Gin is all grown up and we’ve made it our own. What started out as cheap-and-not-so-cheerful backstreet spirit on the streets of London has gone on to become synonymous with sophisticated society as an all-rounder spirit for cocktails, with tonic or even in its most recent guise – straight, on the rocks, allowing for an appreciation of its unique mix of botancials.
SA has seen exponential growth in local distilleries, set up to craft gins with local flavours, and the explosion of innovation is only just beginning.
With this in mind, we set up the Sunday Times Lifestyle Gin Awards, in partnership with Makro, to find out which local and international gins are well worth adding to your drinks cabinet.
Our intrepid judges tasted more than 70 international and local gins and narrowed the field down to four finalists in the local category and four finalists in the international category from which one gin was selected in each category as the overall winner.
Here are the results:
WINNER: GINOLOGIST FLORAL GIN
Tasting notes: Rose geranium-led floral infusion with a lingering flavour finishing with a soft dryness as orange blossom notes come through. Ideal for those who prefer to serve gin with light tonics or soda water.
Distiller: Craft Link Distillery, Joburg
Serving suggestion: Pour 25ml of Ginologist Floral gin into a glass of your choice and add some blueberries, a sprig of rosemary and top up with Indian tonic of your choice.
Tasting notes: Made from neutral grain spirit, infused with botanicals selected to pay homage to the Eastern spice trade that influenced Cape Town culture and cuisine. Sweet vanilla and mandarin orange notes complement the fiery Cassia, Ginger and Allspice.
Distiller: Pienaar & Son Distilling Co., Cape Town
Cocktail suggestion: Orient brulee grapefruit cocktail.
For the bruleed grapefruit, sprinkle a thin coating of sugar onto grapefruit slices, place under a grill on high. Grill until sugar bubbles and edges blacken, or use a blow torch to achieve the same. Remove from oven and halve each round (half a slice for each drink).
For the cocktail, fill a glass with ice, pour a double gin, add a splash of bitters, bruleed grapefruit slice and fill with tonic. Top off with a small sprig of lavender.
FINALIST: MONKS MARY JANE
Tasting notes: South Africa’s first hemp-infused gin blended with a potion of slangbos and renosterbos. It’s a juniper-forward London Dry that is citrus dominant with notes of star anise and cardamom.
Distiller: Monks Distillery, Joburg
Serving suggestion: Double shot of Mary Jane, topped up with ice and Fitch & Leeds Pink Tonic. Garnish with fresh or dehydrated slice of grapefruit and a single star of Star Anise.
FINALIST: WESTCLIFF COPPER DISTILLED GIN
A sipping gin with floral tones and vanilla flavours, distilled in Johannesburg. The flavour is a green floral that speaks to the jacaranda trees in the northern parts of Johannesburg that flower in spring.
Distiller: Angel Heart Distillery, Joburg
Cocktail suggestion: Slightly muddle blueberries and a drop of syrup at the bottom of a glass of your choice and fill with ice. Pour a good shot of gin over the ice, and then fill the glass with high quality pink tonic water. Garnish with a sprig of fresh thyme.
Add some Westcliff Baked Apple Bitters to the recipe if desired. Alternatively, to taste the complexity and balance of the gin, serve over ice with a single slice of fresh strawberry.
Tasting notes: Made with four botanicals: juniper, coriander seed, angelica root and liquorice, combining to create a well balanced, juniper dominant taste. The lack of citrus botanical makes it slightly drier than some other gins, but coriander adds both piquancy and lemon on the nose.
Distiller: Cameronbridge Distillery, Scotland
Serving suggestion: Fill a Copa glass to the top with quality cubed ice and pour the gin followed by the tonic water. Garnish with a slice of grapefruit and stir slightly, for a smooth and zesty G&T.
FINALIST: GORDON’S LONDON DRY GIN
Tasting notes: Developed by Alexander Gordon, a Londoner of Scottish descent, from hand-picked juniper berries and a selection of other botanicals including coriander.
Distiller: Distilled and bottled in SA under the authority of Alexander Gordon & Co, London
Cocktail suggestion: Mix two parts Gordon’s Gin with one part lemon juice. Add one teaspoon of fine sugar and three parts soda water. Garnish with a slice of lemon and a cherry.
FINALIST: GIN MARE
Tasting notes: A Spanish gin inspired by Mediterranean flavours made with botanicals including arbequina olive, rosemary, thyme, basil and mandarin to round with a citrus note.
Distiller: Global Premium Brands, Spain
Serving suggestion: A tot or two of Gin Mare mixed with Indian tonic and garnished with a sprig of rosemary and some orange zest.
Tasting notes: In addition to the traditional juniper infusion, Hendrick’s uses Bulgarian rose and cucumber to add flavour.
Distiller: RGBC, Scotland
Serving suggestion: There’s a good reason the Hendrick’s gin and tonic, with its cucumber garnish, is so loved, it’s poetry in a glass. Pour 50ml Hendrick’s Gin into a glass filled with cubed ice and add 150ml of tonic water. Garnish with three thinly sliced rounds of cucumber. Lightly stir and serve.
• Prices reflected were supplied by Makro Liquor at the time of publication.