Saturday, May 25, 2024

The Top 13 Vodkas & Gins

Gin has seemingly been the world’s drink of choice for the past several years, with hundreds — even thousands — of distilleries opening their doors around the world. If you can think of a botanical, or a flavor combination, someone, somewhere has probably made a gin using it. There’s been everything from Brussels sprouts gin to beef gin, and from oyster gin to elephant dung gin. Different rules and regulations dictate what the spirit is and how it has to be made.

For example, in the EU, gin must be at least 37.5% ABV, whereas in the U.S., it must be at least 40% (80 proof). But everyone agrees the predominant flavor should be juniper berries. With so many different styles — from the classic London Dry to Old Tom, Genever, Plymouth, Navy Strength, Aged, and New Western — there’s a lot of leeway as to what gin is and how it should taste, with some heavily flavored varieties more like a flavored vodka than anything else.

And with so many different choices — there are now around 6,000 distilleries — choosing which gin to try next, or which bottle you need to add to your home bar, can be an incredibly difficult decision. We’ve done the hard work for you and picked five of the best options out there. We’ve focused on the classic styles of gin, which are juniper dominant and will be perfect for your G&T, Tom Collins, or classic dry martini.

With 47 botanicals (as you may have guessed from the name), and bottled at 47% ABV, Monkey 47 gin is impressively complex. You might wonder whether 47 botanicals is overkill, but every time you return to this fabulous gin, you’ll discover a new flavor note or aroma that you’re noticing for the first time.

From the Black Forest (Schwarzwald) in Germany, the “monkey” part of the name apparently refers to a British Air Force Commander who helped to rebuild Berlin Zoo after the war. He sponsored an egret monkey — the one that’s on the label — and further down the line eventually opened a guesthouse called the Wild Monkey, where he served his own gin.

Alex Stein, Monkey 47 gin founder, was inspired by this story to create his own gin. He discovered records of the original recipe — which includes spruce shoots and lingonberries — and created Monkey 47. This is an exciting gin to get into, with so much happening on the nose. There’s everything from pine to a subtle sweetness, plus citrus, grassy and vegetal notes, and wet wood. On the palate it’s quite punchy, with a herbaceousness, spicy hints, fresh citrus zest, and forest floor. The finish just keeps on going. Enjoy it neat.

After more than 300 years in the business, NOLET’S knows how to make gin. Eleventh generation sons, Carl Jr. and Bob, collaborated with their father, Carolus Sr. (who has been chairman since 1979) to create this thoroughly modern gin launched in 2010, which is particularly exciting coming from a distillery with so much history. Before you get to the liquid, the stunning and regal bottle reflects the quality of the gin.

The Nolet distilling family and ancestors are listed on the sides with an embossed family crest. The colour – darkest green, almost black in some lights – is understated, yet classy. Unscrew the cap and you find yourself holding a weighty, polished steel object that feels luxurious. Although the traditional botanicals like juniper, citrus, orris root, and liquorice feature, interestingly, NOLET’S Silver gin also contains white peach, Turkish rose and raspberry.

Each botanical is independently macerated and distilled in copper pot stills, before being blended with the base gin and bottled at a relatively punchy 47.6% ABV. Enjoy as a gin and soda, or use in a sweet and sour Bees Knees or classic French 75 cocktail. This is an incredibly interesting contemporary and floral gin. On the nose, you’ll find some herbal, fruity aromas interplaying with rose petal and lavender. Take a sip and it’s like delving into a pile of Turkish delight, with a crack of black pepper and that piney juniper flavour never going away. The finish is stunningly complex, with an intriguing mix of the spicy, fruity, floral, juniper flavours all pleasantly mingling with each other.

You might not think that a small-batch gin seems like a natural progression from edgy jewelry and boutique cigars, but that’s exactly what designer, artist and veteran Room101 owner Matt Booth decided. The perfect pairing to one of Room101’s Honduran cigars, sip the gin neat, make a punchy, citrus-forward Martini or stir it down into an aromatic Negroni.

Made in Seattle from a base spirit crafted with winter wheat, botanicals including juniper, California orange, lime and lemon peel, sage, coriander, star anise, lavender, lemongrass, cardamom, Jamaican pimenta and Japanese cherry blossom are carefully steeped in the still. The result is a complex, citrus-forward gin. On the nose, you get bursts of citrus along with coriander and juniper. Citrus and juniper take center stage on the palate, with the herbs and spices of sage, star anise and cardamom very much present too. Towards the end you get the lovely floral

The recipe for this Dutch gin was based on a jenever (a botanical spirit that’s considered to be a predecessor of gin). But Bobby’s has its own jenever, as well, which has a base of malt wine and is flavored with juniper, cubeb pepper, lemongrass and cardamom. Both bottles are modeled on the classic Dutch kruik serving vessel but with a modern twist and decorated with a traditional Indonesian ikat pattern.

The gin and jenever are named after the two founders’ grandfather, Bobby Alfons, who emigrated from Indonesia to Holland in the 1950s. He missed the taste of his homeland and started infusing Dutch jenever with Indonesian spices. Eight botanicals — lemongrass, cloves, coriander, cubeb pepper, cinnamon, juniper, fennel seeds, and rose hips — are distilled on their own before being blended together to create the masterful East-meets- West Bobby’s Schiedam Dry Gin. On the nose, Bobby’s is floral and zesty, with hints of lemongrass, lemon zest, and a little peppery spice. On the palate, it’s still floral, with a bold, fragrant spice thanks to the pepper, clove, and coriander. The Christmassy spice remains on the finish, which is long and smooth. Enjoy it in a very interesting Negroni.

Boatyard founder Joe McGirr opened his distillery in Fermanagh in Northern Ireland in 2016. It was the first legal one in the area for the first time in well over 100 years. He took over the disused boatyard on the banks of Lough Erne and transformed it; it has stunning views and makes stunning gin. With a rich farming history in the family, McGirr was keen that his distillery should be a farm-to-bottle operation.

To make the gin, organically produced wheat spirit is macerated with eight botanicals — sweet gale (also known as bog myrtle), organic Bulgarian juniper, lemon peel, grains of paradise, coriander, orris, angelica, and licorice — for 18 hours. After the maceration, pure water brings the gin down to 46% ABV. It’s then left for a minimum of two weeks before it’s hand bottled and labeled. The “double” in the gin’s name is a reference to the distillation process, which places the all-important juniper at the start and end of the process.

At first it rests in the wheat spirit with the other botanicals, and the final spirit flows through juniper at the end of the process in a vapor chamber. It’s called dubbel gebeide genever and gives the gin a more pronounced juniper flavor. The nose packs all that fabulous pine forest juniper, but there’s also some herbaceousness, a hint of spice, and a little citrus. You really do get the juniper on the palate too, but with even more citrus. Despite the relatively high ABV, the gin remains smooth. It also makes a really astounding gin and tonic.

No.3 gin is made by the team at Berry Bros. and Rudd (the UK’s oldest wine and spirit merchant), with the name referring to the company’s address: Number 3, St. James’ Street, where it’s been since 1698. Every detail of the stunning bottle has been thought through, with the hexagonal shape reflecting the six botanicals in the gin: juniper, coriander, angelica root, cardamom, grapefruit peel, and sweet orange peel. And the inspiration behind the key on the bottle came from when the packaging designers were having a look around the BBR shop and discovered a key to the Parlour, which is one of the building’s oldest rooms.

The initial gin recipe took 730 days to create and refine, but the perseverance was truly worth it. This exquisite gin has bags of fresh juniper on the nose, with a zesty gathering of grapefruit and orange. On the palate the juniper and grapefruit stay close like an old friend, with the spicier notes of pepper and warming cardamom kicking in. The finish is long and peppery. It’s delicious as a gin and tonic garnished with rosemary and a slice of grapefruit.

A London Dry style gin hailing from the east coast of Sweden, Hernö is a multiple-awardwinning spirit you’ll love. Perfect whether neat, in a gin and tonic, or in an Aviation cocktail (gin, maraschino liqueur, crème de violette liqueur, and lemon juice), it’s made using eight botanicals: juniper, coriander, lemon peel, black pepper, lingonberries, cassia bark, meadowsweet, and vanilla. With a homemade wheat spirit as the base, the botanicals are steeped for 18 hours before distilling in Kierstin, the 250-liter copper still.

Each bottle is hand labeled. As soon as you open the bottle, you’ll find yourself in the middle of a Swedish pine forest, with a little sweet juniper coming through too. On the palate, the vanilla creaminess is there in the background, but the herbaceous and citrus notes take center stage, before a long smooth and fruity finish.

Vodka has always been there: reliable, timeless, giving cocktails their backbone and depth without overpowering on flavor. However, for the last few years, vodka has been firmly behind gin in the popularity stakes. But all that looks set to change, with the gin market plateauing and vodka on the rise once again. Historically, the quality might not have always been there, but there are lots of brands now creating impressive products that deliver on texture and flavor.

When it comes to spirits, some people assume, the more money you spend, the better the liquid. However, that simply isn’t true. There have been some seriously luxury offerings over the years, but they mostly rely on flashy extras to justify the cost. Billionaire Vodka, for instance — yours for $3.75m — is triple distilled and filtered through ice, Nordic birch charcoal, and crushed diamonds and gems before being decanted into a platinum-and-rhodiumencased diamond-encrusted bottle with solid gold labels and a neckband with more diamonds. Royal Dragon Vodka went one further with its oneoff Eye of the Dragon. Valued at an astonishing $5.5m, the six-liter handblown bottle is encased in 2kg of 18K gold, with 15,000 diamonds — around 620 carats — encrusted on the bottle. The real star of the show, however, is the 50-carat round yellow diamond on the bottle, which is worth more than $4.6m alone.

If you like a little history with your vodka, Russo- Baltique’s vodka may appeal. The flask is made with gold coins from the Russian Empire dating from 1908 through 1912 and is designed to be a replica of the radiator guard used for Russo-Balt cars. The cap is diamond encrusted, and the whole lot is placed in a glass cube made of bulletproof glass. After you’ve paid $1.3m for the privilege, we’re not sure you’ll be testing out the bulletproof credentials, though. If, however, you’re looking for a great-tasting vodka you can enjoy neat, in a martini (stirred, not shaken, please), or in your favorite cocktail, look no further than this list of five of the best vodkas you can buy. The taste profile of a great vodka should be neutral, but once you’ve tasted lots, you’ll be able to distinguish flavors, nuances, textures, and characters among different products. As vodka can be made from many different things — from grains to fruits and vegetables — the subtle flavor notes can reflect that.

This storied and characterful vodka has an interesting history in the Netherlands. The Nolet distillery started out producing a Dutch genever in the 17th century. But it wasn’t until 1983 that Ketel One vodka was born, after owner Carolus Nolet had discovered the unquenchable thirst for the spirit in the U.S. The vast majority of vodkas are solely distilled in a column still, but Ketel One interestingly employs pot still finishing.

This is a process where a spirit made in a column still is redistilled in a series of pot stills, including Nolet’s original 19th century coal-fired copper pot still. Once the hearts have been collected from the pot stills, they’re individually filtered and blended together. Redistilling a high ABV spirit in a copper pot gives it a smoother, softer texture, and imparts it with fruity esters. However, as vodkas should be neutral, only a small amount of the distillate from the pot still is blended into the final spirit to keep that clean, refreshing character. On the nose, you’ll find wafts of the sweet wheat it’s made from and a subtle herbaceous note. Take a sip and you’ll find a really interesting mouthfeel: it’s soft, smooth, and round, filling your palate more than other neutral spirits. The slight sweetness lingers on the palate before being joined by a crack of pepperiness which leads to a super dry finish.

Tasted side by side, these were the first spirits that made us consider ordering a vodka martini rather than a gin one. Released as the Belvedere Single Estate series, both fabulous spirits showcase the unique terroir. Some people might wonder whether you can have terroir in a vodka, but when you taste these side by side, you’ll realize you absolutely can. Both are made with the rare Diamond Dankowskie rye. The Smogóry Forest rye is grown in Smogóry, a tiny village in rural western Poland surrounded by huge forests, and the Lake Bartężek rye is grown on a single estate located on the shore in Poland’s Masurian Lake District. Smogóry Forest is the bolder of the two, with intense savory notes. The nose is like enjoying a caramel pastry at the beach. On the palate, while still neutral, the flavor is rich with a little honeyed cereal. It feels quite thick in the mouth before leading to a long finish with toasted brioche. Lake Bartężek is lighter and brighter, with a grassiness and nuttiness on the nose. It’s delicate, with a fresh biscuity note. The finish is crisp, a little shorter, and exceptionally clean.

Grain distilled, with a little pinch of Wight Salt rock sea salt, Mermaid Salt Vodka is crafted on the Isle of Wight in the English Channel. The salt is harvested naturally and collected in a solar still, which uses the sun’s energy and a simple process to draw the salt from the seawater. The vodka is handcrafted in the Isle of Wight Distillery’s column still before being blended with local spring water in small batches.

B Corp certified, Isle of Wight Distillery is committed to sustainability. Its products are made with ethically sourced ingredients, and the stunning bottle is made with 100% natural materials, with no plastic. Looking that good, you could always reuse it as well. It’s a contemporary-style vodka that’s incredibly smooth and subtle. It’s lovely neat, in a dirty martini (we keep a bottle in the freezer at all times), or in a punchy espresso martini. On the nose, you get a delightful whiff of sea air that transports you to the isle’s rugged coastline. On the palate, you can taste the savory salinity, but it never overpowers or overwhelms the clean, crisp vodka. The finish is long and clean, too.

11
Black Cow Vodka

Perhaps you’d consider it a little unusual, but Black Cow vodka is made from milk. Since 2012, it’s been made in West Dorset in England using leftover milk from the cheesemaking process. Jason Barber, the dairy farmer responsible for this innovative spirit, designed it to be as sustainable as possible.

Producing spirits from waste whey apparently uses less water than grain-based spirit production, and it helps to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and the environmental impact from the cheesemaking industry. The 250 dairy cows on Barber’s farm graze on nearby fields, and the vodka is distilled and bottled by hand. The result is an incredibly interesting, smooth and creamy vodka that’s absolutely perfect to sip neat or add to a Bloody Mary. On the nose, you’ll find notes of vanilla, coconut, panna cotta, lemon tart, and a little spice. On the palate, there’s a subtle vanilla sweetness, and the mouthfeel is creamy, rounded, and rich. The finish is warming, creamy, and clean. Creaminess abounds throughout.

Pronounced “tenth muse,” this vodka is made and bottled in Scotland. It’s apparently the first blended barley vodka from Scotland, and it’s made with two heritage varieties: Plumage Archer and Marris Otter, which are distilled separately before being blended. The water for X Muse comes from an ancient aquifer on Bonnington Estate at Jupiter Artland, an impressive sculpture park and art gallery.

The name is also the title of a sculpture at the park by Ian Hamilton Finlay, a Scottish artist, philosopher, poet, and gardener. Sip it neat, or enjoy it in a Matches Matcha Martini, created by Russell Burgess, in which the vodka is stirred with white vermouth and matcha tea syrup, then garnished with a black olive. This is a contemporary vodka that has loads of character. On the nose, you get a crisp green apple note. Take a sip, and the delicate green apple continues, along with sweet caramelized pear, lemon zest, and peppery spice. The pear note lingers on the finish, along with a little sweet cereal.

Copper Rivet distillery at Chatham’s Royal Dockyard in Kent, England, is one of the UK’s only distilleries operating on a grain-to-glass philosophy. The wheat, barley, and rye used to make Vela Vodka — the name of which is inspired by a constellation used for navigation by sailors since Roman times — is all grown within 20 miles of the distillery, and each of its spirits is crafted in small batches.

Before bottling, the spirit is charcoal filtered. The result is an interesting and complex vodka that’s lovely and smooth to sip neat, with no hint of a burn, or in a Lemon Drop cocktail (vodka, triple sec, lemon juice). On the nose, there’s a mix of fruity fresh orange with a little creaminess. Sipping Vela Vodka is a smooth and delicate sensation with a savory, spicy note. There’s also a bit of cereal and a lot of fruitiness, which gives way to black and pink pepper on the lingering finish.

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