It all started in 2009. That’s the year when a change in UK legislation meant that alcohol could be distilled in small batches, rather than huge industrial quantities. The subsequent rise in small-batch distilling gave birth to the craft gin movement.
That movement has grown and grown, so much so that today the gin category is huge – and hugely varied. Alongside traditional styles, such as London Dry, there are all manner of flavoured gins, as well as gin liqueurs.
What is flavoured gin?
The term ‘flavoured gin’ is a very broad one. It covers a wide range of flavours – from fruits and flowers to citrus and spice – and encompasses styles such as pink gin.
To understand it, let’s go back to basics. All gin starts life as a neutral base spirit, which needs to be flavoured with botanicals: berries, herbs, spices. Juniper must be the main botanical. According to the EU definition of gin – the snappily named Council Regulation EC No. 110/2008 – juniper must be its predominant flavour.
In classic gin, juniper is added to the neutral base spirit, along with botanicals such as coriander seed, angelica, cardamom, citrus peels and cubeb berries. The oils from these botanicals are extracted during distillation to create a typically dry spirit, with a balance of spicy, bitter and citrus notes.
In flavoured gins, extra sugar and flavourings are then added, usually after distillation. The aim is to create a drink where the botanical balance takes a back seat to one or two dominant flavours, such as strawberry, honey, peppercorns, orange, rose… The list is long.
Fake or flavour?
As with flavourings in food, there are natural flavours and artificial ones. Some distillers use concentrates, essences and flavouring agents to create cheaper flavoured gins.
Other distillers will use natural products to add flavour, which are often more expensive and can be more complicated to work with. These range from whole berries such as raspberries or strawberries, to herbs like mint and basil, to citrus fruits such as orange, lemon and pink grapefruit.
The base gin can be steeped in or infused with these additional botanicals to extract flavour. Ageing the base gin in different kinds of barrels will also add flavour to a gin: red and white wine barrels can be used in this way.
It’s also worth noting that all flavoured gins are distinct from gin liqueurs, which have a higher concentration of added sugar, creating a sweet, syrupy taste and texture. Gin liqueurs will also have a lower alcohol content than flavoured gins (usually 20-30%). Sloe gin, made by steeping gin in sloe berries, then sweetening with sugar, is an example.
What to choose?
For me, the best flavoured gins have to retain their juniper character. I’m looking for a spirit that will taste of the flavour on the label, but still with a punchy base note of juniper that doesn’t disappear when you mix the gin with tonic.
Natural flavours are alway best – and a sure indicator of quality. I also prefer flavoured gins that aren’t too sweet. But of course that comes down to personal preference.
When it comes to serving and drinking flavoured gins, most are perfectly at home in a classic Gin & Tonic serve. This makes them a good buy for parties. Splash out on some interesting garnishes – fresh berries, fruit, herbs or edible flowers – and you’ll be able to serve your guests an eye-catching G&T.
The best flavoured gins
Adnams Copper House Blackcurrant Gin
Award-winning brewer Adnams also owns a distillery producing a range of gin, vodka and whisky. This bottling is distilled using local Southwold blackcurrants, giving very spicy aromas with a blackcurrant fruit pastille note. There are more blackcurrants and plenty of anise on the palate, making for a spicy G&T with fresh fruitiness and a citrus finish. Garnish with fresh blackcurrants or blackberries. Alcohol 40%
Chase Raspberry & Basil Gin
With its deep red colour, Chase’s fruity raspberry gin stands out in the crowd. The nose is herbaceous with tinges of raspberry – like sticking your head into a raspberry bush. On the palate tart red fruit – cranberries and red currants as well as the obvious raspberry – is balanced by plenty of juniper character and black pepper spice. The colour might not be conventional but this makes a great G&T with classic juniper character and fruity notes. Garnish with raspberries and fresh basil leaves. Alc 40%
Cotton Gin Strawberry & Pink Peppercorn
Housed in an old cotton mill, Otterbeck Distillery includes local botanicals from the Yorkshire Dales in its gins. This seasonal bottling uses strawberries grown by local farmer Annabel Makin-Jones, alongside hand-foraged nettle leaves and Yorkshire watercress. Loaded with sweet ripe fresh strawberry notes, balanced by a tingle of pink peppercorn, it makes a strawberries-and-cream, summer afternoon G&T. Alc 42%
Edinburgh Gin, Orange & Basil Gin
Distilled in the Scottish capital, the Edinburgh Gin range includes Rhubarb & Ginger, Gooseberry & Elderflower and the left-field Salt N Sauce Gin flavoured with tamarind in honour of the local taste for serving chips with brown sauce and vinegar. Orange & Basil is a more traditional bottling made with sweet Valencian orange peel. Very classic in style, with fresh citrus and plenty of juniper character, it’s a well-balanced gin. Pair it with Schweppes Tonic for a crisp, citrus style G&T, with the herby basil notes coming through on the finish. Garnish with orange slice. Alc 40%
Henley Gin, Rhubarb & Orange
Sweet-and-tart rhubarb is a harbinger of spring – and Henley’s rhubarb gin is one of the best you’ll find. A newcomer to the UK’s distilling scene, Henley Distillery was launched in 2021 by head distiller Jacob Wilson, one of the youngest Master Distillers in the country. His pink Rhubarb & Orange gin is layered with fresh orange zest and tart rhubarb to create a zesty, fruity, fresh and elegant flavour. Notes of rhubarb and orange (as you’d expect) are joined by aromas of raspberry, fresh blackcurrant and Parma violet that carry through to the palate, where they join with a satisfying juniper hit and spice notes. An assured debut. Alc 42%
Hitchin Lavender Honey Gin
The Hitchin Honey Spirit collection is made using Cardona & Son raw honey that’s collected from hives around Hitchin in Hertfordshire. This Lavender Honey Gin makes a gently honeyed G&T that isn’t overly sweet, with subtle lavender and dried herb notes on the finish. Try pairing it with Luscombe Elderflower tonic water over plenty of ice in a balloon glass, for a perfumed floral serve, garnished with lemon twists and blueberries. Alc 40%
Malfy Gin Con Limone
If you love citrus flavours, this vibrant Italian gin from Turin will definitely float your boat. Zesty lemons sourced from sunny Sicily and the Amalfi Coast are infused into a classic base gin made with Italian juniper. It’s unmistakably lemony on the palate and makes a super-refreshing G&T, garnished with a lemon zest obviously. Alc 40%
Warner’s Elderflower Gin
The farm-grown Warners flavoured gin range includes Rhubarb, Raspberry, Lemon Balm, Strawberry & Rose and Honeybee. More than 300 elderflowers are infused into every bottle of Elderflower Gin, which delivers a big hit of juniper on the nose, laced with a floral edge. There’s perfumed Parma violet sweetness on the palate, balanced by juniper and white pepper spice. The florality really comes out when you mix it with tonic though. Choose Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic to make a sweetly summery G&T with pretty elderflower notes on the finish. Alc 40%