London dry gin is at its best when anchoring a well-made cocktail. (We talked about London dry gin and the alternatives last week.) The flip side of the coin is, admittedly, there are other spirits I'd sooner choose to sip neat. But we're talking cocktails here! And it's hard to top London dry gin for its range and versatility as a cocktail ingredient. A distinct perfume of citrus, juniper, and spice, along with a dry, sometimes borderline savory finish, make London dry gin work beautifully with so many various ingredients.
Here are three options for very good London gin at budget points we can all appreciate.
How did London gin get its signature flavor?
Among the earliest gin cocktails were those tossed back by soldiers of the British crown, stationed across the empire's colonies in the tropics. The troops were ordered to ingest quinine regularly to stave off symptoms of malaria. They found that a little gin made the bitter quinine more palatable. This improvised concoction evolved and lives on today as that quintessential summertime cooler, the Gin & Tonic.
Not only has the G&T evolved, so has London dry gin itself. Modern London drys are paragons of quality and complexity compared to the cheap, questionable swill made during England's infamous "gin craze" of the early 1700s, when the spirit's production and sales were loosely regulated at best. Same for the bathtub gin resorted to during American Prohibition, which in essence was poor-quality alcohol crudely infused with juniper flavor (by contrast, a gin truly worth drinking must be flavored through distillation).
Thankfully, today the gin-drink enthusiast has a crystal-clear rainbow of London dry options to choose from. The cocktail revival has without a doubt contributed to this growth in the market. Prior to a decade or so ago, the world of London dry gins was dominated by a few recognizable brands, whereas now liquor-store shelves are lined with the wares of numerous upstart producers.
And unlike the market for rye whiskey — the bottle this column explored last month, whose recent popularity has sent prices soaring — the cost of delicious, functional gin hasn't crept too far out of reach, if at all.
3 London Dry Gins to Fit Your Budget
Ford's Gin - $31 (1L)
Ford's belongs to the new class of gins to hit the market in the wake of the modern cocktail craze. It's the brainchild of a gin-industry veteran and distilled in the City of London — which, oddly, enough, is not a legal requirement for a spirit to be called London gin. In some respects Ford's Gin adheres to the traditional traits of a London dry; its nine-botanical blend includes juniper from Italy and Polish angelica. But it also has a sizable citrus component, with lemon, grapefruit, and bitter orange peels featured in its recipe.
The 90-proof spirit was developed foremost as a mixing gin with advice from professional bartenders, and their input is evident as much in how the gin tastes as how its vessel is shaped. The bottle is easy to handle, especially from the neck, and includes measurements down the side, encouraging re-use.
And while old-guard London drys can often taste spruce-y and juniper-driven to a fault, turning off certain drinkers, Ford's reverberates between citrus and sharper spices like coriander. It's at once punchy and flavorful and yet restrained enough to not overpower cocktails with excessive amounts of soapy juniper flavor. (Try it, for instance, in a Pegu Club.)
Broker's Gin - $17
For the value-conscious cocktail enthusiast who expects to go through a lot of gin, there's perhaps no better buy than Broker's. The quality-to-price-point math is about as good as it gets for any spirit category. It's a traditional, pot-distilled gin, made in England, and while it may not have the branding of a Tanqueray or Bombay Sapphire (both fine products), Broker's has all their depth of flavor and versatility for less cost.
And at 94 proof, Broker's is aggressive enough to stand up in drinks that call for low- or non-alcoholic ingredients — say, juice, sparkling wine, or a glassful of ice.
Martin Miller's Gin - $36
The best Dry Gin Martini I've ever had was mixed with Martin Miller's, and that's saying a lot. It was a revelation of sweetness, surprisingly bright citrus, and a wash of fresh aromas of pine, herbs, and spices. Also English-made, this London dry follows a careful recipe that includes the unusual step of steeping and distilling citrus ingredients separately form the other botanicals.
The brand also claims to make very exacting cuts of only the best-quality spirit during distillation, dispensing with the so-called heads and tails instead of re-distilling them for additional usable yield. The extra effort pays off with an approachable, nuanced product that, quite plainly, will make you question why you ever bothered with Vodka Martinis.
Those are my three picks for the gins to stock your 9-Bottle Bar this spring. Have you had your first gin and tonic yet this spring?
(Image credits: Roger Kamholz)