence the name ‘Broker’s’. The similarity with Roku unfortunately doesn’t reach inside the bottle.
The gin is made in small batches using a copper still, two things that usually signal a good start for a craft gin, but for a London Dry I doubt most people would appreciate the difference or notice it. Like other long-standing gins Broker’s boasts a 200 year old recipe, distilled from a wheat grain and re-distilled with ten traditional botanicals. The makers also claim it has an outstanding flavour and smoothness and that it has won more top awards in international competitions over the last ten years than any other gin.
It claims to be juniper rich, but I didn’t really catch it. For me it sits on a lonely shelf opposite better known gins and even across the street from small scale craft gins I’ve tasted recently. Without a large splash of Martini extra dry vermouth, a lemon wedge and some Indian tonic that isn’t slimline, this drink is hard to get used to. It’s in the 2-3 out of 10 range for me I’m sorry to say. Of all the good reviews on amazon, perhaps this negative one sumed it up for me: ‘definitely not one of my favourites, nicer tasting gins around the same price point in my opinion.’
Available through Amazon, In the £21 range for a 70cl bottle. Widely advertised as 47% ABV but the bottle you will receive is 40% ABV.
- ABV 40% 40%
One of the gins I have been waiting to try for ages, the bottle is beautiful, perhaps rivalling the Tanqueray No Ten bottle. The six natural Japanese botanicals are embossed on the hexagonal bottle that symbolises ROKU (which means ‘six’ in Japanese). Even the label is printed on traditional Japanese washi paper. Suntory Beverage & Food Limited is a Japanese brewing and distilling company group established in 1899. It is a world leading consumer product company and one of the oldest companies in the distribution of alcoholic beverages in Japan, making Japanese whisky. Some of their other spirit brands include Jim Beam bourbon, Courvoisier, and Canadian Club as well as more popular brands like Lucozade and Ribena. This is their first attempt at making gin.
With money on a Waitrose gift voucher I snapped a bottle at £30 with a bottle of Martini extra dry vermouth and some decent Indian tonic. No limes or slices of anything as I wanted to taste this gin in its unashamed nudity; a reasonable six botanicals unique to Japan, crafted by the Japanese, distilled and bottled in Japan. What the makers Suntory are trying to say is, ‘this is an authentic Japanese craft gin’.
In fact it’s a complex gin, described as having refreshing yuzu citrus top notes and a spicy shansho pepper twist. That sounds rather lovely, but not forgetting that the six seasonal Japanese botanicals are in addition to eight traditional botanicals like juniper, coriander, lemon peel, etc. Then peel some fresh ginger sticks and add as garnish to accentuate the citrus notes (as recommended somewhere). And you have a rather confusing concoction, even though every website has given it the highest ratings. I have enjoyed it, I will buy it again, but I still think it’s overly complicated.
Roku is produced at Liquor Atelier, Suntory’s spirits site in Osaka. Available at Waitrose, around the £30 mark.
- ABV 43% 43%
A gin of nine botanicals. While always impressive the skill of combining so many ingredients that marry perfectly, I sometimes wonder why I cannot taste any of them individually. If the idea was to create a new flavour from the parts, then I would rather stick to a simpler combination that is proud to ally itself to one definitive flavour such as elderberry and orange. So coming back to Portobello Road, I’d waited quite a while to try it and ‘the court is still out’ is the result of my analysis. I found it smooth and refreshing, yet lacking in something that I can’t quite put my finger on. It falls into the category of gins that I would like to give a second chance to in order to form a better opinion. It’s certainly not an unforgettable gin, otherwise I wouldn’t need a second go at it. It contains cassia bark and nutmeg, the first I have no idea what it is and the second I couldn’t taste. Perhaps the best thing to do is visit the distillery at 186 Portobello Road, as invited to do so on the label. Each bottle is individually numbered, mine was 748714.
Widely available, around the £24 mark.
- ABV 42% 42%
A stunning container created by Design Bridge, the brief for the pack was to better communicate the quality of Tanqueray No Ten, while celebrating the 1920s when cocktails were in their heyday.
Special attention was given to the colour of the green glass as it is used to communicate the grandeur of Tanqueray No Ten and reflect the fresh citrus liquid inside. The bottle is designed to channel the iconic influence of Art Deco. It is a celebration of the classic cocktail shaker first embraced in the Art Deco era. Citrus is at the heart of the design, a lemon squeezer with 10 facets flowing down the sides, facets on the shoulders of the bottle reflect cut pieces of citrus fruit and the metal band creates a further dramatisation by appearing to squeeze the bottle itself.
At the inaugural Luxury Packaging Awards 2014, Allied Glass picked up the award for the Drinks Primary Pack for the truly beautiful Tanqueray No Ten bottle.
Always on the top shelf but the high cost is a reflection of its high ABV. In comparison with other high end refined gins it fills the citrus-rich niche and Tanqueray Ten is considered to be an ideal martini gin defined by the use of fresh citrus. Indeed it depends on citrus and is made in small batches. Over the nineteen years since its launch in 2000, Tanqueray Ten Gin has become as recognisable as Tanqueray London Dry Gin.
The bottle stands not much taller than the classic Tanqueray shaker-style bottle and has a dimple ridged base which looks like a juicer, making the connection between its contents and citrus fruits. Unlike other gins with numbers in their title, Tanqueray Ten gets its name because it is made in Tanqueray’s number ten still, as opposed to the number of botanicals in the mix. In fact there are eight botanicals.
The focus on citrus was a design away from the traditional juniper flavour, albeit that juniper is always the dominant spice. It has the four same base botanicals of Tanqueray London Dry: juniper, coriander, angelica, and liquorice, but Tanqueray Ten also includes four more; white grapefruit, lime, orange, and camomile. A unique thing of the citrus ingredients is that they are fresh whole fruits rather than dried peel commonly used for most gins with citrus flavouring – few use fresh citrus fruit.
Aside from the beautifully designed art deco bottle, what I liked most about Tanqueray Ten was its simplicity in taste and aroma. Perhaps too simple in terms of it being too crisp and pure. One feels considering the ingredients that it should be stronger, richer or deeper, and that it would work better taking flavours on and complimenting other flavours than standing on its own with Indian tonic. Indeed, it has been crafted that way to present a wider range of flavours to build on for cocktails, in comparison to Tanqueray London Dry Gin.
Once you realise that a delicate assemblance in the glass is required, so as not to mask what has so skilfully been placed into the bottle, then a moderate tonic without a vermouth nor garnish is all that’s required to appreciate its delicate character. If you are making a well known G&T, Tom Collins, or Negroni then Tanqueray London Dry Gin is perfect but for more adventurous cocktails like the Aviation and Gin Rickey Tanqueray Ten is perhaps the better option.
If you’re a master distiller or even an avid gin enthusiast, you will enjoy it, otherwise you might be left wondering what justifies the expense. For me it was a slight disappointment in all honesty having been building up to it for a long time, but being equally honest I will buy another bottle some day soon and give it another chance.
Widely available, around the £32 mark.
- ABV 47.3% 47.3%
One has to bear in mind with Greenhall’s London Dry Gin that they have been making Greenhall’s the Original handcrafted gin since 1761, by England’s oldest gin distillers. More than the text on the label, Greenhall’s has played a large part in gin history in this country. The recipe has passed down seven generations since its creation by Thomas Dakin, therefore Thomas Dakin gin, as well as Bloom and Ophir gins, are also made by the Greenhall’s G&J Distillery. Of these seven generations of distillers, Joanne Moore is the current holder of that role, and one of the few female Gin Master Distillers in the world. With this background you don’t expect to have your socks blown off with new exiting or exotic flavours, leave that to Bloom and Ophir, but you get an unashamedly crystal flavour as you should expect from the original London Dry distillers, like Beefeater and Gordon’s. Yes, Greenhall’s is smooth and always the safe bet when bringing a bottle round.
Widely available: asda, sainsbury’s, morrisons, tesco; around the £12 – £13.50 range.
- ABV 37.5% 37.5%
For a brand dominating shelf space at Asda I expected great things form even this cheap rose. Even though it has the obgligatory minimum 37.5% ABV I finished this bottle as affected as if I had drank the equivalent volume of blackcurrant squash. The bottle states that it contains 100% natural ingredients which makes you wonder if that was what they chose to promote then there can’t be much else to be said about it, as if to imply that every other gin isn’t necessarily made with natural ingredients. Which, incidentally are described as a wonderful balance of juniper, coriander, angelica, lemon peel, orange peel, strawberry and raspberry. Put some blackcurrant cordial in a glass, add some water then bolster with vodka, and that’s what it tastes like. It’s the worst pink gin I have tasted and I would certainly recommend chosing a punch in the face over splashing out for a bottle of this stuff, if that were the choice presented.
Available at asda in the £14 range but be prepared to pay as much as £35 if you purchase from Farrar & Tanner whoever they are.
- ABV 37.5% 37.5%
WHITLEY RHUBARB & GINGER
Promotionally there’s not much to differentiate this bold flavour combination other than the bottle glass being a slight purple or dark pink colour. The taste requires a delicate tonic perhaps best without adding a vermouth and it rates rather well in comparison with some pink gins or varieties of sweeter pinks like Bosford from Asda and even Gordon’s pink which tastes a little on the cordial side. Whitley Neill’s is neither pink, nor sweetie cordial and has the benefit of a higher ABV to bolster its appeal. All in all it comes down to whether you appreciate the rhubarb & ginger flavour over the standard Whitley botanicals, and for me the answer was yes, very much so, and would I buy it again in favour of trying out a new gin, again yes.
Available at Sainsbury’s and Mirrisons in the £20-£22 range.
- ABV 43% 43%
TANQUERAY LONDON DRY GIN
Tanqueray London Dry Gin is a juniper rich gin in the same league as Hendricks for example. But unlike the focus on juniper over its 11 other botanicals for Hendricks gin, Tanqueray (pronounced ‘tanker-ray’,) has only four botanicals and juniper by legal definition has to be the dominant flavour. Juniper alone can impart a slightly piney flavour with a fruitiness and pepperiness. It does not need the support of other botanicals so with Tanqueray London Dry Gin it’s no surprise that the aroma is of pine flowers and lime as the juniper imparts these well, but also the pepperiness tones are supported with black pepper and liquorice and it’s in the mid-palate where the more rooty elements, angelica root and liquorice, emerge with a subtle kiss from the coriander coming at the finish.
Many people agree that Tanqueray London Dry Gin is as good as gin gets with nothing that could be done to improve it, and this is why it is one of the great spirits of the world. Who am I to argue with that.
Widely available, around the £21-£26 range for 1 litre.
- ABV 43.1% 43.1%
“This is a delightful gin. Some gins hit high citrus notes where others are herb based. It’s the camomile in Bloom that gives it a distinct floral base. Although most at home with an Indian tonic, gin has become of late taken simply over ice like a whisky. This gin it very much at home mixed with lemonade. In fact lemonade is a great second best to tonic and popular if you find the quinine glossiness of tonic a little overpowering. Indeed, Bloom have launched a perfectly blended Gin & Tonic Rose Lemonade in partnership with Fentiman’s. Additionally, Bloom is equally best served alongside fruit and strong cheese and its botanicals perfectly complement the sweetness of fresh strawberries. On the limit at 40% ABV from England’s oldest distillers.”
- ABV 40% 40%
“Ophir sits on the shelf as a middle of the range priced gin alongside Bulldog and Portsmouth gins at around the £20 to £24 mark. Like Bombay Sapphire gin produced by Barcardi that associates itself with ancient India, Ophir claims a link to the old Chinese spice route. Very hard to capture the flavours of a dynasty with a few spices or herbs but the story goes a long way in enjoying a gin. For example, Tanqueray No10 went to great lengths to have the perfect art deco bottle designed for its flagship gin which the distiller aims to portray as the quintessential British tipple. Ophir in comparison is made by the G&J Distillery which also own the brands Greenall’s, Bloom, Berkeley Square and Thomas Dakin. So this gin is made under the watchful eye of head distiller Joanne Moore as mentioned in the outline above about Bloom and the connection of Ophir to the ancient world is in fairy tale only and because of the flavourings. While selecting the spices and botanicals to include in Opihr Oriental Spiced Gin it’s reassuring that the flavours of Asia were foremost in mind but it is a mix of flavours combined from the ports along the ancient route from Indonesia to England. Cubeb from Malaysia, black pepper, cardamom and ginger from India, cumin from Turkey, coriander seed from Morocco, bitter oranges from Spain, Juniper from Italy and Angelica from Germany and finally grapefruit peel from an unknown source. It is a delicately smooth mix despite the complexity of ingredients and keeps a pleasant nasal tone throughout the drinking. A bottle will not last long in your drinks store.”
- ABV 40% 40%
“Another Gin brand from G&J Distillery (Greenall’s, Ophir, Bloom et al). Labelled as a small batch gin from Manchester and made in a copper pot still, it boasts eleven botanicals including juniper, orange peel, coriander, angelica, cubebs, grapefruit and liquorice. This is an example of a high quality English gin, as opposed to a London Dry Gin and the copper pot process allows for the development of a fuller flavour that gets closer to the base flavours. It is also infused with red cole, a horserashish, that was mixed in cordials to refresh travellers in the 18th Century and which the label claims adds an ‘exceptional taste’. All in all it is a crisp but pleasant gin with citrus notes that stands proudly alonside any reasonably priced bottle at the £24 to £30 mark. It is also an overproof gin at 42% ABV.”
- ABV 42% 42%
“A London Dry Gin hitting the £20 to £22 mark. It has poppy, dragon eye, lotus leaves, citrus, almond and lavender; altogether 12 all-natural botanicals from 8 different countries. It’s made from wheat, on the proof limit at 40% ABV and distilled from 100% grain neutral spirit unlike the 96% that is the norm. Its perfumed aromas and deeper flavours of cassia and coriander makes the taste, for me, similar to Ophir. However, although the branding may suggest a new age modern British fad gin that has done well to get alongside the likes of Ophir and Portsmouth gins, Bulldog is hand crafted by an English distillery that has been making the highest quality gin for over 250 years. One could describe it as a balanced gin which is a generic term meaning it has been well blended, rather like a fine whisky. My first impression of Bulldog gin was that I enjoyed it very much and got through a few bottles before moving on to try something else.”
- ABV 40% 40%
“A London Dry Gin from Aldi at £9.97 for a 70cl bottle. It’s been in the news recently for receiving a top award, leaving people bewildered at a supermarket gin coming anywhere close to traditional more established gins and lending to statements that Oliver Cromwell was officially voted the best gin in the world.
In fact in 2017, Judges at one of the most prestigious competitions of its type, the International Spirits Challenge, awarded Oliver Cromwell a silver medal. It doesn’t mean it came second in the competition, there were 9 gold awards and no less than 61 silver medals. But it does put it ahead of brands like Beefeater’s Burrough’s Reserve Gin which sells for a staggering £63.35 for the same-size 70cl bottle.
Waitrose Premium London Dry also received silver as did Tesco Finest Aromatic Gin, Marks and Spencer London Dry Gin and Castelgy London Dry Gin – Lidl Ireland. Indeed Tesco Finest London Dry Gin was one of the 9 awarded a gold.
Probably most notable is not so much the gin but the distiller. Oliver Cromwell is produced by the Essential Drinks Company, an alcohol manufacturer from Warrington in the North, and the same distiller behind gold winner Tesco Finest London Dry Gin. It’s also worth noting that these competitions are held yearly and therefore results differ and so it is not really a test of the best gins from best to worse but a certificate of merit awarded to gins of distinction.
For example, a big brand but standard London Dry Gin is Tanqueray produced by Diageo which won a gold medal, as did another Diageo brand Gordon’s London Dry Gin. But Tanqueray’s coveted No Ten regarded as a far superior gin was only awarded a silver.
The talk about Oliver Cromwell was more to do with its price which is down to Aldi UK having licence to produce it. In this context Oliver Cromwell from the Essential Drinks Company and from Aldi UK both received a silver medal, albeit one is cheaper than the other. It is because the Aldi bottle is below a tenner that it has received notoriety. Consider another product by Aldi UK, Topaz Blue Premium Gin which also received a silver medal but retails at £13.99 and did not receive half the applause.
However as far as quality goes, it has positioned itself alongside other silver award gins such as Beefeater, Bloom, Bathtub Gin, and Plymouth Gin. The International Spirits Challenge is nonetheless a respected competition due to the rigorous judging process and awards are coveted by distillers. Of Oliver Cromwell the experts opinion was that it had a ripe citrus aroma and a clear and crisp flavour.
The great news is that the results for the International Spirits Challenge 2018 are due to be published on 30th March 2018 on their website. If Oliver Cromwell is still on that list of winners then it will demonstrate this is a gin with legs.
As for my opinion of it. A bottle of Oliver Cromwell was given to me by a work colleague, thank you Ashley Osborne for such a great gift, I enjoyed every drop. Yes I would buy a bottle when next in Aldi which is the first question answered. I certainly will need another bottle to get a better appreciation of it as I thought there were some good and some not so good points.
Firstly, that sharp alcohol hit at the back of your throat that makes you go “arghhhh” when you knock it back straight, is not there in Oliver Cromwell. Because you don’t feel like you’re drinking fire water, you get the impression it’s not as potent as typical more established London Drys. This is a plus for me because the fire burn is what prevents me sampling gins straight, rather as you might with rums.
A negative point for me was that I struggled to taste the base flavours and only had that in the after taste. In this regard it’s a gin to drink simply just with lemonade. Indian tonic may overpower the delicacy with the quinine masking the base flavour. Don’t add a lemon slice or other garnish, as the citrus tones struggle to get through the gin in the first place, perhaps if any garnish then only cucumber may work. And finally if you’re making a martini or other cocktail, leave out the vermouth for the same reasons already mentioned.
In short, I thought this gin was delightful if kept simple, just add a base mixer for thinning and bubbles, don’t even add ice unless they are artificial plastic frozen cubes. How refreshing this would be on a hot day, but it takes discipline to keep it simple and the slightest error in preparation will mask the heart of this gin. In other words I felt the gin was perfect for a hot day if prepared in an exact way, otherwise my overall opinion is that it lacks complexity and guts, despite gin experts having awarding it such accolade, it would get 7 out of 10 from me because it’s too fragile, too delicate and possibly too cheap.
- ABV 37.5% 37.5%
J. J. WHITLEY ELDERFLOWER GIN
“This gin is a delightful addition to the Tesco spirits shelf, sitting among the £20 range, however today I picked a bottle up for just £15 (70cl), Bulldog too was reduced to just £15 and Tanqueray No10 down to £26, whatever next! I decided to try this nicely bottled creation from J.J. Whitley partly down to the nice bottle and partly due to the decent price.
The JJ range is a new brand from Johnny Neill, the producer of Whitley Neill Gin. His grandmother’s family company was Greenall Whitley – originally behind the G&J Greenalls distillery and breweries. JJ Whitley was Johnny’s great grandfather and Managing Director of Greenall’s. This is where the JJ range takes its inspiration, unlike Whitley Neill Gins that follow Johnny’s wife’s South African heritage.
Whitley’s have been distilling for eight generations so they know a thing or too about it so the first notation on this gin is that it is made in a copper pot still, which as you know means it’s therefore not a London Dry Gin. Being that copper stills retain more of the base flavour it’s the next point to note that the gin has a hint of yellow colour to it unlike the customary clearness of London Drys.
The two points mentioned above would suggest a well-made, well-blended and well-thought-out batch of gin. Indeed for the elderflower to keep its prominence, it sits atop soft scents of juniper, coriander and cinnamon which the distillers say gives a sweet velvety sensation and a fresh floral bouquet.
In all there are eight botanicals, presumably one in acknowledgement for every generation of distiller. This lends a variety of taste sensation from notes of honey to grassiness and orange blossom. When popping the cork you take in wonderful summery notes. The botanicals have been balanced perfectly to give the nose and palate the sensation of summer. It can take a slice of lemon and is equally well at home mixed with a sparkling wine or a tonic.
It’s an elderflower gin with a complexity that keeps the elderflower above the other botanicals and you can imagine drinking it whilst also enjoying a bowl of strawberries. I can think of no other that would make the perfect entry gin for someone tasting gin for the first time, and just a tad of tonic brings out the incredible floral notes. I’m not sure what cocktails bartenders will come up with but it’s possibly a gin where ice and a splash are the only additions needed. It gets a 9 out of 10 from me because it has a floral complexity that I understand and it makes its presence felt. It’s a gin you will remember and want to get again.”
- ABV 36.8% 36.8%