Guide: How to Buy Gin

No matter how you like your Martini, shaken or stirred, one thing is for sure...the Martini is only as good as the gin in it. Here's a quick guide to understanding gin.

Whether you prefer it shaken or stirred there’s no disputing the fact that James Bond is a fan of a well made Martini. For those of you who have never had a Martini before…shame on you. The main ingredient in a Martini is of course, gin. The colorless spirit is a popular component in most cocktails – mainly due to the fact that it gets along so well with many ingredients.

Before we get on with discussing gin in more detail, perhaps it would be prudent to look back at its origins. What we now know as gin, dates back to 16th century Holland, where it was sold in pharmacies as a type of medicine known as ‘genever’. Though the ‘genever’ available during this period was meant to be used for medicinal purposes and not as a recreational drink, the addition of juniper berries made it aromatic and flavorsome.  English troops in Holland, during the Dutch War of Independence, liked the spirit so much that they brought it back with them at the end of the war. Gin then flourished in England, becoming so popular so fast, that the term “Gin Craze” was coined to refer to the period in history.

Today, gin basks in global popularity, and has become the drink of choice for many; especially with the advent of the martini and the ever popular ‘gin and tonic’. Whether you prefer to lay back on a deck chair at the beach or head to a bar after work, gin is a delicious accompaniment to escape from the rigors of reality.

Guide How To Buy Gin 7

Tasting Good Gin

What exactly is good gin? Here’s the long and short of it. Good gin brings out the aroma and flavor of the botanicals added during the redistillation process. When you do a taste test between good quality gin and lower quality gin, it is fairly easy to notice the difference in the quality of the ingredients used and the distillation process. Here’s how you can do a taste test…

  • Choose the right glass – one that curves inward at the top, traps more of the aromas from the gin, allowing for a better olfactory experience. A glass with a stem, keeps the heat of your hands from warming the gin.
  • Appearance – hold up your glass of gin against the light and look at its color. The botanicals added to the gin will impart color as well as aroma.
  • Water – add an equal part of still water to the gin. The water will reduce the alcohol content of the gin and allow the full character and flavors of the botanicals of the gin to flourish.
  • Swirl – swirl the gin in your glass to add in some oxygen and collect the aromas around the rim.
  • Aroma – take a long and well deserved sniff of the gin. Try to detect notes of citrus, fruits, spice, flowers and wood. If you get strong odors of chemicals, it is a sign that you’re probably about to have some poor quality gin.
  • Taste – finally, have a sip. Notice the subtle taste of juniper in the first sip. During the subsequent sips discover the variety of flavors residing in the gin you’re drinking. In a good gin, the flavors should blend well together and complement each other. Keep in mind that juniper should be the outstanding flavor…it is after all, gin.

Choosing Good Gin

Deciding on which bottle of gin to pick up, the next time you’re down at the store is not easy. Like vodka, gin is a neutral spirit and not particularly complex compared with whisky and cognac, which should explain why it is popularly used in cocktails.

  • There is little to learn from reading the label. Unlike whiskies, wines and such, a bottle of gin does not come with age-statement guideline.
  • A more expensive bottle of gin does not necessarily mean better gin, in terms of quality and taste. More often than not, a bottle/brand of gin may cost more than the rest due to the fact that it is either handcrafted or produced in small batches. It is up to you to decide if the gin is to your liking, based on your palate.
  • Something to take note of is the fact that brands don’t typically market their gins as being premium or luxury. Like we said above the price of the gin will depend on the production volume. So all gins are “created equal”…in a manner of speaking.
  • We recommend keeping a bottle of Genever on hand; after all it is the original gin. Genever is a good base for you to identify your likes and dislikes between the other types of gin.
  • An easy way to identify a good gin is to head over to the bar and order a good gin-based cocktail you like. Ask the bartender which brand he used and perform the taste test we explained above.
  • For purists, the bar is the best place to work your gin palate because bartenders tend to stock many different options. Be bold and order shots of the clear stuff, sipping and sniffing your way through. You can pick up a bottle of whatever strikes your fancy after.

Guide How To Buy Gin 8

How Gin is Made

There are generally a wide variety of methods used throughout history to produce the juniper-infused elixir that is gin. Nowadays production methods have become more or less standardized. Here are the three most popular methods used to produce gin.

  • Column distilled – The most common way to produce gin, using a Coffey still that creates a very concentrated spirit. The concentrated product is then redistilled by adding juniper berries and other botanicals into a ‘gin basket’ hung in a pot still. The heat causes the vapour to rise, extracting the flavors from the ‘gin basket’, giving the spirit its unique aroma and taste.
  • Pot distilled – One of the earlier methods of producing gin. The process involves distilling fermented malt wine, made from grains like barley. The end product is then distilled again with botanicals to add flavor. Pot distilled gin is typically staged in tanks or wood casks, which results in a malt flavor akin to most whiskies.
  • Compound gin – The gin is generally flavored with natural essences without redistilling it. Popular additions include coriander, saffron, grapefruit, nutmeg, cinnamon and anise.

Guide How To Buy Gin 9 

Types of Gin

  • London Dry Gin – probably the most common type of gin. The neutral spirit is blended with botanicals, mainly juniper. Popular brands include Beefeater, Boodles, Gordon’s, and Tanqueray.
  • New Western / International Style Gin – often known as craft gin, these new types of gins use the same type of distilling process of traditional gin, but are infused with other flavors aside from juniper berries. This style of gin offers flavor profiles unlike what you might expect. Some brands to try are Hendrick’s Gin, Aviation Gin and Dry Fly Gin.
  • Old Tom Gin – a distilled gin that has been slightly sweetened. The recipes for this include the addition of sugar or orange flower water. Though this style of gin is very rare, some distilleries are trying to stage a revival. Recommended brands are Hayman's Old Tom Gin, Jensen’s Old Tom Gin, Secret Treasures Old Tom Style Gin and Both’s Old Tom Gin.
  • Sloe Gin – a reddish gin commonly flavored with blackthorn fruit. Sugar is required to ensure the sloe juice is extracted from the fruit. Though this type of gin is hard to get a hold of, we recommend trying Plymouth Sloe Gin, Chase Sloe Gin and Sipsmith Sloe Gin.
  • Genever - the original gin. Old Genever tends to be sweet and aromatic, while young Genever has a lighter body and drier palate.

Guide How To Buy Gin 10

Further Reading

  • One the best ways to explore Gin, is to drink it. Get out there, order up a storm of Gin & Tonic cocktails and decide for yourself on which Gin you prefer.
  • If you would rather read up on Gin in more detail, you could check out these websites: The Ginstress and the GIN is IN.

If you prefer getting your information from a book, here’s a list of recommended reading:

 Guide How To Buy Gin 1

The Book of Gin: A Spirited World History from Alchemists' Stills and Colonial Outposts to GinPalaces, Bathtub Gin, and Artisanal Cocktails

 Guide How To Buy Gin 2

The Mixellany Guide to Gin

 Guide How To Buy Gin 3

The Craft of Gin

 Guide How To Buy Gin 4

The Spirit of Gin: A Stirring Miscellany of the New Gin Revival

Copyright © is part of the SPH Magazines Luxury Network