Some of the gins featured below were kindly gifted. Article contains affiliate links.
2021 was another odd year for just about everything and the gin category was no exception. While less gin may have been sold in 2021 than 2020, last year also saw the opening of 110 new gin distilleries (bringing the total number in the UK up to an incredible 820, according to the Office for National Statistics). To truly understand what all this means check out Olivier Ward’s insightful article What happened to gin last year? on Spirits Beacon. What I’ll say, is that there was definitely plenty to get excited about in 2021, and plenty of reasons to feel positive about gin’s future. So, without further ado, here are my top ten gins of 2021; technically not all were new to the market in 2021 (though most of them were) but they were all new to me and all stood out for different reasons.
It’s not often that you know, immediately, a gin is going straight to the top of your top ten for the year. But that’s what happened with Hrafn Gin Valkyrie and here it is!
The star of the show is a little-known botanical called Jara; a semi-wild species of citrus native to Bangladesh that is neither lemon nor lime, neither grapefruit nor orange. With bitter-sour pulp and very astringent juice, it is the jara zest that makes this gin sing, adding an elevated and unusual citrus note to an otherwise fairly classic line-up of botanicals. The enticing nose leads to a palate offering bright, slightly sharp citrus with a juniper backbone. Full-bodied and well balanced, there is a little tingle and a dusting of dry spice on the long finish of this delicious gin.
Serve in a gin and tonic, a Negroni Mousserende (essentially a Negroni lengthened with soda water, a little lime juice and a pinch of salt) or a Rosemary Gimlet.
70cl 43% ABV £37 from Hrafn [Gifted]
Inspired by the Suffolk coast, and made at the UK’s closest distillery to the sea, Fishers Gin (which made my Top Ten Gins of 2019) is created using rare and locally foraged botanicals including sea purslane, rock samphire and bog myrtle. To create their London Dry Smoked Gin, these botanicals are hung in hessian sacks and left in the Smokehouse at Pinneys of Orford for five days. The woody oak smoke is bold and unmistakable, but it doesn’t overpower the other botanicals. It’s likely to be a love-it or loath-it spirit but I’m definitely in the former camp finding it a well-balanced and well-made warming gin.
Serve with Double Dutch Ginger Beer and a wedge of lime.
50cl 44% ABV £40 from Fishers [Gifted]
I’ve always had a soft spot for Tarquin’s (indeed their Single Estate Cornish Tea Gin made my Top Ten in 2016) so I was super excited when I heard they were releasing this Yuzu & Lime Limited Edition, inspired by their master distiller and founder’s previous experience training as a chef at Le Cordon Bleu. With a striking nose, the palate delivers citrus upon citrus upon citrus. Bold and bright, sharp and sour – with a real softness and just a touch of sweetness on the finish – this does not disappoint!
Serve with a light tonic, a slice of cucumber and a sprig of mint or in a simple Southside.
70cl 42% ABV £36 from Tarquin’s [Gifted]
This absolute belter from the Orkney Gin Company is beautiful both inside and out. Aatta, meaning ‘eight’ in Old Norse, may be the company’s first distilled gin but it is set to become their signature one. Featuring eight botanicals including fresh oranges, hand-picked rose hips, juniper and vanilla, Aatta is distilled an impressive eight times to produce a truly tasty gin. Bold and herbaceous with a touch of citrus and vanilla, this full-bodied gin mixes exceptionally well.
Serve over plenty of ice with a classic tonic, a wedge of orange and a sprig of rosemary.
70cl 44% ABV £39.90 from Orkney Gin Company [Gifted]
Launched in 1996 in tribute to the genever distillery that King Louis XVI authorised at the Citadelle of Dunkirk in 1775, Citadelle is the pioneer of the flourishing French gin scene. Their newest release – Jardin d’Été – is inspired by the scents of the gardens at Château de Bonbonnet and offers an amazing perfume on the nose. Created by infusing whole lemons alongside yuzu and orange zest, local Charentais melons, cardamom, cumin and Sichuan pepper, this is a well-balanced, slightly sweet, citrus-forward yet nuanced gin.
Serve with with a good tonic, plenty of ice and a lemon twist.
70cl 41.5% ABV £35.95 from Master of Malt
I’m not a huge fan of flavoured gins, but I’ve always had a soft spot for chocolate orange gins and this, from Germany’s Elephant Gin, is no exception. Combining their award-winning London Dry Gin with fresh, organic oranges from Spain and roasted cocoa beans, they also vacuum distill whole oranges to create a distillate that adds extra complexity. Not overly sweet, this is a nicely-balanced dry gin with a big hit of citrus and wonderful, rich chocolate notes. In fact, it’s one of the best I’ve tried!
Serve with premium Mediterranean tonic water, a sprig of rosemary and an orange twist, or in a Negroni.
50cl 40% ABV £30.90 from Elephant Gin [Gifted]
If you know me, you’ll probably know how much I love Capreolus Distillery – and especially their Garden Swift Gin (which made my Top Ten in 2018) – so I couldn’t resist buying The Sourcing Table’s exclusive Tokaji barrel-aged edition when it was released last year. An incredibly complex gin, the nose offers spiced woody notes with a touch of orange. To taste it is soft and sweet with a huge depth of flavour which brings to mind the gentle spices and citrus sweetness of gingerbread and marmalade. It is – quite frankly – exceptional, and my tasting notes cannot do it justice.
Enjoy neat or serve it in Rob Simpson’s Szarvas Old Fashioned.
50cl 47% ABV £39.50 from The Sourcing Table
Hailing from Scotland’s North Point Distillery founded in 2020, Crosskirk Bay Gin has recently received a new look – compromising of a post-consumer recycled glass bottle, screen-printed with organic ink – to bring it in line with their rums. Created using a base spirit made from sugar cane, and featuring juniper, Scots pine (taken from the family’s first Christmas tree, planted in their garden back in 1993!) and Icelandic moss, this is a bold juniper-forward London Dry which is sure to please even the most traditional gin-lovers.
Serve with premium tonic and pink grapefruit.
70cl 45.1% ABV £35 from North Point Distillery [Gifted]
Named after the highest point in Kintyre – the “Hill of the Wild Boar” – Beinn an Tuirc’s still is powered by on-site-generated hydro-electricity from “Scotland’s most predictable resource”: rain! Distilled with hibiscus flower and pink peppercorns, Legbiter is a surprisingly light navy strength gin, with subtle floral notes and a dry, spiced finish. An absolute stonker of a gin, I couldn’t resist buying it when I visited the super sustainable distillery last summer.
Serve with a light tonic and garnish with pink peppercorns.
50cl 57% ABV £32 from Beinn an Tuirc
From its stunning label to its sustainability credentials, HYKE Gin Very Special truly is just that!
Featuring English grape spirit – created from the wine grapes that are usually discarded after pressing – blended with neutral grain spirit, it is distilled for a second time with 19 botanicals including cubeb, ginger, lemon and grapefruit peel, earl grey and lapsang souchong. And the finishing touch? A tiny drop of brandy aged specifically for this purpose. A rich spirit with a wonderful, weighty mouthfeel, this is an exceedingly complex gin: reassuringly dry with a woodiness lifted by floral notes and bright citrus.
Serve in a classic gin and tonic with a sage and lemon garnish or in an Old Fashioned.
70cl 42% ABV £36 from Foxhole Spirits [Gifted]
So there we have it, my favourite gins of 2021! Although honourable mentions should also go to Procera Green Dot, John Robert’s Botanic Request, Bombay Sapphire Premier Cru, Hayman’s Exotic Citrus and Naked Pinkster.
Are any of your favourites among mine? How many of my top ten have you tried, and which others would you add? Let me know below! Or check out my Top Tens from previous years instead.