Flavored gin has been on a white-hot streak in England, the spiritual birthplace of gin. Over the past year or so, it has jumped the pond, and is slowly starting to show up on liquor shelves here in the U.S.
Yet, here’s the problem: How do you define flavored gin? Gin already is required to contain pine-scented juniper as its dominant flavoring. Since specific parameters aren’t yet available in either country, we’ll categorize any gin that a has readily identifiable flavoring in addition to juniper as a flavored gin.
“It comes down to the specific botanicals the distiller wants to promote and champion,” explains James Chase, director of England’s Chase Distillery, which makes a quaffable Pink Grapefruit and Pomelo Gin. Juniper will always be included, but it’s up to the distiller to decide which other flavorings will shine through. He suggests that Hendricks, known for its distinct rose and cucumber notes, may have been the first flavored gin, although it isn’t labeled or identified as such.
Like flavored vodkas, most flavored gins are not particularly subtle. In fact, some seemed very familiar, like flavored vodkas recast with a bit of brisk juniper. The bottlings sampled this month neatly divide into three categories: citrus, from sunny lemon to tangy blood orange; other fruit, including a number that resemble plummy, sweetened sloe gins; and floral, spanning rose, chamomile and elderflower varieties.
Another point of confusion: How to drink these new flavored gins? In general, bubbly highballs seem to be the preferred vehicle, particularly for Gin & Tonics. That said, Chase wonders if soda water—a more neutral, less sweet mixer—might provide a more appropriate foil. Compared to Brits, who overwhelmingly prefer G&Ts, it’s possible that American consumers, who enjoy plenty of flavored vodka-sodas, might find flavored gin-and-soda combos more appealing. Enjoy exploring this burgeoning category of gin. Cheers!
Spirit Works Distillery Sloe Gin; $40, 93 points. Look for a deep cherry hue and a bold, inviting aroma that suggests cherry pie filling. This luscious gin drinks like a liqueur, loaded with sweet-tart cherry up front, and a hint of Christmas baking spice reminiscent of mulled wine.
Chase Pink Grapefruit & Pomelo Gin; $40, 92 points. This flavored gin has a demure pink blush and grapefruit peel aroma. The palate is silky and light, opening with grapefruit peel bitterness and following through with notes of white pepper, rosemary, and faint hints of ginger and clove heat. Should make for an interesting spin on Gin & Tonics.
Malfy Gin Con Limone; $28, 92 points. Clear in the glass, this flavored gin, made with Italian lemons, offers gentle lemon and grapefruit peel aromas. The bracing, lightly sweet palate has a nicely authentic lemon flavor, with hints of peel and pith, finishing appropriately bitter. Skip the lemon twist, and mix into Martinis and other drinks.
Freeland Spirits Gin; $35, 90 points. Look for a mild cucumber aroma and robust palate that showcases anise and lemon tartness, echoing a hint of cucumber and clove heat on the exhale. With repeated sips, the anise note seems to expand and blossom, and adds a minty finish.
Dorothy Parker Rose Petal Flavored Gin; $29, 90 points. Rose petals and elderberries lend a golden hue and pleasant, mildly floral aroma. The light, tingly palate leads with juniper and rosemary, leaning into a fleeting juicy orange note midpalate, finishing long with eucalyptus, mint and a faintly floral exhale. Limited edition.
Flora Gin Barrel Reserve; $55, 89 points. Distilled from grain and finished in used wheat whiskey barrels, this gin has a light golden-yellow hue and a profile that almost reads like a young whiskey. The woody aroma suggests chamomile, while the palate leads with vanilla and warms into cinnamon, cayenne and a lingering, mouthwatering citrus finish.
Whitley Neill Quince Gin; $28, 89 points. Expect a burnished yellow hue and aroma reminiscent of lemon peels and honey. It opens with sweet honey, leading into a juicy, citrus note that lingers into the cinnamon-tinged finish.
Knickerbocker Blueberry Flavored Gin; $25, 88 points. Don’t be fooled by the lavender glass bottle, the liquid inside is crystal clear. The faint aroma mixes notes of berry and savory dried-herb. The palate is light, with a powdery feel. Juniper and mint lead into a juicy midpalate and long finish that shows coriander, orris root and a hint of lavender. Distilled with Michigan blueberries. Best Buy.
Lochside Summer Gin No. 5; $35, 88 points. This small-batch gin opens light and clean, rounding into a juicy midpalate and finishing with plenty of warming spice—cumin, coriander, sweet cinnamon, a whiff of dried sage. Botanicals include orange blossom and kumquat.
Guild Chamomile Flavored Gin; $31, 88 points. Chamomile, nutmeg and rose petal infuse this gin made from a base of corn and Ohio apples. Look for a pale yellow hue and warm honey aroma. The palate suggests chamomile tea mixed with honey, and finishes with nutmeg and other baking spices, plus a mentholated exhale.
Tamworth Damson Garden Plum Flavored Gin; $60, 88 points. A Damson plum-infused gin with orange rind and hops, look for a reddish-orange hue and mild berry aroma. The palate is round and subtle, opening with a gentle wash of fruit and finishing with mild cinnamon spice.
Vitae Spirits Damson Gin Liqueur; $50, 88 points. This “Virginian interpretation of Sloe Gin” is made with local Damson plums. Look for a deep cherry hue and mild stewed cherry aroma. The palate echoes that stewed fruit note, finishing tart, warming and spicy with hints of cayenne, cinnamon and clove.