While certain spirits embody their country of origin and can only be produced there – think tequila in Mexico – others can be made anywhere in the world. Of those, and perhaps more than any other nomad spirit, gin can capture the flavours of the place where it is made, through the use of distinctive local botanicals in its production.
‘Gin has the opportunity to say so much about locality in flavour terms,’ says Guy Hodcroft, buyer at Master of Malt. ‘By using distillate derived locally, from a particular place and in a particular style associated with that place, and infusing it with botanicals that could be exclusively of that same place, the fingerprinting of a spirit to a specific locality has huge potential.’ ‘Gins from different parts of the world tend to give us new botanicals and flavour combinations,’ adds Dawn Davis, head buyer at The Whisky Exchange. ‘By exploring world gins, especially those from the more exotic realms, we open ourselves up to new taste sensations from local botanicals.’
These might range from Amazonian açaí berries to tiny Sakurajima komikan satsumas in Japan. ‘Every botanical tells a story, and where it comes from will have an enormous impact on flavour,’ explains Michael Vachon, co-founder of Maverick Drinks. ‘Juniper from the Himalayas will lend a very different character than European juniper, for example.’
World gins: Feelgood factor
Juniperus Procera, found at 1,500m in the highlands of Kenya, is the only species of juniper native to the southern hemisphere and it’s used alongside 10 African botanicals at Kenya’s first craft distillery, Procera. ‘We wanted to make gin that tastes like Africa feels,’ explains founder Guy Brennan. To achieve that, master distiller Roger Jorgensen uses fresh (rather than dried) juniper berries.
‘Making gin with fresh juniper is life altering,’ he declares. ‘Green juniper makes gin that’s true to the terroir – it’s alive,’ adds Brennan. The distillery partners with the Kijabe Forest Trust to protect the native procera forests. The trust, in turn, works with local communities to harvest the berries. The gin is bottled in local hand-blown Kitengela Hot Glass bottles.
Making use of local resources, with an eye to environmental and social projects, is a signature of several of the world gins in my selection. Venezuelan producer Ron Diplomático, for example, donates 10% of the profits from its Canaïma gin to support reforestation with Saving The Amazon and create sustainable local jobs with Fundación Tierra Viva.
At India’s Third Eye Distillery in Goa, after peeling lemons, limes and oranges, the unused citrus is returned to local suppliers to be made into pickles or cordials. So buying these gins can become a way of contributing to a larger global community.
So, which countries are leading the way with international gins? The US made an early start, its craft gin scene kicking off in the late 1990s. Today, there are numerous brands that tap into the country’s historical roots and the unique personality of cities such as New York.
‘With such a rich distilling tradition, it’s Japanese gin that excites me both in terms of packaging and quality,’ says Hodcroft. ‘But I also think India – and, to a lesser extent, China – with its large distilling capacity and so many cultural ties to botanicals for traditional medicinal purposes, is well positioned to surprise and delight with new gins.’
‘Australia is using native botanicals in an exciting way,’ adds Vachon. ‘But watch out for some newcomers who bring something truly exotic to the category with gins from the Philippines or Colombia. Many have honed their distilling skills with master distillers from the more established gin markets to create something really special that could only come from that place.’
At a time when global travel is restricted, the world gin category offers a taste of far-flung destinations. ‘There are a huge number of excellent classic London Dry Gins made in the UK. So if you’re going to choose an international gin, it needs to bring something that you can’t already find in domestic brands,’ explains Charlie Pountney of importer bbb drinks. ‘A good world gin should capture the essence and provenance of the area from which it originates. A standout example should transport you to the location where it is made, evoking the local flavours.’
Best world gins to try
Inverroche Classic Gin
Several new wave South African distillers make good use of the Cape’s distinctive fynbos botanicals, including mother-and-son Lorna and Rohan Scott. Their gins are made using sustainable and seasonal limestone fynbos plants; working with local botanists to promote conservation of the Cape Floral Kingdom. Classic is fresh and fragrant, with soft juniper character, plus distinctive floral and grassy botanical notes. Alcohol 43%
Procera Blue Dot Gin
Made with African juniper and botanicals – including Madagascan pink pepper and orris root from Morocco – Procera shot to the top of my list of best gins for a Martini as soon as I tasted it. Using fresh rather than dried juniper adds a distinctive, zingy brightness to the taste and aromas, layered with citrus, spices and lifted botanicals, with an earthy, nutty base note. Elegant, silky and harmonious. Like no other gin you’ve tasted. Alc 44%
Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin
The Four Pillars distillery in Healesville makes a range of excellent products, including Spiced Negroni Gin: my all-time favourite for a Negroni. This expression is based on their classic Rare Dry Gin – which includes Australian lemon myrtle in its botanical mix – steeped in local Shiraz grapes for eight weeks. With sweet red fruit notes, it’s one for fans of sloe gin (and red wine). Pair it with bitter lemon or enjoy it neat over ice with an orange slice. Alc 37.8%
Manly Spirits Australian Dry Gin
Based in Sydney’s Manly Beach, distiller David Whittaker uses sustainably foraged local botanicals including sea lettuce, beach kelp, finger lime and mountain pepper leaf to create this well balanced gin, which makes a really fresh, breezy G&T with lifted citrus notes. Fans of pink gins should also try his Lilly Pilly Pink Gin, made with lilly pilly berries. Alc 43%
Stranger & Sons Gin
Produced by Third Eye Distillery from botanicals including pepper and coriander grown at the distillery and Indian citrus peels, notably Gondhoraj limes from Calcutta, which taste like a cross between lime and mandarin. Only juniper and angelica are imported, giving the classic London Dry character but allowing the distinctive Indian flavours and aromas to shine, with a lovely lime pickle note. Try it in a Gin Gimlet. Alc 42.8%
Distilled on the island of Hokkaido, ‘etsu’ means ‘pleasure’ in Japanese. Botanicals include bitter orange peel, angelica, liquorice root. Yuzu leaf. Attractive perfumed aromas with intruguing floral and citrus notes. In contrast the palate is fresh, herbal and spicy, with notes of shisho and sansho pepper – almost gastronomic with a touch of salinity. Very lifted, with yuzu citrus, it finishes fresh and spicy. Makes a memorable G&T. Alc 43%
Ki No Bi
Created by The Kyoto Distillery, Ki No Bi (which means ‘the beauty of the seasons’) is distilled from a rice spirit base using Japanese botanicals including Gyokuro green tea from the Uji region, yellow yuzu from Kyoto Prefecture, hinoki (Japanese cypress), bamboo and green sansho berries. I love the exuberant aromas; very bright, fresh juniper character with vibrant citrus, clean green herbaceous notes and an edge of spice. Well balanced, with great depth of flavour and a rich, velvety texture. The dominant juniper note is underlined by an earthiness, dry spices, ginger and zippy yuzu citrus. Alc 45.7%
The signature botanical at Komasa Jyozo Distillery is sakurajima komikan: the world’s smallest satsuma variety, around 4cm wide, grown on the slopes of Sakurajima volcano. No surprise that this gin is citrussy with pretty mandarin and orange blossom notes, plus florality that will be familiar to sake drinkers. Distinct satsuma notes beside crisp juniper, coriander seed spice and fresh herbs. Try it in an Asian-inspired Breakfast Martini. Alc 40%
Ron Diplomatico’s Canaïma blends traditional gin botanicals with rare botanicals that are picked by native tribes in the Amazon Rainforest, including açaí berries, uve de palma, copuazu and merey fruit. A percentage of proceeds from sales are donated to environmental and social projects in the Amazon. With tropical, floral, grassy and leafy herbaceous tones dancing over a baseline of juniper, it makes a strikingly original G&T. Alc 47%
The 17 botanicals in Katún, including four different varieties of chilli pepper, are found mostly in the Yucatán Peninsula and selected from other parts of Mexico (with the exception of juniper, which is sourced outside Mexico). Evocative aromas of a Mexican market: red chilli spice, green bell pepper, cardamom and lime. Paired with Fentiman’s Premium Indian Tonic Water it makes a fresh, spicy G&T with a distinctive bitter green chilli finish. Alc 42%
Principe de Los Apostoles Mate Gin
Yerba mate – a bitter, vegetal caffeinated herbal drink – is the national beverage of Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, and the key botanical in this gin, along with peppermint, eucalyptus and pink grapefruit. You’ll find distinctive mate notes on both nose and palate of this herbaceous gin, plus earthy spices, creamy spearmint, ginger, cinnamon and chocolate. Those mate notes shine out in a G&T that’s packed with local character. Alc 40.5%
Bluecoat American Dry Gin
With its distinctive blue bottle, Bluecoat is named after the uniforms worn by the militia in the American Revolution. It’s made by Philadelphia Distilling, the first craft distillery to open in Pennsylvania since Prohibition. A very fresh, lemon and grapefruit nose, with plenty of juniper and some warm earthy spice notes, followed by clean and bright flavours, with a rich, smooth texture and dry, herbal bitterness on the finish. It makes a creamy G&T that’s loaded with citrus freshness. Alc 47%
Dorothy Parker American Gin
Made by Brooklyn’s New York Distilling Company and named after satirist Dorothy Parker, known for her cocktail quip: ‘I like to have a Martini, two at the very most, three I’m under the table, four I’m under my host.’ Botanicals include hibiscus petals and elderberries, giving distinctive aromas framed by dried flowers and chamomile tea. With floral and spice notes around a juniper core, it’s equally at home in a Martini or a light, elegant G&T. Alc 44%
FEW American Gin
Inspired by Prohibition, FEW Spirits takes its name from the initials of Frances Elizabeth Willard, a key figure in the Temperance Movement, which was based in the Chicago suburb of Evanston – now home to the FEW distillery. A great Martini gin, that’s made from a base of white whiskey (unaged bourbon) instead of a more conventional neutral spirit, which creates a distinctive character. The palate is elegant and velvety, with restrained balance between spice and citrus, finishing with peppery capsicum spice. Alc 40%
Originally created by San Francisco’s iconic Anchor Brewing Company and launched in 1998, Junipero was one of the first spirits that helped to kick-start the US craft gin scene. As you’d expect from the name, there’s lots of juniper here on both the nose and the palate, which is beautifully balanced: its creamy character underlined by rounded spiciness and fresh citrus. Makes a glorious G&T that will delight juniper purists. Alc 49.3%
St George Spirits Terroir Gin
Founded in 1982 to make eaux-de-vie, California’s St George Distillery has been a driving force in the US craft distilling scene. Its Terroir Gin is made with botanicals including Californian bay laurel, coastal sage and Douglas Fir, creating a herbaceous and earthy spirit with a real sense of place – as its name suggests – that captures the feeling of a walk through a California forest. It makes a truly memorable G&T, laced with green herbal notes and with a fresh pine finish. Alc 45%