Most gins on American liquor store shelves are “London dry” gins. While there are many other forms of gin, including American, European genever, and even ‘dry gins’ from other countries (including India and Japan), London dry has become the modern de facto standard for gins.
London dry gins are made with a varying mix of herbs and botanicals to give the gin its complex taste. But they all focus to a greater or lesser degree on juniper, that pine-needley taste that many people claim is the reason they don’t like gin.
So in this first post, we’ll talk about the results in this category. In our tasting, we had 9 gins sold as London dry and widely available through the U.S. They were (prices from my local ABC):
- Beefeater ($18)
- Bombay ($17)
- Bombay Sapphire ($22)
- Boodles ($20)
- Citadelle ($20)
- Gordon’s ($9)
- Plymouth ($30)
- Tanqueray ($20)
- Tanqueray 10 ($28)
I would further break these into 2 groups: those that stress juniper in the most traditional way (Beefeater, Bombay, Boodles, Citadelle, Gordon’s, and Tanqueray), and those that focus more on the botanicals, making for a lighter, more citrus-focused gin (Bombay Sapphire, Plymouth, and Tanqueray 10).
Bear in mind as you read this that my tasting panel was not stacked with gin aficionados. There were a couple that regularly drink gin/tonics, but no one save me was a fan of gin martinis and a couple of tasters were even apprehensive as they were not ‘gin fans’ period.
The first thing I’ll tell you in that this group fared surisingly well against the boutique and alternative gin group (next week). Further, the London dry gins that were the most characteristically ‘gin-like’ scored higher than the others…across the board.
The winner of this group was Tanqueray, which undoubtedly has the most ‘pine-needle’ in its flavor profile. Coming in a close second were 3 gins – Gordon’s, Tanqueray 10, and Bombay Sapphire.
Tanqueray was not only traditionally juniper-heavy, but unabashedly so. Tasters called it edgy, sharp, and bright. And they liked it better in a gin/tonic and in a gimlet than they did straight. But it also scored high straight – stacked-ranked #5 out of 16 in that category.
Gordon’s was received as Tanqueray-light by many of the tasters. A couple of them liked Gordon’s better in fact. The 2 gins had similar flavors, just less sharp one in Gordon’s leading to a sweeter gin/tonic and gimlet. Certainly a more drinkable version of Tanqueray for those that don’t love pine needles in a glass. And at half the price, it is a bargain for your liquor cabinet.
Interestingly, it scored much higher than the other, more expensive gins in this category. Largely because it doesn’t try to do anything different. Bombay, Citadelle, and Boodles were all also more muted versions of Tanqueray but they all tried to do something just a little different as well, presumably in an effort to differentiate themselves. But in all cases it resulted in a flavor that was just a little ‘off’ or an aftertaste that was off-putting.
The other two gins ties for second place are from the botanicals group. Most tasters liked this flavor profile and in fact ranked Hendrix very high (next week). This group in general was ranked higher in the straight (martini) tasting, although they scored very well in the others tastings as well. People called out Tanqueray 10 specifically, but the stack ranks show that as a panel they scored it and Bombay Sapphire identically.
2 oz London dry gin
Combine in shaker and shake well (>30 sec). Strain into chilled cocktail glass and garnish with orange slice.
Specifically on some of the also-rans: Citadelle was rated as fresh in a gin/tonic, but came off too strong in the straight tasting. Plymouth was liked but not loved as a straight gin, but really fell down when mixed in a gimlet. Boodles was described as “vodka with a bad aftertaste” and Bombay was too “hot”. And 6 of the tasters described Beefeater as simply “no”.
My recommendation for your home liquor cabinet:
- If you want to stock only 1 gin, then I would recommend Tanqeray. It is the most versatile of the gins, ranking highly in both the straight and mixed applications.
- I would also recommend Tanqueray as part of a 2-gin home bar if you really like the sharp taste of juniper in your gin and tonics.
- If you are not so attached to pine needles in a glass, I would recommend saving a few dollars by stocking your 2-gin bar with Gordon’s. Even without the bargain price, it works very well as a mixing gin. You can make a solid gin/tonic, a gimlet everyone will love, and even a Bronx Cocktail (see right)
- As the second gin in a 2-gin bar, I would make a decision between Bombay Sapphire and Hendrix. Since Sapphire is $5 less per bottle that Tanq 10 and they are so similar in taste, I would recommend saving the money. We’ll discuss Hendrix next week, but suffice it to say that Hendrix is similar in focus but quite different in execution from the other 2 botanicals-focused gins.
Lastly, a note on the Bronx Cocktail. In the 1920’s and 30’s this was as popular as a Martini or a Manhattan. I think that like a lot of classic cocktails, this one suffered from the scourge of convenience. It is a simple but precise cocktail that requires precise measuring and fresh-squeezed orange juice. OJ from concentrate and bartender with a loose hand makes this nearly the most unappealing drink imaginable. But made right, it is light, refreshing, and balanced. Bitters are optional here – the classic version does not have them, but I tend to like the added flavor dimension. Definitely try it and let me know your thoughts!