What makes a gin a classic? Well, that’s a matter of opinion. Heritage brands – Gordon’s, Tanqueray, Beefeater – might argue it’s defined by recognisable branding, decades-old recipes and legions of international fans. And they would have a point.
But we think it’s also important to consider character. A classic is a gin that tastes singularly like gin, with a juniper-forward nose and palate, and no unnecessary bells and whistles.
A classic doesn’t, strictly speaking, have to be a London Dry, but it probably is, simply because that’s gin as most gin-lovers know it. Nice sipped neat, with tonic or in gin-focused cocktails, the finest classic gins are versatile, well-made and don’t pander to passing trends.
Many of our favourite classic-style gins aren’t very old at all – the newest was launched in 2019. But with such timeless, deliciously drinkable profiles, we’ll be enjoying them all for many years to come…
Best classic gins to try
Burleigh’s London Dry Gin
It’s not tearing up any rulebooks, but then again, when you’re after a classic gin who wants that? Juniper, cardamom and citrus, brought together expertly with a nibble of black pepper and a slight fruity-floral tone (from dandelion and elderberry), make this pour easy to enjoy. If you can snag this for under £28 it’s a worthy buy. Alc 40%
Cotswolds Dry Gin
You can argue that this gin isn’t typical, with its luxuriously creamy mouthfeel, strong lavender note and unusual production (it’s non-chill filtered, so turns cloudy when mixed with ice or tonic). But there’s something about it that just feels timeless. A juniper-forward flavour ripples to coriander and angelica, and finally black pepper, tapering off into an elegant, gorgeously ginny finish. Alc 46%
No.3 London Dry Gin
Juniper, citrus, spice; that’s the trio giving this gin, crafted by historic London wine and spirits merchant Berry Bros & Rudd, its name. And that’s exactly what’s delivered on the palate, in perfect balance. It takes great skill to make a gin both this simple – there’s only six classic botanicals – and this refined, so little wonder it took two years to get it right. Alc 46%
Hayman’s London Dry Gin
When it comes to the old-school staples, Hayman’s gives bang for buck. Made to the same family recipe for over 150 years, it’s a gin with structure, simplicity and a creamy palate. The 10 botanicals that are used read like a greatest hits album for London Dry: lemon peel, orris root, cassia, liquorice. An essential for your drinks cabinet, along with Gordon’s. Alc 41.2%
The marketing spiel is all about being ‘unexpected’ and ‘iconoclastic’, but in the 20-plus years since its launch, Hendrick’s has become so recognisable it’s certainly become a modern classic. Signature cucumber and rose petal notes are ever-present, yet the number one aromatic here is, of course, juniper. A host of other London Dry favourites creep in as supporting acts: orris root, coriander, angelica, citrus peel. Alc 41.4%
Highclere Castle Gin
Yes, it’s made at Highclere, aka Downtown Abbey. But this gin, launched in 2019, isn’t a marketing ploy – as its heaving awards cabinet will attest to (it’s bagged 21 industry gold medals). A lavender note weaves through the nose, bringing prettiness to robust juniper and bright citrus. Made using botanicals from the castle’s herb gardens, it’s classy, with a silkiness that would suit a desert-dry Martini. Alc 43.5%
Portobello Road London Dry No 171 Gin
Nutmeg, orris root, cassia, liquorice – this gin stars the usual suspects, leaning on the warmer, spicier side of the spectrum. A big juniper character, and sparser lemon peel note, makes this gin more about flavour than refinement, but that’s not a knock, especially given the reasonable price tag. Alc 42%
Warner’s London Dry Gin
Traditional branding makes you think this gin’s been around for ages, but it only launched in 2019. And yet that citrussy profile is classic; notes of lemon and coriander mingle with juniper and a backbone of cardamom. At first sip it’s smooth, then the spice tickles in, followed by juniper. Made on a family farm in Harrington using spring water, it’s clean and fresh, too. Alc 40%