2016 was a fantastic year for gin, with gin sales topping £1 billion! But what were the best new gins of 2016?
All of these gins received their full launch in 2016 and were voted on by the GinFestival.com staff to determine our winner. So...what made the grade?
Most of this year's list features gins from the UK, but our first entrant hails from Belgium, the home of Genever (the spiritual father of gin). There are plenty of exciting gins making their way out of Belgium these days but none have caused as much of a splash as X Gin.
X Gin's creators weren't actually inspired by gin, but the intimidatingly spelt Xocolatl (try saying that when you've had a few). Xocolatl was an alcoholic drink derived from cocoa beans which was drunk by the kings and queens of Mayan, Aztec and Incan cultures. The drink was said to have come from the gods and only royals were permitted to sample its intoxicating power. It was also reputed to be a powerful aphrodisiac!
Gods, royals, aphrodisiacs! All very inspiring stuff, but unfortunately Xocolatl recipes are lost to the mists of time. So, rather than recreate the drink, they aimed to make a modern spirit that captured its essence.
Elegant and refined, X Gin is made with a whopping 45 botanicals! With that many flavours it can be hard to discern individual elements but aromas of nuts, vanilla and cocoa are all clear and contribute to a dessert-like flavour.
Bimber Distillery are making all natural gins, using traditional methods, in the heart of London (on the site of an old Guinness brewery in fact). The name is Polish (like the company founders) and means a kind of moonshine, but this gin is a far cry from the rough spirits made in the mountains during Prohibition-era America. Bimber is a confident, smooth and distinguished spirit.
Bimber's London Dry Gin is carefully crafted from their own wheat vodka (which is distilled four times), plus a blend of 10 different botanicals. It's quite a classic recipe using juniper, angelica root and coriander seed plus citrus from Seville oranges & lemons, nutmeg, cinnamon, cassia, liquorice root and orris root. That's an ingredient list that doesn't include anything unusual or intriguing, but therein lies Bimber's appeal. It's not flashy but it is delicious, a very well executed version of a standard London Dry and one that works for nearly every gin drinker.
Bimber has a great balance of bright juniper, fresh citrus notes, nutty coriander seeds, fragrant angelica and warm cinnamon. A dry and earthy finish and a remarkable persistence of the spice aromas are among it's more distinctive features.
We're not the only ones that think it's great too. Bimber has already scored an ISC Gold and IWSC Silver.
Poetic License launched in 2016 with 2 gins, both of which made our list last year. This year they released a further 2 gins and both have made our list again! Surely this makes them the most consistently impressive gin distillery in the UK?
Poetic License comes from that most modern of things, a distillery bar! As in, a bar that makes its own spirits on-site, something that would have previously been illegal for nearly anyone in the U.K. Having launched a great London Dry and a gorgeous Old Tom last year (both classic gin variants), 2016 saw them add 2 new limited edition gins with strikingly modern flavours.
Poetic License Strawberries & Cream Picnic Gin is the essence of British summer in a glass! The name and the colour might make you think that this is a sweet gin liqueur, but, surprisingly, this is still very much a dry gin. It skillfully blends the tart yet sweet flavour of strawberries with sharp juniper and the richness of cream.
Tarquin's Seadog, from Southwestern Distillery, has an interesting history. Southwestern Distillery have been producing Tarquin's Cornish Gin and Tarquin's Cornish Pastis since 2012, making them one of the earlier figures to get into the craft gin movement. Their award winning gin drew many accolades and, eventually, the attention of the Royal Navy, who tasked them with making a limited 771 bottle run of gin to commemorate the disbanding of the 771 Naval Air Squadron.
They created a navy strength version of their superlative spirit using the same recipe but slightly boosted botanical content and the addition of pink grapefruit. The end result was such a hit that they decided to release it again, under a new name, Seadog, so as to keep that limited bottling special.
Tarquin's Seadog is basically Tarquin's Cornish gin... but better. Stronger, more flavourful, more powerful! It's like a big, noisy older brother to the more refined Cornish Gin. It's a crisp and very dry gin with juniper that hits you like a cannon on the nose before the palate delivers a double blow of spicy and earthy flavours. Not a gentle gin, but a delicious one!
2016 was the year where London Dry gins made a comeback. After a few years of rapid invention in new botanicals and ever odder flavour ideas, many craft distillers are now aiming to produce the finest version of an eternal classic. That's what 1606 Gin sets out to do and succeeds in achieving.
What makes it so good? Refinement of recipe and quality of ingredients. 1606 grow their own oranges and lemons specifically to produce their gin. They also use natural spring water from the spa town of Tunbridge Wells to dilute their gin which makes it astonishingly clean, and allows the various botanical flavours to stand out clearly.
Really though, we love 1606 for its smoothness. It is a very flavourful gin, with earthy pine joined by citrus and a touch of angelica, but not powerful or harsh. It might just be too easy to drink!
Our only Spanish gin on the list comes from Barcelona Spirits, who launched 4 gins last year themed around the classical elements; earth, water, air and, our favourite, fire. These are New Western gins and juniper takes a second place to the other botanicals, which are mixed and chosen to highlight a particular flavour that is common in other gins but not always as a main player. For example, many gins are citrusy but 5th Gin Earth is positively bursting with lemons, oranges, tangerines and grapefruits.
In the case of 5th Gin Fire, the key flavour is berries. Blackberries, blueberries, currants, strawberries and gooseberries all feature in this gin, combining to make a delightfully fruity spirit that's light and joyous to drink. Juniper plays a role, cutting the sweetness of the berry parade and adding a refined pepperiness that makes the berries even more delicious.
Slingsby Gin made our list last year with a stunning London Dry that featured rhubarb as a star player. So this year they've upped the rhubarb even further, producing a robust and tasty little spirit by infusing their artisan gin with even more rhubarb!
What can we say, we're based in Yorkshire, we love rhubarb!
What rhubarb brings to gin is a combination of sweetness and tartness that is actually common to many good gins. Adding more rhubarb amplifies this, giving you a gin with more punch and power. Juniper is still key to Slingsby Rhubarb Gin though, although somewhat mellow, it balances the rhubarb and adds dryness to the long, tangy finish.
We might be slightly biased here, because Tarquin's Single Estate Cornish Tea Gin is the first original distilled gin to be produced exclusively for Gin Festival. However, we defy anyone who has tried it not to fall in love with its many charms.
Single Estate Cornish Tea Gin is made with tea from the Tregothnan estate, which, thanks to a sub-tropical micro-climate, is the only place in the UK where tea is grown commercially. The aromatic tea, Camelia sinensis, is teamed with the key botanicals of kaffir lime, ginger, bee pollen and, of course, juniper to produce a sweet, delicate gin with a long smoky finish.
Those 5 botanicals stand clearly and proudly in this gin. It is easy to detect the sweetness of the pollen, the smokiness of the tea, the sharpness of the lime, the pine aroma of the juniper and the heat of the ginger in what is a beautifully balanced gin.
Like a lot of 2016's finest gins this is a limited edition, so if you're curious, pick some up now.
Nelson's Gin was something of a surprise hit in the Gin Festival offices. Prior to featuring in the May Gin Explorer box, nobody at Gin Festival had heard of this new London Dry, but after sampling it, it swiftly rose to become one of our favourites.
Nelson's Gin was created at Nelson's Gin distillery and Gin School, by Neil Harrison, an experienced chef who sought to capture the most elusive quality of a good meal, ambience, in a bottle. The gin takes its name from two great inspirational figures for Neil, the British naval hero and his own father, Nelson James Harrison. Nelson's is made with the distinctive botanicals of kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, vanilla and cinnamon.
Nelson’s Gin has an especially clean taste, attributed to the high-quality water used in its production which is naturally filtered through a reed bed. The first mouthful is distinctly dry with plenty of juniper and subtle spice from the vanilla and cinnamon. This then develops into a rounded sweetness with faintly fruity aromas.
An exceptional, and very smooth, spirit.
Poetic License's other limited edition spirit for this year is winter in a bottle, where the first was summer. Starting with familiar gin flavours as a base, they have added mulled wine spices, dried winter fruits and clementines to produce a gin that's more Christmassy than Santa doing the Queen's Speech whilst eating Quality Street and singing Mariah Carey. And yet, is still gin! The festive flavours could easily overpower the more classic components but the guys behind Poetic License have proven themselves masters at blending flavours and aromas to produce beautifully balanced spirits.
Evocative of everything we love about the festive season, Fireside Gin just makes us feel warm inside whenever we drink it.
Whitley Neill has established itself as a modern classic, a craft gin that's broken through into the mainstream, and deservingly so. Its producer, Johnny Whitley, is part of a gin making family that has roots going back to 1762. He maintains their traditions of care, quality and expertise, but also, innovation! Not wanting to step on the very clear African identity of Whitley Neill, Johnny has produced the J.J. Whitley range, a series of gins that are more classically English in their flavours and presentation.
Inspired by his Great Grandfather, J.J. Whitley, who was the Managing Director of Greenall’s and also the son of a Vicar, the 2 gins in the J.J. Whitley range harken back to the Victorian/Edwardian era and feature botanicals you’d find in an English vicarage garden and hedgerow, including that most English of aromas, elderflower.
Elderflower gins are increasingly popular for a reason. The light sweetness of elderflower blends well with the pine notes of juniper producing a sweeter gin than a London Dry but maintaining the very grassy and floral nature of both. Done well, an Elderflower gin feels like drinking an English country garden. Done as excellently as J.J. Whitley Elderflower Gin, and you have our 3rd best gin of the year.
Mason's excellent Yorkshire Tea Gin was our number one best gin last year. A robust, earthy and powerful spirit that remains one of our all time favourites.
This year they've just missed out on the top spot with a delicious and very innovative spirit.
An innovative sloe gin? Absolutely! While sloe berries and gin are no strangers to each other, until Masons came along nobody had produced a gin where the sloe berries were distilled as a botanical, rather than infused afterwards. And for good reason, As Karl Mason explained, it's not easy to distil a sloe.
"It was possibly the hardest of our range to get right as the main element sloes bring to the flavour is a lot of bitterness. We had to experiment with lots of test distillations and ways to sweeten the gin without the use of sugar, but once we started to raise the levels of sweet orange zest we started to make progress. When you have a G&T with the “Slow distilled Sloe edition” you get the taste of the sloes on the taste."
While it may have been tricky to create, we feel strongly that it was worth the effort. Masons Slow Distilled Sloe Gin is a full-bodied and fruity gin with a mellow sweetness and the unmistakable warmth of Masons.
It's also another Gin Festival exclusive, so you won't find it anwyhere else.
Leeds Gin brings together a lot of the themes of 2016's list. It's an attempt to do a more conventional gin style rather than an experiment, it's driven by a passionate creator, it's from Yorkshire and it's full of rhubarb!
Leeds Gin was launched in March 2016 by Sara Birkinshaw. Passionate and creative, Sara is a one-woman operation, distilling, bottling and marketing Leeds Gin all by herself! You can't get more small batch or craft than that. She was inspired by the spirit of Leeds, as well as the potential of Yorkshire’s most famous export, rhubarb.
Yes, this is another gin using rhubarb to great effect. Leeds Gin has a brilliant balance of botanicals. The addition of rhubarb could make it an overly tart gin but it is instead smooth and crisp with a delightful touch of dessert spice. The forced Yorkshire rhubarb and its bittersweet nature share centre stage with a clean, dry juniper and a gentle, honey sweetness. Delicate anise, alongside cinnamon and orange, lingers in the background giving subtle complexity to the spirit.
It's also a very nice looking bottle with a fabulous drawing of Minerva the owl (who we think kind of looks like our IT guy Tony.)
Leeds Gin mostly takes the top spot because it's a delicious gin that makes a fabulous G&T, but it also embodies the spirit of modern gin; passionate, everyday people chasing their dreams and producing something extraordinary. We'll drink to that!
Gin Festival returns to the beautiful Victoria baths for another double weekender!
It’s national chilli day! So we decided to celebrate in true gin style (the only way we know how to) and make some cocktails!
The gorgeous Piùcinque is our January Gin of the Month, bursting with bright, sunny Mediterranean flavours.
January's Gin Of The Month is proudly Italian through and through.