Buying Gin: A Home Bartender’s Guide

Words by Jane Ryan

Buying Gin: A Home Bartender’s Guide image 1

What is the best gin for making cocktails? What style of gin is going to be the most versatile to mix with? And what combination of botanicals will see you through a Martini to a Negroni and a Clover Club? Here’s how to pick the best gin for your bar cart.

When it comes to our cocktail recipes, gin is our biggest category on Difford’s Guide. We have some 800 recipes, and over 1300 once you count user-submitted cocktails, which chart everything from bitter to strong to citrus-forward to sweeter and fruity – and all of these flavours pinning their backbone on juniper and its botanical friends.

It’s a lot to request of one spirit, that it can be boldly naked in a bone dry Martini and stand up in a Negroni against vermouth and Campari, but also not overpower the more subtle flavours in drinks such as Brambles, Breakfast Martinis or French 75s. Not all gins are up to the task – but which is?

Quick answer? A London Dry, specifically Difford's favourite - No.3 London Dry Gin.

Longer answer, see below.

London Dry Gin – The Best Cocktail Gin

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A great London Dry is hands-down going to be the best gin you can buy for making cocktails at home. That’s the answer and there’s really no buts or ifs about it – this is what you want to go for. We’ve got 161 gins on the site that fit this category, 16 of which we’ve rated outstanding, or 5-star plus. The thing they have in common? A beautiful strength of juniper flavour with notes of coriander seeds, angelica root and plenty of citrus.

It’s these key characteristics that make London Dry the best mixing gin. Its earthy spice pairs well with all styles of vermouth and amaro, its citrus marries it with the majority of cocktails and its clean, bright juniper makes its happy bedfellows with berries and all manner of herbs.

16 is a few to choose between though so we’ll go one better and make a suggestion – our very favourite gin, especially for mixing, is No.3 London Dry Gin, which is a traditional piney juniper gin but with the flavour dials turned up - particularly zesty citrus and earthy spice. It’s also a little stronger than other gins (at 46%) and therefore can go toe-to-toe with a Navy strength gin in a Martini, a Gimlet and in the Martinez. With just six botanicals, two of which are citrus (orange and grapefruit), we’re going to nail our colours to the mast and say this gin is going to make you the best cocktails. Here’s three we’d recommend testing it out in:

Dry Martini

ency 82 image Glass: Martini
Garnish: Lemon zest twist
Method: Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into chilled glass.
60ml No.3 London Dry Gin
10ml Dry vermouth
We say: This is everything you should be tasting in a Martini, at a delicate and beautiful 6:1 ratio – slightly drier than normal but far from bone dry. Initially the taste is of citrus oil freshness with burst of spice, and aftertaste that is bright and enlivening.


ency 57 imageGlass: Coupe
Garnish: Lemon zest twist
Method: SHAKE all ingredients with ice and fine strain into chilled glass.
7 fresh Mint leaves
60ml No.3 London Dry gin
25ml Lime juice (freshly squeezed)
15ml Sugar syrup
We say: The combination of shaken mint and No.3’s pine-fresh juniper palate is unrivalled in this classic drink. It may be green to the eyes but we’d go as far to say this tastes green.

Clover Club

Glass: Coupe
Garnish: Lemon zest twist
Method: Shake all ingredients with ice and strain back into shaker. Dry shake (without ice) and fine strain into chilled glass.
ency 21 image5 fresh raspberries
50ml No.3 London Dry Gin
7.5ml Dry vermouth
7.5ml Rosso/rouge (sweet) vermouth
7.5ml Lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
7.5ml Sugar syrup
15ml Pasteurised egg white
We say: A simple, silky and delicious gin-laced classic with a sour finish. No.3’s sweet orange peel ties the flavours together more harmoniously than we’ve experienced with this drink before. The clean spice from its other botanicals cuts through the sweetness to lend an added flavour dimension beyond citrus.

A bottle of No.3 London Dry Gin is just $76 at Vintage Cellars.

Although London Dry dominates the global marketplace, there are several other types, and indeed styles of juniper spirit...

Other Contenders

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Western / New World Dry

This is a loose term, and encompasses gins that are technically London Drys but which have relatively low levels of juniper and shift towards other botanicals – traditional and new. Ultimately gins that are dominated by something other than juniper (which at some point stops them being gin but let’s not go down that path) can be very exciting to try and enjoy in G&Ts, but they won’t slot into the classic gin-shaped hole in cocktails. If they are spice-forward you will find your Sours become dry and overpowered, and if they are fruit-driven your drinks like a Negroni are going to have an additional sweetness that throws off the balance.
Best in: a G&T.

Old Tom

Often described as a sweet or 'cordial' style of gin, 'old tom' gins were overwhelmingly popular in the 18th and early 19th centuries, when gin was more pungent due to the limited rectification (purification) of the base spirit possible in the copper pot stills at that time. Try it in a Martinez, or a Tom Collins but it’s not versatile enough to be your go-to gin.
Best in: a Martinez or Tom Collins.

Sloe Gin

Fun fact, sloe gin is delicious but it is not a gin – these deep maroon and purple bottles are liqueurs. The minimum alcoholic strength by volume of sloe gin is 25%, but most tend to range between 25-30% alc./vol. A great option for a Negroni or to pour into some champagne – but a sloe gin liqueur is more of an accompaniment to gin, not a replacement or dupe.
Best in: Sloegroni.

'Flavoured' Gins

The thing about gin – a crucial don’t-forget-this fact – is that it’s meant to taste of juniper berries. You can argue for or against ageing it, sweetening it, having two botanicals or 47 or charging $20 a bottle or $20 per 25ml serve. But it still has to taste of juniper.

Thesedays, however, we’ve somehow landed in a dystopian future of candy-cotton pink bottles of jasmine, rose, peach and strawberry ‘gins’. There is lurid yellow pineapple, bright green apple, parma violet, scarlet rhubarb and azure blueberry. There’s a multitude of gin liqueurs that smack of raspberry, ginger and elderflower. Any flavour, in fact, except for juniper.

You might have guessed it by now… but at Difford’s HQ we’re not huge fans of these products. There are of course exceptions, with a few local Australian distilleries producing some drier, delicious versions. They will not, however, substitute in for a London Dry in cocktails. Have them if you must, but please don’t make our drinks with them.

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