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Gin is weird.
For many newcomers, the spirit’s unique character can make a bad first impression. Maybe the alcohol-forward aroma is too harsh, the herbaceous flavor is too “pine-y,” or it’s just too intense overall (even some seasoned drinkers stay away from gin after a failed first encounter).
And that’s a shame. As any liquor enthusiast will tell you, gin is one of the most exciting and unique spirits on the market. If you’re a gin skeptic, don’t give up on the old spirit; you probably just need to try a different bottle or a new cocktail. One of the most attractive things about gin is its diversity, between different brands, expressions, and cocktail pairings.
In other words, there are plenty of gins to try — and lots of ways to approach them. Below is a complete guide on how to drink gin — whether you’re a newcomer or you’re looking to deepen your knowledge — including insights from one of gin’s most influential figures (and a key player in its 21st-century revival), Hendrick’s Gin Head Distiller Leslie Gracie.
Why Do People Like Gin? What Makes a Good Gin?
So what makes gin so great? Why do people dedicate whole bar shelves to the spirit? For Gracie, it’s the freedom behind gin’s creation: “It’s a great liquid because you don’t have the really tight rules that you’ve got with something like Scotch whisky. You can basically use anything [in gin], as long as it’s not poisonous of course,” she explains. “You can go down the citrus route, or you can go down the herbal or the spice or green… you can go in so many different directions with it.”
And this freedom comes through in the final products, with many big distillers getting creative in their botanical selection process. For instance, Gracie once wandered around the Amazon jungle with an Alembic still, finding botanicals for Hendrick’s Amazonia. Most recently, Hendrick’s Gin released Flora Adora, Gracie’s floral-forward expression that remixes the original liquid with botanicals like hibiscus and lavender.
Buy Hendrick’s Flora Adora Gin $44.50
Of course, there is one flavor that should always be present in gin: Juniper. The presence of the botanical is the only requirement for a gin to be labeled as such, but it’s also at the heart of gin’s uniqueness. “For me, [gin] has to be juniper dominant. Without that, it’s not gin. it’s basically a flavored vodka,” says Gracie. “But then the rest of it has to be balanced, so that, you know, when you drink it, you’re not thinking, ‘Oh, that was too strong in that direction.’ It’s just that fine balance for me, that’s what I always aim for.”
Hendrick’s original gin, masterminded by Gracie in 1999, is a good example of gin’s capacity to evolve. The liquid adds Bulgarian rose and cucumber to the juniper, yielding something that was “totally different” in the gin landscape of the time. And the mold-breaking worked: Largely thanks to Hendrick’s, gin saw a revival over the last twenty-odd years (the “ginaissance,” as it’s sometimes called). Today, Gracie’s original creation remains an excellent entry point for gin newbies and a go-to among connoisseurs. If you’re just getting into the spirit (or need a bottle for more cocktails), pick up a bottle of Hendrick’s Gin on Drizly here.
Picking a Gin: Types of Gin, Popular Gin Brands
Because gin distillers can get so adventurous, there’s a thrilling variety of labels to choose from. Some lean heavily into the juniper flavor (Sipsmith V.J.O.P.), others mellow it out (Roku), and some go maximalist with loads of botanicals (Money 47).
Generally speaking, there are six types of gin you should be familiar with: London Dry, contemporary/modern, Genever, Old Tom, Navy Strength, and Plymouth. London Dry is the classic — think Beefeater and Tanqueray — with a crisp, juniper-forward flavor. Try one of these first to get a sense of what a quintessential gin tastes like.
Buy Tanqueray London Dry Gin $27.99
Contemporary gin (a.k.a modern, New American, or New Western gin) is more varied and often incorporates unconventional botanicals. Hendrick’s Gin falls in this category, as does Gray Whale Gin and Nolet’s Silver. If you aren’t a fan of London Dry gins, still give contemporary gin a go — you’ll be surprised how different it can be.
Genever, Old Tom Navy Strength, and Plymouth are all less popular than London Dry and contemporary gin, but worth trying if you’re curious. Genever (or “Jenever”) is a Dutch gin that’s on the sweeter side, exemplified by the likes of Bols. Old Tom gins, such as Ransom Old Tom, are somewhere between London Dry and Genever with a balance of sweetness and dryness. Navy Strength is overproof, usually 100 proof or more. And Plymouth, which is only made by one brand of the same name, is a more subtle alternative to London Dry with an even drier, more earthy flavor.
Best Gin Cocktails
Even as someone who lives and breathes gin, Gracie acknowledges that most people aren’t going to drink it straight. Instead, it’ll likely be served in cocktails, but she also notes that gin really shines as a cocktail base: “Gin’s good in cocktails because it really fetches out flavors, and can go down so many paths,” she says.
Here are some classic gin cocktails every home bartender should be able to make.
The most iconic gin cocktail, the gin martini, consists of three ounces of premium gin and around half an ounce of dry vermouth, although you can play with that ratio (a martini with less vermouth is called “dry”). Throw in a dash of olive juice to make it dirty, and garnish with olives or a lemon twist.
Gin & Tonic
Few drinks match a warm day better than a gin & tonic, which is typically two ounces of gin and four to six ounces of tonic water. Be sure to use high-quality tonic water for best results, and add half an ounce of fresh lime juice to upgrade the whole drink.
The Negroni is another iconic gin cocktail that saw a huge comeback with gin’s resurgence. It’s made using equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. (The once-viral Negroni Sbagliato replaces the gin with sparkling wine).
If you like a fruity-forward cocktail, check out the gimlet. It consists of four parts Gin, one part sweetened Lime Juice, and makes an easy, fresh cocktail.
Leslie Gracie’s Gin Soda
Ever wonder how a gin expert enjoys her juice? Gracie’s go-to at the end of the day is Hendrick’s Gin mixed with a bit of elderflower cordial and soda water. Light, refreshing, and gin-forward.