The Best Gin for Gin and Tonic — 2019 edition

A vain quest, you might say, to find the best gin for gin and tonic. I might agree. But it’s an enjoyable quest nevertheless. And not all gins are equal. Read on for a taste test of 10 common gins and a ranking of their G&T prowess…

An array of gin bottles assembled ahead of the best gin tasting

You have cash in your pocket, and you have a thirst. Specifically, a thirst for that most noble of drinks, the gin and tonic. But you don’t just want any gin and tonic. No. You’re better than that. You, my friend, want the best. And that means you need to know what is the best gin for gin and tonic.

This post attempts to guide your stumbling steps in the right approximate direction — which really is all the committed gin drinker can hope for.

If you’re impatient (and with the prospect of a G&T ahead of you, who could blame you?), you can skip straight to the results. Or stick with me for a bit of comfortable preamble while you work up your thirst still further.

Prelude to the Gin

So. Yes. I know. I said before that posts like ‘the best gin for gin and tonic’ are terrible Google-baiting things. I stand by my words: there’s no ‘best’ in a world of huge variety. I am not claiming that the winner of our taste-tests below is objectively the absolute best gin in the world, because that would be ridiculous.

But. Not all gins are equal. Some are definitely better than others in a G&T. And the point of this is to compare the most commonly available ones and rank ‘em. Mainly because it’s fun and an excuse to drink gin in the interest of science.

Is that alright with you?

This isn’t Old Parn’s first brush with gin-ranking: back in 2012, Amy and I performed a similar ritual, albeit with fewer gins and using (argh!) Schweppes tonic. So one motivation for this post was to see how our rankings compare in the blighted hellscape that is 2019. Of which, more later…

The Tasting Method

Amy and I tasted 10 branded gins in the low to medium price range — mostly ones you’d find in normal supermarkets & offies. We tasted them blind (meaning we didn’t know which was which) and in two separate rounds: first with Fever Tree’s Naturally Light Tonic Water and second with their Regular Tonic.

I mixed the G&Ts with a 1:2 ratio of gin to tonic and added no garnish in order that there be no extraneous flavours.

As we tasted, we made notes (well, I did, anyway. Amy is only in it for the booze, not the — ahem — scholarship), rated the gins out of ten for each tonic pairing, then unveiled their identities and worked out the final ranking. I repeated the exercise a week later, to check the results were consistent (which they were, to a remarkable degree).

The Different Gin and Tonic Styles

Before I present the rankings, a few observations if I may (and I may, because it’s my sodding blog).

Firstly, we found that the gins resolve themselves into three groups fairly neatly, irrespective of the tonic with which they’re served.

The first group is the basic gin and tonics. These are characterised predominantly by citrus, and they are not surprising or particularly grabby. It’s difficult to ascribe a great deal of complexity to them in the G&T context, and they are differentiated predominantly by how well they balance the sweetness of the tonic (typically struggling to avoid a slight lemonadey quality).

The second group is the punchy gin and tonics. Like the above group, these also taste very much as expected of a G&T, but rather than being citric and slightly wet, they are juniper-led, drier and considerably more assertive. They don’t bring outlandish or unexpected flavours, in general; instead, they bring what is scientifically known as hoof. Spoiler: I like these ones.

And the final group consists of the unusual gin and tonics. These are gins which (to varying degrees of success) mainline in flavours that sit outside the standard G&T spectrum. They therefore exhibit a broad range of personalities. They may also be light, and they may also have hoof, but they are to my mind principally characterised by other more unusual flavours and qualities that set them apart from the mainstream.

Contenders for the best gin for gin and tonic, shot from above

A Note on Price

The gin selection also contains a fair amount of price variation. While I’ve avoided niche/artisanal brands, 6 O’Clock, Sipsmith and Hendricks are all towards the premium side of gin pricing. Meanwhile Gordon’s and Beefeater are amongst the cheapest branded gins available in most UK supermarkets, with Plymouth, Bombay Sapphire, Martin Miller and Portobello falling in between

You could argue, therefore, that we’re not comparing like with like, and that, of course, the more expensive gins are likely to do better.

Well, wait until you see the results, my pretty little one, before you jump to any conclusions.

Which brings us neatly to—

The Best Gin for Gin and Tonic: Results

I’ll list the gins in reverse order, from our least-favourite up. Alongside each, I’ll note whether they are cheap (£), mid-price (££) or at the upper end of the range (£££) — though as I said above, none of these are ridiculously expensive or niche gins. I’ll also note whether each gin made a ‘basic’, ‘punchy’ or ‘unusual’ gin and tonic (see notes above).

I should also say: none of these G&Ts was bad. There are some low ratings here, primarily because I needed to show the spread of results (rather than having everything clustered at the top end of the rating scale). The difference between the worst and best G&Ts was pronounced, but just remember that my ratings are relative rather than absolute.

10. Martin Miller’s Gin and Tonic (££)

  • G&T Style: Unusual
  • 40% ABV
  • With Light Tonic: 2/10
  • With Regular Tonic: 2/10

Okay, we’ll start off with a weird one. I don’t drink Martin Miller, so I wasn’t sure what to expect of it — but imagined it was likely to be a relatively generic gin. Well! It’s far from generic. With both Light and Regular Fever Tree Tonics, it is overwhelmingly scented and flavoured with violet (specifically, it tastes like parma violets, those powdery sweets you’d give to a child whom you despise). Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my gin and tonic to taste like this. So for me it is the opposite of the best gin for gin and tonic. Obviously, if you can’t get enough of parma violets (you freak), YMMV. It does have a decent heft to it, I guess. But, c’mon, parma violets.

9. Beefeater Gin and Tonic (£)

  • G&T Style: Basic
  • 40% ABV
  • With Light Tonic: 3/10
  • With Regular Tonic: 2/10

Beefeater, Plymouth and Portobello I’m going to talk about together, because I found these three gins very hard to tell apart. All had relatively little going on and were dominated by the tonic (though Plymouth fared somewhat better with Regular Tonic and the other two with Light): all are citrus-led, lemonadey, somewhat sweet, with little in the way of punch. I had to re-taste these to get a definitive ranking, and my opinion is that Beefeater is marginally the wimpiest of them, and it’s therefore in position 9, but only a hair’s breadth from …

8. Plymouth Gin and Tonic (££)

  • G&T Style: Basic
  • 41.2% ABV
  • With Light Tonic: 2/10
  • With Regular Tonic: 4/10

Plymouth, too, had the lemonade problem. Here, though, it was more accentuated with the Light tonic and better with Regular. Whereas the low rankings for Beefeater and Portobello didn’t overly surprise me (neither cheap generic viagra cialis being gins I’d generally choose), I confess I was surprised — and a tad disappointed — at the poor ranking of Plymouth. On the strength of these tastings, probably best to save it for making martinis

7. Portobello Gin and Tonic (££)

  • G&T Style: Basic
  • 42% ABV
  • With Light Tonic: 5/10
  • With Regular Tonic: 2/10

Pretty much indistinguishable from Beefeater with Regular Tonic, Portobello scraped ahead because it is more assertive with Light. It’s still somewhat lacking in character, but balances the tonic better.

6. Hendrick’s Gin and Tonic (£££)

  • G&T Style: Unusual
  • 41.4% ABV
  • With Light Tonic: 8/10
  • With Regular Tonic: 8/10

You’ll notice a huge gap in ratings between positions 7-10 and 6. Everything from here onwards is basically very good.

A strong performer with both tonic varieties, Hendrick’s brings its characteristic herbaceous qualities to bear. It’s subtler and more complex than the rest, managing to be light without being insubstantial or glib — but instead being rather goddamn delicious. With the Light tonic, there’s an interesting (and pleasant) hint of root vegetable (carrots!) whereas the expected cucumber comes more to the fore with the Regular tonic. Really rather nice whichever tonic you choose to pair it with, but keep the gin:tonic ratio heavy on the gin to avoid squishing its delicate character, I reckon.

5. Gordon’s Gin and Tonic (£)

  • G&T Style: Punchy
  • 37.5% ABV
  • With Light Tonic: 10/10
  • With Regular Tonic: 6/10

Bosh! Gordon’s really is a bloody good gin for its price. With light tonic, it’s a goddamn barnstormer, punching way above its 37.5% ABV. I’m not quite sure how. It tastes fabulously strong and weighty — of all the G&Ts we tasted (light and regular), I think the Gordon’s with Fever Tree Light Tonic was one of the closest to the epitome of a bloody great normal G&T. You know, what you expect a gin & tonic to taste like, but superbly well executed. With the regular tonic, Gordon’s struggles a bit more (though still tastes far from shabby, I should add). Again, it makes for an honest, down-the-line G&T, but the fuller and sweeter profile of the Regular Tonic smothers it slightly. It’s interesting to note the degree to which Fever Tree Light accentuates the juniper of Gordon’s, whereas Regular brings out the citrus. Interesting to me, at least. Perhaps boring as hell to you. Gordon’s and Hendricks scored the same average mark out of ten, mathmos amongst you will note, but I’ve put Gordon’s in 5th position on the basis that it’s a good deal cheaper. They are very different beasts, however.

4. Sipsmith Gin and Tonic (£££)

  • G&T Style: Unusual
  • 41.6% ABV
  • With Light Tonic: 7/10
  • With Regular Tonic: 10/10

Sipsmith is excellent with Regular tonic and rather good with Light. With Regular, it has a smoothness — almost a flatness, though I don’t mean that pejoratively. It glides across your palate, delivering a solid, serious, ginny flavour with a minimum of friction, backed up with a fabulous creaminess. With the light tonic, this smoothness is less pronounced; instead there’s a bit of a herby character and the overall effect is perhaps less cohesive. Still a fine drink, though.

3. 6 O’Clock Gin and Tonic (£££)

  • G&T Style: Unusual
  • 43% ABV
  • With Light Tonic: 9/10
  • With Regular Tonic: 8/10

6 O’Clock Gin is probably the least common gin in this tasting. Still, the Whisky Exchange sold miniatures of it, so it’s in (and if that’s an insufficiently scientific inclusion criterion for you, I guess you can suck it up). With both types of tonic, it stood up commendably, managing the feat of tasting both unusual and distinctively ginny (as opposed to tasting, a la Martin Miller, like something entirely different). It has a great balance whereby floral flavours — plus, to my tastebuds, a hint of banana — are grounded by excellent heft and weight. Smooth stuff, and just as good with either Light or Regular tonic. Very tough to choose between this and Sipsmith for positions 3 and 4, as these gins all make such bloody good G&Ts.

…And now. Our two highest-rated gins. I cannot separate these two, so — in an audacious, breathtaking move — I’m awarding the number 1 spot to both:

=1. Bombay Sapphire Gin and Tonic (££)

  • G&T Style: Unusual
  • 40% ABV
  • With Light Tonic: 10/10
  • With Regular Tonic: 8/10

With Fever Tree Light, Bombay Sapphire is bewitching. Smooth, clean, yet assertive. It balances the tonic superbly and has a wonderful nutty creaminess that fills out the drink. With the regular tonic, it’s slightly less good, but still damn good: the nuttiness is less noticeable (instead, there’s a smoky quality) and the effect remains savoury and balanced. There’s less juniper here than in some, though, so if that’s yer bag, you might instead want…

=1. Tanqueray Gin and Tonic (££)

  • G&T Style: Punchy
  • 43.1% ABV
  • With Light Tonic: 8/10
  • With Regular Tonic: 10/10

Tanqueray was the winner of our 2012 taste test and again holds the top spot in 2019 (though this time sharing the honours). While Bombay Sapphire excels with light tonic, Tanqueray wins out with regular — which makes sense, given its more punchy, domineering character. It’s serious, strong, crammed with juniper. A G&T with proper weight to it. With light tonic, it’s still a fine drink: solid and powerful. However, unexpectedly, there was a slight (very slight) over-sweetness to this G&T which caused us to mark it down a little.

Two winning gins: Tanqueray and Bombay Sapphire

Phew. So, to summarise, the top 10:

10. Martin Miller’s Gin
9. Beefeater Gin
8. Plymouth Gin
7. Portobello Gin
6. Hendrick’s Gin
5. Gordon’s Gin
4. Sipsmith Gin
3. 6 O’Clock Gin
=1. Bombay Sapphire and Tanqueray Gins

Here are the special category awards…

Gin and Tonic Awards Ceremony

Best with Fever Tree Light Tonic

Two superb contenders here, but I’m giving the rusty Old Parn Ceremonial Corkscrew of Victory to Bombay Sapphire for a marvellously multifaceted G&T, with Gordon’s in the runner-up slot.

Best with Fever Tree Regular Tonic

Again, this could go one of two ways, but I settled on Tanqueray for its punch, its spunk. Sipsmith is bloody good too, though.

Best Value Gin for Gin and Tonic

How could this be anything other than Gordons? Sensational with Fever Tree Light and more than creditable with Regular Tonic too.

Most Interesting Gin and Tonic

A slightly pointless category, given its subjective nature, but — Jesus — you’re not reading this blog for its empirical rigour, are you? My favourite ‘interesting’ gin of the ten was 6 O’Clock Gin, which brings fascinating flavours but remains serious, complex and delicious. Honorable doffing of the cap in the direction of Hendricks, whose beguiling complexities almost snatched this one.

2019 vs 2012 Results

And how did 2019’s results compare with those of our taste-test back in 2012? Not too far off, it turns out.

The gin lineup then wasn’t the same (Greenalls didn’t feature this time round, and Martin Miller, Sipsmith and 6 O’Clock were all new to the party in 2019). But of those gins that featured both times, the rankings are relatively similar. Tanqueray and Bombay Sapphire were at the top of the list, while Beefeater was low. Gordon’s punched above its weight both times. This time, though, Hendrick’s did notably better (perhaps because the harsher character of Schweppes masked its subtleties in 2012) and Plymouth notably worse.

So. That’s it for the gins. Next? I guess it’s time for the tonics. Watch this space (or, even better, subscribe…)

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