As little as five years ago, your biggest decision when ordering a G&T was whether to opt for Gordon’s or Beefeater. Now, every pub worth its Fever-Tree has a clutch of small-batch gins lined up behind the bar.
The gin industry has exploded – UK sales of the spirit topped £1billion last year, while the number of British distilleries more than doubled between 2010 and 2016 (there are now over 250). These days, you’re as likely to find artisan gin-makers distilling in a garden shed (Capreolus Distillery in the Cotswolds) or in a tiny 30-litre still (Graveney Gin in Tooting) as you are a big-brand operation.
Olivier Ward, co-founder of Gin Foundry, believes gin’s current popularity is linked to the rise in both cocktail and foodie culture, as well as the spirit itself. “There are very few spirits with the same diversity of flavour,” he says. “And when you’re talking about the provenance of botanicals, other white spirits don’t have as much opportunity to tell a story.”
As well as pubs and bars, restaurants are also focusing on the UK’s thirst for gin – Neil Rankin’s new branch of Temper, opening this week in London’s City, offers more than 20 varieties, each with its own dedicated tonic, while Michelin-starred chef Mark Sargeant’s The Wife of Bath in Kent recently featured an entire gin-pairing menu.
The new Gin Age has arrived. But with so many varieties, how do you choose which gin is best for you? Stylist sent its team of tasters across the UK to do the hard (oh, so very hard) work for you…
Best for: Ginnovation. The first dedicated gin bar in Glasgow boasts the city’s largest selection (over 100), as well as homemade tonics and even tonic ice cubes. Be warned: it’s an evening-only gin joint – arrive after 5pm.
Stylist says: “The gin flights make this the ideal place for a personalised experience. Choose from three different gin liqueurs, cocktails or G&Ts.”
Renfield St, G2; gin71.com
Atlas bar, Manchester
Best for: New brands Something of a Manchester institution, Atlas Bar stocks more than 320 varieties of gin and, as well as serving classic gin cocktails, hosts tonic taste-offs (where drinkers try the same gin with six different tonics then vote for their favourite) and gin-inspired supper clubs.
Stylist says: “I went for the citrusy Zymurgorium Marmalade Manchester Gin, which I now have a bottle of at home, it’s that good. And with a new variety of gin arriving at the bar every week, there’s plenty of reason to return.”
Deansgate, M3; atlasbarmanchester.com
Gin bar at Holborn Dining Room, London
Best for: The perfect G&T. Of all the gin joints in all the world, this has to be one of our favourites. Set in the luxurious Rosewood Hotel, the bar serves over 400 different gins and 30 different tonics.
Stylist says: “My favourite gin was Curio Rock Samphire: refreshing and aniseed-y.”
High Holborn, WC1; holborndiningroom.com/gin-bar
The Feathers Hotel, Oxfordshire
Best for: Rare bottles. Just around the corner from Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Feathers Hotel hosts a tiny, tucked away bar with 429 gins (at last count) from 25 countries cramming every possible surface.
Stylist says: “Octavian, our very knowledgeable barman, talked us through some of the gins on offer, such as a sweet, grapefruit-tinged Old Tom variety. Tell him which style you like, and he’ll select a few potentials to decide between. Once you’ve chosen, head out to the suntrap courtyard to enjoy your G&T.”
Market St, Woodstock OX20; feathers.co.uk
Botanical Garden, Liverpool
Best for: Al fresco cocktails. Liverpool’s only dedicated gin garden is in its third year, popping up between March and October among the warehouses of the Baltic Triangle. Its colourful graffiti, exposed brick walls and mismatched furniture are reminiscent of Berlin, whereas the martini Stylist ordered was on a par with those in New York.
Stylist says: “Go for an expertly curated array of gins, including our favourite, Death’s Door from Wisconsin, plus Moroccan street food from Ta’amiya. There’s also a heated greenhouse if the weather is inclement.”
New Bird St, L1; twitter.com/botanicalgardn
The Jolly Botanist, Edinburgh
Best for: Scottish gins. This Victorian-style gin palace is a great place to escape the tourists. Taking a graphic approach to gin and tonic pairing, the chart-style menu suggests a tonic and garnish, so you decide based on the flavours rather than brands.
Stylist says: “After chatting with bar manager Tony, I ended up with Scottish favourite Rock Rose gin with a splash of tonic and sprig of rosemary – a smooth and zesty G&T.”
Morrison St, EH3; thejollybotanist.co.uk
Best for: Spanish G&Ts Worth a visit for its tapas alone, throw in a basement gin bar with G&Ts served in fishbowl glasses and we’re sold.
Stylist says: “G&Ts at Pintura are garnished with olives, rosemary or hibiscus, and the passionate staff will surely find you a new favourite. We recommend Nordes gin, a sweet delight.”
The Trinity, LS1; pinturakitchen.co.uk
The Old Bell Inn, Oldham
Best for: Sheer variety Where would you expect to find the UK’s biggest selection of gins? Probably not the unassuming Old Bell Inn, five miles from Oldham. The Guinness World Record holder (with over 600 varieties), is a must-visit for any gin hound.
Stylist says: “If you can’t find the perfect gin here, you can’t find it anywhere. The menu lands on your table with a thud that shakes the cutlery. I ordered a 3 Pugs Gin, made in Warrington, because when there are this many to choose from, why not choose the one named after pugs. Simply put: a gin-lover’s heaven.”
Huddersfield Rd, Delph, OL3; theoldbellinn.co.uk
Images: courtesy of the bars mentioned