The OLN Hot List: Gin

21 November, 2013

We asked a host of opinion-formers to score their top gins to give us the first OLN Hot List, and the top 10 coolest names at the forefront of the sector’s renaissance.

Gordon’s, Beefeater, Booth’s and Gilbey’s – that was effectively the extent of the gin market 20 years ago. But gin has since been touched by the demand for quality, provenance and flavour experimentation that has emerged from the foodie and cocktail revolutions. 

The result has been a proliferation of brands with USPs arising from packaging, the use of different botanicals, back stories and heritage – real and imagined.

It means gin has gone from being mother’s ruin to one of the coolest categories in the drinks market. We asked opinion-formers from all corners of the industry to name the brands they think are setting the world of gin alight.

1. The Botanist

It says a lot about the diversity of the modern gin market that our number one brand comes from a Scotch whisky distillery. The Botanist was launched by then-independent Bruichladdich on Islay in 2010 and contains nine classic gin aromatics supplemented by 22 botanicals foraged from across the island. They include wild Islay juniper, creeping thistle, bog myrtle and lady’s bedstraw all brought together over a 17-hour distillation. 

Distributor: Bruichladdich UK

Typical price range: £25-£32

One voter says:

 The gin is distilled in the Ugly Betty pot still, so it adds to the quirky, humorous appeal. 

Tim Robbins, Nickolls & Perks, Stourbidge

2. Warner Edwards

This is a remarkable result for Warner Edwards, the Northamptonshire distiller established by Tom Warner and Sion Edwards only last December. Their flagship Harrington gin takes its name from the farm where it’s made and they have an elderflower version which sold out in the summer. The latest project is a sloe gin made with fruit donated by members of the public in return for finished bottles. It will be released on December 6, the company’s first birthday.

Distributor: Warner Edwards

Typical price range: £30-£40

One voter says:
 Too many popular products fail to differentiate on flavour but this really does. It’s no surprise it’s our top selling premium gin. 

Tim Carlisle, SH Jones, Banbury

3. Martin Miller’s

You know those bright ideas that emerge over drinks with friends that never again see the light of day? Well, Martin Miller had one in a Notting Hill bar in 1999 and wasn’t prepared to let it go, leading to a quality English gin that was shipped to Iceland to be cut to bottle abv with water from a local spring. The super-premium Westbourne Strength uses the same recipe and production but bottles at 45.2% abv for a fuller, more cocktail-friendly flavour. 

Distributor: Reformed Spirits

Typical price range: £25-30

One voter says:
 Westbourne Strength is smooth, soft, yet high in alcohol, with its juniper burst finely balanced with other botanicals. 

Tim Francis, The Drink Shop

4. Williams

Herefordshire’s Chase distillery may be best known for its vodka but its gin – named after founder William Chase – is also winning plaudits among followers who like their gin to be both modern and traditionally British at the same time. Of course, it wouldn’t be a modern one without a botanical point of difference – in this case that means apples, elderflower and hops. There are also Seville Orange and Sloe & Mulberry gins produced by the distillery for that all-important USP.

Distributor: Cellar Trends

Typical price range: £30-£40

One voter says:
 William’s gets our vote because it is home grown, new and fresh. The packaging is great. 

John Earle, Christopher Piper Wines, Ottery St Mary, Devon

5. Monkey 47

If people want brands with good back stories then this gin from Germany’s Black Forest has one. Wing Commander Montgomery Collins of the RAF was posted to the Britsh zone of Berlin after the war and created a gin, inspired both by the local flora and his upbringing in Madras. Collins also sponsored a monkey in Berlin Zoo and later opened a guest house called the Wild Monkey. When the house was being done up at the start of this century the recipe was rediscovered and the gin was reborn as Monkey 47. 

Distributor: Spirit Cartel

Typical price range: £40-£50

One voter says:
 It’s a perfect combination of background story, quality of liquid, versatility and genius branding. 

Ivan Dixon, Harvey Nichols 

6. Aviation

While many modern gins have set out to attain a quintessentially English gin style, Aviation was the result of a quest to create one with its personality rooted firmly in the Pacific North West seaboard of the US. The collaboration between mixologist Ryan Magarian and House Spirits Distilling of Portand, Oregon, takes the weight off juniper with a “botanical democracy” involving anise seed, cardamom, coriander, lavender and sarsaparilla. The combination took its creators 30 rounds of trials to perfect.

Distributor: Eaux de Vie

Typical price: £30-£35

One voter says:
 The Aviation style is full, big, rich and savoury compared to the more perfumed notes of others. 

Dominic Lockyer, Fareham Wine Cellars, Fareham, Hampshire

7. Brecon

An uncoordinated but influential block vote from patriotic Welsh independents propelled Brecon into the top 10. While some gins are protective of their recipes, Brecon spells it out with a menu of its botanicals listed down the front of the bottle, nutmeg and cinnamon giving it an extra spicy dimension. Producer Welsh Whisky, best known for Penderyn single malt, celebrates its 10th anniversary next year and the gin arrived on the scene only six years ago, another newcomer in the revolution. 

Distributor: Welsh Whisky Co

Typical price range: £15-£20

One voter says:
 It’s in a good looking bottle and has lovely aromas of juniper and coriander. 

Dean Pritchard, Gwin Llyn Wines, Pwllheli

8. Tanqueray

Diageo has proved that you don’t have to be making gin in your garage to earn respect, just to make elegantly fine gin from only four botanicals – juniper, coriander, angelica and liquorice. Putting it in an iconic bottle based on the shape of a classic cocktail shaker helps to keep it in the with the gin crowd. Super-premium Tanqueray 10 – named after the still in which its made – and the limited release, Indian-inspired Rangpur, made with ginger and lime, have taken the Tanqueray franchise to another level.

Distributor: Diageo GB

Typical price range: £25-£30

One voter says: 

 The more citrus-led botanicals in Tanqueray 10 soften that traditional juniper hit. I also like the unusual bottle shape. 

Ben Straw, Steep Hill Wines, Lincoln

9. No 3

If you’re looking for a brand that captures the essence of what gin’s all about then No 3 might just be it. It’s a classic London dry gin which celebrates juniper rather than trying to hide it. The supporting cast of botanicals is minimal and gimmick-free. What’s more, it’s named after the address in London’s St James’s Street that is home to brand owner and royal wine merchant Berry Bros & Rudd. It’s a classy, no frills gin that makes a great G&T even though it was created to be the base for a perfect Dry Martini. 

Distributor: Maxxium UK 

Typical price range: £30-£40

One voter says:

 No 3 is a fantastic small batch, crafted gin. It’s well balanced, smooth and its blend of botanicals imparts a distinctive taste. 

John Mitchell, Mitchells, Sheffield 

10. Hendrick’s

Hendrick’s was one of the first quirky gins on the market when it was launched by Glenfiddich malt whisky producer William Grant in 1999. Since then, many pretenders have tried to mimic the Hendrick’s aesthetic of Edwardian styling, the apothecary bottle and unusual botanicals – of which cucumber is Hendrick’s signature – yet few have pulled it off with such panache. Marketing around off-the-wall events persuades consumers to buy into the world according to Hendrick’s.

Distributor: First Drinks

Typical prices: £25-35

One voter says:
 Hendrick’s brought a different taste style at a time when many gins were quite similar. 

Krishan Rajput, Stirchley Wines & Spirits, Birmingham 


What we did

We polled some 120 buyers, independents, writers and bloggers to find their favourite gins based on quality and image. They were asked for a top three with a points value on each, then we added up the points. Votes were received for 46 gins. In addition to the top 10 they were (alphabetically): Bath Tub; Blackwood’s; Bloom; Bombay Sapphire; Broker’s; Bulldog; Cambridge; Caorunn; Citadelle; Death’s Door; Dodd’s; The Duke; Edinburgh; Few; Fifty Pounds; Foxdenton; Gordon’s; G’Vine; Hayman’s; Herno; Hoxton; Jack Cain’s; Langley’s No 8; Leopold’s; Lighthouse; No 209; Plymouth; Portobello Road; Sacred; Safrron; Sipsmith; Six O’Clock; Sloane’s; St George; Tarquin’s; Whitley Neill





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