Olivier Ward - Gins throughout the world

Journey through the World of Gins with Olivier Ward, Gin Expert

Craft spirits have long been a place where the story behind the product is as compelling as the liquid itself. Craft gin is one of the best vehicles for producers to showcase their ideas and creativity. 

Take a look at the very best globally, you’ll see liquid quality that comes hand-in-hand with the compelling journeys that founders went through to bring build their dream distilleries, the innovative practices they use, and the sustainability focused endeavours they are impassioned by.

Take my word for it—I’ve sat down in IWSC tastings and been transported half a dozen times in a tasting flight. No context is given in spirits competitions other than the ABV, yet the destinations you find your mind wondering to are as defined as they are in the pages of a National Geographic.

Here are a few gins that I’d urge you to seek out. Each is genuinely spectacular, but side by side helps showcase the full spectrum of the category’s creativity.

Grey Whale Gin

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Let’s start with two founders who showcase their regionality through the selection of their botanicals. Marsh and Jan Mokhtari founded Golden State Distillery in 2016 with the specific intention of celebrating California. Their award-winning Grey Whale Gin came from, “the simple notion that we cooked up on a camping trip to Big Sur” and tracks the migration Gray Whales make—some 12,000-miles—from the warm lagoons of the Baja Peninsula to the cool waters of the Arctic.

All the botanicals are purposely chosen to reflect this. Mint from SantaCruz, fir from a tree farm in Sonoma Valle, Kombu sea kelp wild harvested from the Mendocino Coast: You can literally taste your way along the Pacific coastline, picturing the road trip as the profile evolves.

Also interesting: The Best Gin Cocktails to mix at home

St George Terroir Gin

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Another of the great West Coast gin distillers is St George Spirits. Their exceptional Terroir is profoundly aromatic and a true homage to the Californian chaparral. It remains one of the most singularly evocative gins I’ve ever tried, and I taste well over 400 a year.

You expect that Douglas fir, locally foraged bay laurel and coastal sage would be included, given the geography. For them to drive the profile, even. But it’s the way classic botanicals have been processed that change everything. They wok-roast coriander seed to bring out earthiness and when combined with cinnamon, adds an underlying scent so reminiscent of a sunbaked mountain trail you’ll feel the need to put on hiking boots when you have a Classic Martini.

More gin-based cocktails: Singapore SlingGin Fizz –  Tom CollinsVesper MartiniAviation –  Bee’s Knees

Native Juniper 

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At the heart of all this site suggestive botanical wrangling is juniper. And it’s the complexity of gin’s core botanical that allows for such creative producers to build in a sense of place. You can augment different aspects of juniper for radically different results all the while keeping it centre stage in the landscape you are depicting.

You can also strip everything back, focus on where the juniper is harvested from and let the terroir sing. Indian made, Hapusa Himalayan Gin shows how their local juniper has a woody earthy character, while Kenyan-made Procera Gin shows that producers don’t always stick to the primary varietal—Juniperus communis—to make world class gin. They use their namesake juniperus procera to add layers of resinous pine and in doing so, don’t just let juniper star, they layer in irreplicable African provenance too.

Hernö Gin

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Sweden’s Hernö are one of the best gin makers in the world. No reasonable person could ever talk about great ginsmiths without giving them their deserved plaudits.

When it comes to showcasing Terroir, Hernö literally have a yearly expression with the word on the bottle. Hernö High Coast Terroir Gin is created with botanicals handpicked in the High Coast of Sweden, and while the gin changes year on year depending on what the seasons have brought, what remains consistent is the absolute sense of sense of calm, balance and elegant harmony the expression has.

Maybe it’s because it reflects the pristine wilderness it comes from, maybe it’s because the whole lot is foraged and so, the team are deeply attuned to the sensibility of each ingredient and how to make the perfect assemblage. It’s a yearly masterclass in how to build flavour profiles. It shows that even with variable inputs, through considered approach and careful layering, it’s possible to build characterful gin that delivers a feeling that’s as honest and wholesome as the windswept warmth that builds on your cheeks after a long day in the great outdoors.

Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin

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Meanwhile, tell me how Bloody Shiraz isn’t the most authentic depiction of what you can make if you are a gin producer based in the heart of the Yarra valley? It’s as if they were destined to make it.

They take local grapes and infuse it into dry gin, gently coaxing the flavours and the juicy, fruity hit while balancing tannin, ABV and underlying gin. It’s alcoholic alchemy. It’s winemaker’s terroir but done via the medium of gin by a team in Australian Wine’s heartlands.

Bloody Shiraz is a fusion that speaks of a region and a process, but it’s instantly accessible to anyone all over the world. And that’s why it’s one of the best – it’s simple to understand without ever having been dumbed down. Engage with it on a cerebral level and revel in the nerd details of production all you want, but what it comes down is that Gin has met Wine for all the right reasons and it’s delicious in a Gin and Tonic, Negroni or Gin Sour.

Also interesting: 40 Easy Mixed Drinks To Make at HomeTop Cocktails and Recipes List.

Culinary Associations

A look at great gins around the world and how their place informs their profile wouldn’t be replete if I didn’t mention the sheer diversity of ingredients that are used how that reflects the diversity of each region’s cuisine.

I’ve tracked hundreds of to date. The best gins often have an unusual inclusion or two that transforms the everyday into the extraordinary. Take Brazilian Gin makers YVY, who showcase the depths of what the amazon has to offer in through their range, or the way Ki No Bi bring cues from Japanese tea culture into their profile. Chinese makers Peddler’s Gin Co use of Szechuan peppercorn and buddha’s hand instantly bridging gin with Asian cuisine, so too do Gin Mare’s Mediterranean culinary links through its use of olive, rosemary and thyme.

An Dúlamán Irish Gin

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It’s not just the width of the botanicals being used in modern gin making either, it’s the nuance and specificity involved in selection.

Get hold of a bottle of An Dúlamán Irish Gin and allow your senses to full appreciate how the flavours are predominantly driven by seaweed. It’s not any seaweed either, but five different types! It takes detail driven flavour seeking to a whole new level, but it works as it’s dialled in and juniper still stars. It’s sublimely brackish and shows how different varietals each bring in unique notes, all of which in full display when you serve it in a Highball with Soda.

Indigenous Botanicals

The Australians of course, are known for bringing weird flora (and even fauna) into gin.

From the early days of lemon myrtle everything, they’ve now evolved into a nation of producers who can carefully select how to bring in a unique indigenous touch. For example, Cape Byron balances 17 native botanicals to make their flagship Brookies Gin, while bartender favourites Never Never released Oyster Shell Gin, combining distinctive coastal botanicals such as oyster shell, waxflower, wakame, coastal daisy bush and saltbush.

Condesa Prickly Pear Gin

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Botanicals aside, distilling narrative arcs and creative vision into cohesive flavour is an accomplishment that few story tellers achieve. It’s what separates good ginsmiths and great ones as it’s a feat that shows the full extent of how loaded a vehicle gin can be when pushed to its fullest capacity. It transcends gin from being a flavourful spirit to being an artistic medium.

Distilled in Mexico City, Condesa Prickly Pear Gin is a spirit laden with multifaceted narrative. It’s modern Mexico, distilled. Nostalgic, whimsical and yet forward looking with a subversive undercurrent. It takes a botanicals such as palo santo, white sage, xoconostle and azahar and pays homage to their use in rituals and ceremonies. In doing so celebrates México’s rich biodiversity and the role herbs and fruits have played in cultural congregations for centuries. It puts it all together in the Dry Gin but adds a respectfully rebellious twist with their Prickly Pear release – forging a new chapter for today’s more hedonistic gatherings.

Pink gin it is not. The fruity core is matched by salvia’s herbal twang and the more you engage with the flavour, the more the brand and the way they are building their story becomes clear. There is so much to unpack. Take note of the name Condesa as theirs is a creative voice that reverberates with a quiet confidence and a unique timbre; and one you are likely to hear more about in years to come.

Elephant Gin

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Looking elsewhere and at a gin maker who’s a decade into their career, I’ve been reminded of why Elephant Gin have always been hailed as some of the best makers as they celebrate their 10th anniversary.

Their range showcases their skill in flavour sequencing. Moreover, the flavours are not only delicious, but they tell the story of what it’s inspired by in a palpable chain of thought that drinkers can immediately connect with.

Their new release, African Explorer, builds on this idea and fuses their love of Africa (and conservation) in new ways, bringing together blackcurrant-like herbal buchu, the subtle zestiness and warmth of white ginger, and spice notes and earthy undertones from monodora (African nutmeg). Citrus meet herbal core and lingering warmth—it’s an expression that showcases the endless inspiration there is to find when creative ginsmiths seek out new combinations, and the immutable way they can bring us drinkers there in every sip. A safari in a glass.

Also interesting: Guide to Different Types of Alcohol and Liquor Names.

Where will you take it?

In all this storytelling that’s gone into making these amazing expressions, in building these brands and shaping liquid infused with meaning and juniper-laced flavour alike, the best thing about all of it is the way they make room for you.

The best gins in the world, and the above are amongst them, all invite you to apply your interpretation to them. To read into them what you will, be it by triggering emotive memories or by sparking your curiosity. They allow you continue their story through how you mix it, what you chose to make and who you share it with.

Cheers to that! And to beginning your chapter with this endlessly original spirit. 

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