2015 was a fantastic year for new gins. As award ceremony season starts, we’ve put together what we think are the top 11 best gins of 2015.
All of these gins were launched in 2015 and were voted on by the GinFestival.com staff to determine our winner. So...what made the grade?
Number 11. Zymurgorium Mandarin Dynasty
Zymurgorium are a Manchester based distillery (and brewery and cidery and whatever it is you call a place that makes mead) known for their eccentricity as much as their creativity. Founded by Aaron Darke, the defining feature of Zymurgorium is Darke’s deep and abiding love of the natural world. Many of his drinks feature ingredients personally foraged by Aaron.
Zymurgorium definitely like to go their own way (the name might have been a hint) and their Mandarin Dynasty Gin is a very clear example of this. Part of an exciting new “World Tour” range of gins inspired by global culinary traditions, Mandarin Dynasty Gin is a fruit gin like no other. At most distilleries, fruit gins are made by taking the distillery's existing London Dry offering and infusing it with fruit. However, at Zymurgorium bespoke gins are developed specifically to be made into fruit gins, with the botanicals in the gin supporting the fruit additions.
Mandarin Dynasty Gin is inspired by Chinese cooking and the use of 5 spice to achieve a balance of sweet and sour flavours. The fresh mandarin peel and juice provide plenty of sweetness and a slight tartness that is amplified by the use of Chinese cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, fennel seeds, star anise and cloves in the gin. The end result is a distinctly fresh gin; spicy, sweet and sour with the juniper adding a refreshing peppery kick at the end. Delicious served neat over ice.
Number 10. Poetic License Northern Dry
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. Based out of the Roker Hotel in Sunderland they’ve been dishing out soul food, craft beer and cocktails made with their signature spirit since March and have finally made their amazing gin available online.
The gin itself starts with a big punch of juniper warmed by spicy green cardamom. Eucalyptus really stands out on the palate, adding a perfumed element and the inclusion of Persian limes intensifies the citrus flavours.
The limited edition packaging is pretty spiffy too. Wrapped in paper, it has the rougeish air of something illicit but appealing.
Number 9. Brighton Gin
5 friends came together over 2 shared loves. Gin and Brighton. The end result is a fitting tribute to that most libertine of British coastal cities.
Like the city, it’s a somewhat odd gin but fun and approachable. The juniper element is subtle with bright citrus flavours at the fore and just a touch of spice.
The bottle is highly evocative of Brighton too, the cap inspired by the famous pavilion, the colours used the same as the railings on the promenade and even the label styled to look like a fairground ticket.
Number 8. Slingsby
Slingsby Gin hails from Harrogate and is named for William Slingsby, who discovered the natural spring which was the basis for the picturesque Yorkshire spa town’s riches. As they put it themselves on their website:
“Slingsby did things differently, thought differently and had a vision that others considered to be extraordinary or even, a little odd; he epitomised the Spirit of Harrogate. “
A perfect description of this exciting new gin. Slingsby drinks sweet and easy with an initial burst of citrus, that gives way to familiar juniper and a light, but welcome anise. The mid palate is led by chervil, sweet cicely and green tea. Then it finishes in distinctly Yorkshire style, with the unmistakeable flavour of rhubarb.
Number 7. FEW Breakfast Gin
So far the innovation on our list is all from the U.K. but there are actually some fantastic gins coming out of America these days. Amongst a host of exciting American craft distillers, FEW stands out for their playfulness, creativity and amazing tasting drinks.
FEW take their name from Frances Elizabeth Willard, a key figure in the Temperance Movement and so, ironically, something of a hero to American Gin as it was prohibition that brought gin to the American palate.
Breakfast Gin doesn’t get it’s name because it’s best enjoyed in the morning but because the botanicals, orange and bergamot in particular, are evocative of breakfast flavours. This is a light gin, aromatic and floral, delicate and sophisticated and possibly too moreish for its own good.
Number 6. Cardiff Dry
If you call yourself Eccentric Gins you’re making a big claim for your products but Cardiff Dry definitely qualifies as different. It’s the first ever gin to be developed by social media. Wait...what? Well, Eccentric tried out an unusual development process, using social media to survey hundreds of bartenders, mixologists and spirit experts to come up with a recipe for a gin that the people wanted.
Though it’s origins are weird, it gets stranger. Cardiff Dry is one of the only gins to include no citrus at all as a botanical. Instead, it retains the sour and dry elements citrus peels normally provide through the use of pine reserves, rosemary and sorrel.
This makes Cardiff Dry a very dry gin, but one with outstanding depth of flavour. Though not to everyone’s taste this is a must try because for those who like it, it’s their new favourite gin.
Number 5. Zymurgorium Manchester Gin
Most gins are made from what is called neutral grain spirit, largely flavourless vodka made from grain, to which the botanicals are added. Most craft distillers aren’t able to make their own base spirit from scratch. Aaron Darke is not most craft distillers. Instead he turns his own award winning mead into a honey vodka that forms the basis of their spectacular Manchester Gin. And he does it all in a brand, new and top-secret still known as the waggle dancer.
The honey base is detectable in Manchester Gin enlivened by other 20 botanicals including many foraged from the Manchester area. Manchester Gin begins with slightly sweet, floral notes that develop into light spice and a lingering herbal finish.
Number 4. Whittaker’s Gin
Founded by husband and wife team Toby and Jane, Whittaker’s is proudly and defiantly Yorkshire. Great care has been taken to retain the feel, the flavour and the terroir of their Nidderdale location by using local fresh water sources and hand picked local botanicals such as whortleberries, hawthorne berries and Yorkshire thyme.
Much of the flavour of Whittaker’s comes from the use of the, not very pleasantly named, bog myrtle. Bog Myrtle is still used to produce sweet heather ales but it was traditionally used as an alternative to hops. A peculiar combination of bitter and sweet, it helps turn Whittaker’s into a gin that tastes like none other.
Number 3. Poetic License Old Tom
You might never have tried an Old Tom, but if you do we can strongly recommend this one as the place to start. Old Tom is an older style of gin more like what would have been drunk during the original gin craze. It has less juniper flavour and is typically not as high an ABV leading to a smoother, sweeter and altogether gentler drink. Though once extinct, gin distillers are bringing the style back and although it’s not a wholly traditional version one of the best versions of an old tom you can drink is Poetic Licenses’ offering.
Part of the appeal comes from the barrel aging in oak casks. This adds a golden hue to the drink as well as some rich earthy flavours and almost malty tones. The sweet, well rounded flavour is livened up with a very peppery juniper kick that comes as a shocking, but welcome, surprise.
Number 2. Thomas Dakin
Thomas Dakin was an 18th century entrepreneur and distiller who founded what would eventually become Greenall’s gin distillery. Dakin was a revolutionary figure in his time who developed new distilling techniques, such as vapour distillation, and was key in rescuing gin from it’s low reputation at the end of the original gin craze.
Greenalls’ (which also make Bloom and Opihr) master distiller, Joanne Moore, has set out to do tribute to the man with a gin that’s enthusiastically retro both in appearance and flavour. The distinctive botanical in Thomas Dakin is red cole (horseradish) inspired by recipes from the period for orange and horseradish cordials. The red cole is a dominant note that give the gin a uniquely savoury flavour but that note is supported by a symphony of other flavours that weave together to produce a fabulous drink.
The bottle design is also brilliant and embraces the sense of history. Recreating period design practices it’s reminiscent of the iconic Jack Daniels label but in a striking red that really stands out from other gins.
The combination of the unusual but delicious botanicals with the evocative design and sense of history has added up to a really special gin, one destined to be a classic.
Number 1. Masons Yorkshire Tea
There’s no great story to Mason’s Yorkshire Tea, no brand new distilling techniques or weighty historical significance and the bottle is lovely but nothing to write home about.
So why is it our number 1 pick?
Because there aren’t sufficient words in the dictionary to describe how gorgeous it is. They should have sent a poet.
Masons Yorkshire Gin is already a fantastic gin; dry, complex and with an amazing lingering finish. The addition of Yorkshire Tea doesn’t sound like it would be anything more than a novelty but the result is a flavour revelation. This gin is robust, earthy and powerful. The tea adds a richness which works in harmony with the other, more typical gin, flavours. Whilst it could easily overpower juniper, citrus and spice it instead lifts them, transforming them and revealing new character to these familiar flavours.
In retrospect it should have been obvious. Gin is great. Tea is great. Put them together and what’s not to love.
All 11 gins are well worth trying and are available from our online gin shop to sample today.
Lucky enough to have a new Gin Festival In A Box? Try using them to make our favourite Gin Festival cocktails at home.
For National Curry Week we wanted to look at pairing curry with gin cocktails, so we visited Indian Street Food bar Bundobust, in Leeds, to see how it’s done.
6 O'Clock Gin is our Gin of the Month, so we sat down with Michael Kain, head distiller at Bramley and Gage, to chat about this superb modern gin.
If you are a bit of gin lover or interested in finding a gin that you really like then the Gin Festival would be a perfect event for you.