My Top Gins of 2020

Hello.

You’ve caught me thinking about 2020….  What a pile of shite that was, eh?

**if the images don’t open please refresh the page… technology hates me but I promise there are photos 🙄

It started off with such hope…  Such…  Possibility.  We had a great Christmas and New Year.  I had changed posting in my job and was having loads of fun…  I had tickets to Junipalooza in London and had planned to spend a few fun days and nights down there meeting the troops and sampling the food and drink scene that I have admired with envy via social media feeds…  Louise and I were headed to Florida in September – for my birthday…  We’d had the garden done up the previous year ready for garden soirees in the summer…  We also had The Gin to My Tonic in Glasgow in March…  Little did we know that GTMT would be the end of the social fun for the year…

I’m not going to look over the negatives too much but, what I will say, is that it was a hard year.  Isolated, businesses shut, schools closed, face masks…  The world went absolutely cookie-boo.

I’ve been writing this intro since December…  Not even lying.  It never had the right tone because I wasn’t in the right headspace.  With that sorted (I say sorted what I actually mean is that I’ve got it in hand) I am better placed to bring some of the positives from the year of booze that has just passed…

There’s a lot that can be said about 2020 but there is no doubt that we had some fantastic gins…  Truly sensational gins in fact.  But, before I reveal my personal highlights, I wanted to quickly touch on some of the things that have been exclusive to 2020 and, more than likely, wouldn’t have come about without the pandemic and lockdown.

Virtual tastings…  I love them.  In bygone years drink launches and tasting sessions were things that were done in person with a bit of ceremony about them, however, with social distancing and lockdown and bars being shut this wasn’t possible in 2020 – for the most part.

And so virtual tastings stepped in and gave us all something to look forward to.  I was fortunate enough to be invited along to the ones hosted by the fantastic Boutique Bar Brands and loved them all.  Getting to see distilleries I’d perhaps never have seen otherwise (Manly Spirits for example) was fantastic, not to mention having the distillers and those behind the brands talk us through the drink as well as cocktail recipes…  Great fun.

Other things I think we have 2020 to thank for are the massive availability of quality Ready To Drink cocktails (made by the bars we love and can no longer attend) and, in a similar vein DIY dinner kits from some class restaurants.

So…  There’s a silver lining…  I guess?

Anyway… I guess I should fill you in on the gins that I loved most in 2020 eh?

A few bits of housekeeping before we continue though…  Similar ones to last year I’d suggest:

  1. These are not necessarily gins that CAME OUT in 2020 but are gins I tried for the first time during those 12 months.
  2. These are personal preference and are not, in fact, the absolute best gins of 2020 but merely the ones that stood out most for me.
  3. These are in no particular order…  I might put them in order that I recall trying them…  Its possible it won’t be 100% accurate so don’t @ me!
  4. Most of the gins in this list are from brands I have tried before as, given the bars were closed, it wasn’t as easy to try something new.
  5. If a gin has been gifted to me I’ll let you know by stating that it was gifted – if it doesn’t say gifted then I purchased it.  It’s also worth noting that just because it was gifted to me doesn’t mean it’ll be included…  Infact most of the gins I’ve included I have purchased… BUT in the interests of transparency some of those purchased gins have been bought from brands I have had/do have a relationship with…  I’ll tell you this aswell…  These blogs get complicated man……

So…  Lets begin…

Four Pillars x Herno – Botany Bay

£41.95

43%

50cl

Disclosure – None

There was a bit of a stooshie when this launched as it was a little more towards the higher end of the usual pricing and its only a 500ml bottle…  Despite this it sold out.   I was one of the lucky folk that snagged a bottle and was quietly chuffed with myself for having done so.

I’m sure that for the most part I have kept this quite simple and fired it into a refreshing G&T and, to be totally honest, given how damn near perfect it is in this drink I’d be loathe to muddle it into a cocktail.

Nic’s Tasting Notes

On the Nose:

  • Juniper
  • Vanilla
  • Possibly something akin to brown sugar

To Taste:

  • Juniper
  • Spice that hangs about for a while
  • Citrus
  • Very light and refreshing – in spite of the spice… or maybe becuase of it… Ooooooooh

What’s interesting is that even now (5th February 2021) Master of Malt still limits it to one bottle per customer…

Tappers – Brightside

£38.50

47%

50cl

Disclosure – Relationship with brand.   Gin purchased.

We come onto the first of the gins I tried at the Gin To My Tonic event in March that features here.  Brightside is an interesting gin and, I’d go so far as to say, an almost experiment type thing.  Essentially Tappers have two gins that are identical in their “recipe” with the only difference being how they finish it up.  Brightside is a London Dry and is distilled whereas its counterpart – Darkside – is a compound gin…  But other than that the two are the same…  But entirely different.

It’s worth noting and being aware that I love both…  I HAVE both… But, for me, Brightside just pips Darkside…  However Darkside makes a better negroni…  Just FYI.

Nic’s Tasting Notes

On the Nose:

  • Juniper
  • Something almost menthol

To Taste:

  • Juniper – feels obvious
  • It has a saline feel
  • Citrussy

Buy Tappers Brightside

Tappers Brightside/Darkside Insta Comparison

Mackintosh Mariner Strength

£45

59%

70cl

Disclosure – Relationship with brand.  Gin purchased.

The second of the GTMT gins is this – Mackintosh Mariner Strength.  Now…  This wasn’t available for sale (only for tasting) at the festival but the guys brought a few bottles with handwritten labels on them of this and their Old Tom which were due for launch shortly after the event.

2020 seemed to be the year of the navy strength gin (we all needed something a bit stronger I guess) and this is the first of a few that we’ll be featuring in this list.  I fell in love with this right away and buying one at launch was a certainty.

This gin picked up the Silver medal for High Strength Gin of the Year 2020 at the Scottish Gin Awards (the Old Tom got gold for Gin of the Year).

Nic’s Tasting Notes

On the Nose: 

  • Nice, big juniper
  • Slight sweetness

To Taste:

  • Juniper
  • Spice – big hit
  • Clean
  • Citrus

Buy Mackinstosh Mariner Strength

Mack Mariner Insta Serve

Sir Robin Of Locksley

£37

40.5%

70cl

Disclosure – Relationship with brand (no gins gifted).  Gin purchased.

I’d seen the Locksley gin about but never had the pleasure and privilege of trying it until GTMT.  I was quite surprised as to how much I enjoyed it to be totally honest…  No idea why but I was.  As soon as I tried it I knew I was buying a bottle…  Sometimes its just like that!

Nic’s Tasting Notes

On the Nose:

  • Sweet
  • Juniper

To Taste:

  • Juniper
  • Little hint of sweetness
  • Light

Buy Sir Robin Of Locksley

Insta Locksley Cocktail Fun

Manly Spirits – Lilly Pilly

£38.50

40%

70cl

Disclosure – Gifted as part of an online tasting

The Manly Lilly Pilly UK launch was originally scheduled for March/April 2020 (I think) which, unfortunately for Manly, was just after the lockdown had started in the UK.  Lucky for your old pal Nic though they decided to take to the internet and do the launch online.  The guys that were running the show – Boutique Bar Brands – decided that this was the best way to progress…  I’d be inclined to agree.  To hear more about the tasting you can check out my review (linked below)…  For now though lets check out some tasting notes…

Nic’s Tasting Notes

On the Nose:

  • Raspberry
  • Slight juniper
  • A slight savoury edge

To Taste:

  • Juniper – Nice and surprisingly upfront for a “pink gin”
  • Slightly sweet but not to the degree the nose would have you believe
  • Spice

Buy Manly Spirits Lilly Pilly

My Review of Lilly Pilly

Zeiver

£41.95

47%

70cl

Disclosure – Gin Gifted

Next up we have Zeiver (Zay-Ver).  I remember getting offered this bottle for review then going and having a nose at it and just staring at the mind-boggling botanicals list and thinking…  “What the f*ck?”…  I don’t think I was alone in approaching the gin with cautious curiosity.  Normally a list of botanicals like this might be a mistake.  The expertise needed to balance them all doesn’t bear thinking about to be honest and I was pleasantly surprised to taste it and find it done so wonderfully.

Nic’s Tasting Notes

On the Nose:

  • Juniper
  • Theres something that I wanna say is the pistachio but I couldn’t be 100%
  • Something a little sweeter

To Taste:

  • Juniper
  • Citrus
  • A lingering spice

Buy Zeiver

My review of Zeiver

Pothecary – Trinity Blend Smuggler’s Strength

£55

59%

50cl

Disclosure – Relationship with brand.  Gin purchased.

Pothecary are a fantastic brand and I can’t honestly fault any of the gins they’ve come out with…  Trinity was certainly up there among my favourites…  What we have here is Trinity Blend Smuggler’s Strength which, I believe, is Trinity cut to 59%…  Which, if we’re honest, is only going to be wonderful.

Nic’s Tasting Notes

On the Nose:

  • Juniper
  • Juniper
  • Summore juniper

To Taste:

  • A clear boof right in the tongue from the juniper – massive
  • Lovely spice finish
  • Slightly sweet then savoury and back to sweet before the finish
  • Complex

Buy Pothecary Smuggler’s Strength Trinity Blend

Pothecary Insta Cocktail

Warner’s x The Gin Foundry – Farmed and Foraged

£36.95

40%

70cl

Disclosure – None.

Warner’s Honey Bee was one of the first gins I tried and I loved it…  This is no different…  Well…  It’s totally different but I mean that I love this too.  If memory serves the interesting part of this gin’s tale is that all the botanicals are sourced from within a bee’s flight (aka about three miles) from the Warner’s Distillery.  I don’t know if this is still available but if it is you should treat yourself because it’s quite lovely.  What makes it a bit different from most of your gins is that it’s garnished with mint which gives it this lovely menthol, light, freshness that is just amazing.

Nic’s Tasting Notes

On the Nose:

  • Juniper
  • Citrus – nice and sweet feeling
  • I THINK theres something savoury but I can’t quite place what it is

To Taste:

  • Sweet
  • Juniper
  • A savoury finish…  Still not sure exactly what it is!!

Buy Warners x Gin Foundry Farmed & Foraged

Warners Instagram Post

Biggar Strength

£42.95

57%

70cl

Disclosure – Relationship with brand.  Sample gifted but full bottle was purchased.

Back in May I was sent a 5cl sample of Biggar Strength prior to it’s release.  Rather amazingly I managed to stretch this out to a neat tasting, a mini G&T and a teeny negroni.  Shortly after finishing it I bought the full sized bottle.  I loved Biggar’s flagship spirit so I was never in any doubt that I would adore this too…  And I did.  I stand by my claim that it genuinely makes one of the best negronis you’ll try.

What I will say is that they missed a trick and should have called it Biggarer.

Nic’s Tasting Notes

On the Nose:

  • Surprising sweetness
  • Lovely and junipery
  • Teeny spice

To Taste:

  • Long, hefty spice finish – really nice
  • Juniper
  • Fresh
  • Lovely

Buy Biggar Strength

Biggar Strength Insta Thoughts

Victory London – Victory Pink

£35 (refill pouch £31.50)

40.3%

70cl

Disclosure – Relationship with brand.  Gin purchased…  And subsequent refill pouch….

I’ll be honest…  I went a bit daft for Victory in 2020…  I think my first purchase was this and their Bitters (more on those later).  Victory Pink is one of only two pink gins on this list.  Its interesting because normally pink gins are sweet and full of rubbish and, lets be honest, for folks that aren’t too into “actual gin” given their sweet taste and lack of juniper…  This is brilliant… Art.

Nic’s Tasting Notes

On the Nose:

  • Juniper
  • Cinnamon – a wee bit

To Taste:

  • Slight sour note – in a good way
  • Juniper
  • But also kinda fruity in an understated way
  • Slightly sweet finish

Buy Victory Pink

Wee Victory Insta Post

Seven Crofts – Fisherman’s Strength

£48

57%

70cl

Disclosure – Relationship with brand.  Gin purchased.

Shortly before the world ended and shut its doors to socialising I was invited to the launch of Seven Crofts Gin in a bar in Glasgow.  We were treated to samples of the gin, AMAZING cocktails and oysters…  It was a great night.  Whilst at this event I had the privilege of chatting to both co-founder Robert and brand ambassador Louis.  During the chat with Robert he was discussing the bottle and its colour, design etc and the reasons for this…  He also told me that they were working on a Navy Strength due for launch later that year and it would have a blue bottle…  I was instantly excited…  Also Robert, if you’re reading this, I didn’t tell a soul…  I’m absolutely excellent at secrets…  Anyway this is another outstanding Navy you’d do well to have in your collection.

Nic’s Tasting Notes

On the Nose:

  • Massively juniper heavy
  • Light and fresh – citrus maybes?

To Taste:

  • Big spice… big big spice
  • Juniper
  • Citrussy…  for sure this time

Buy Seven Crofts Fisherman’s Strength

Seven Crofts Fisherman’s Strength Insta

Little Brown Dog

£32

43%

50cl

Disclosure – None but they’re dynamite lads…  And a lovely wee dog… Possibly a puppy as well now?

My opening gambit for LBD is that if you enjoy the absolute nonsense I put up on social media and the stupid sh*t I get up to then you’ll love LBD’s social channels.  The main difference is they also fire up some class stuff about their gin…  I try my best but am not always successful…  Anyway this gin is really lovely stuff.

Nic’s Tasting Notes

On the Nose:

  • High on the juniper
  • Something that reminds me of honey
  • This’ll sound weird but it has a fresh smell

To Taste:

  • Similar to the nose this is bursting with juniper
  • Citrus
  • Sweetish but with something savoury sitting underneath

Buy Little Brown Dog Gin

Little Brown Dog Little Black & White Insta Post

El:Gin 2020

£36

40%

70cl

Disclosure – Gin Gifted

For 2020’s International Scottish Gin Day I worked alongside El:Gin (I actually have a Q&A for them coming up soon…  It’s a bit late but still….).  I had never tried the El:Gin range so was chuffed to bits when I received a package containing their flagship gin, Speyside Heather Honey Gin and their small batch 2020 Gin.  It’s important to note that all three gins are utterly fantastic (the honey gin is really in a league all on its own) but, after much deliberation, I decided that the 2020 one is what I wanted to draw your attention to…  100% a negroni gin…  Or a sipping gin…  Get it while you can.

Nic’s Tasting Notes

On the Nose:

  • Slight juniper
  • Orange, of course
  • Something deep but slightly sweet – vanillaesque

To Taste:

  • Delightfully sweet oranges – but not too much
  • An almost savoury undertone
  • Lingering spice

Buy El:Gin 2020

El:Gin 2020 Insta Post

LoneWolf – GunPowder Gin

£24.95 (£19.95 at time of writing)

57%

50cl

Disclosure – None…  Wish I had a relationship with Brewdog!…. They do owe me a prize right enough haha

I picked up the Brewdog Distilling 12 Wolves of Christmas LoneWolf advent calendar this year…  Twelve different gins for the twelve nights of Christmas.  The USP for the calendar that made it irresistible to me was that it included their general gin range (LoneWolf, Cloudy Lemon, Cactus & Lime and Gunpowder) but also eight mystery gins… I was sold which is no surprise considering when I was a kid I was addicted to lucky bags…  Believe it or not I STILL haven’t finished all the gins but I did try the Gunpowder and it is absolutely stunning… 

Nic’s Tasting Notes

On the Nose:

  • Some juniper but not as punchy as you’d perhaps have thought
  • Slightly sweet – feels almost creamy which sounds bonkers
  • Peppery

To Taste:

  • Spice – big hit
  • Grapefruit…  Or similar
  • Junipery but the spice…  wow

Buy LoneWolf Gunpowder

LoneWolf Serve Suggestion

Thunderflower – FireShip

£49

58%

70cl

Disclosure – Gin Gifted

I love Thunderflower…  From their flagship gin to their granola I adore everything that they touch that I’ve tried.  It was no surprise to me then that I also loved this – their first navy strength gin.  At the time of writing I’ve sampled this only a couple of times (in a few different ways) but it’s honestly so good that even after only a single sip I knew that it would make the list…  It’s that good.

Nic’s Tasting Notes

On the Nose:

  • Juniper
  • Spice – kinda sweet, but also savoury… odd but lovely
  • A teeny bit smoky almost

To Taste:

  • Juniper
  • Spicey
  • Heavy – like I mean its more a winter gin I’d say

Buy Thunderflower FireShip

Thunderflower FireShip Insta Post

This year has been a bit different in terms of writing this “article”.  First of all its two months late (probably nearly three by the time I get it out there into th big bad world)…  Secondly I feel like most of the gins featured were actually launched in 2020…  Maybe two or three that weren’t.  The third thing I noticed is that of the 15 gins featured six were navy strengths…  2020 was the year that needed a stronger gin and the universe (and distillers) provided.

I’m also going to mention some drinks that are not gin that I have enjoyed so much that I’d urge you to give them a bash… And some drink-related books I reckon you might enjoy.

Honourable Mentions

Firstly Dr Adams House Of Botanicals launched a “secondary brand” Pietro Nicola which has some truly stunning entries to its range.  My favourite of these, without any doubt, is the Shakerato.  It’s like a coffee liqueur type guy but its more than that cos it’s also a ready-made espresso martini as well…  I love it… Add it to some cream for an outragous White Russian.

We’ve already featured Victory London but they also do bitters which, if I’m honest, I use more than Campari…  Definitely worthy of a purchase if you haven’t had them and love a negroni or other Campari featured cocktail.

While we’re discussing London lets look at Exale Brewing.  They make some absolutely outstanding beers that are filling the shelves of my shed!  Ones I particularly enjoy are their Bacchus Lager and the Pale Ale…  Glorious.

Asterly Brothers launched some festive cocktails (Gold Martini, Frankincense Manhattan and a Myrrh Negroni) which I picked up and have enjoyed immensely.  2020 certainly gave us some amazing ready to drink cocktails.  Now these drinks are no longer available but they do have a cocktail club which keeps grabbing my eye and, invariably, my money.*

Speaking of ready to drink cocktails Hidden Curiosities launched their cocktail line and the three that I have tried were really something…  As always an eastern twist that totally changes the drink but keeps it familiar…  Amazingly skilful.

I’m gonna shout out Corner 53 Butter Rum as well…  I’ve tried really hard to like Rum these last six months or so but I’m struggling…  This one though…  I like this one…  So much so I’ve bought two bottles already

I also bought a few drinks-related books this year and, if you’re so inclined, would like to share with you some that I particularly have enjoyed:

Cocktail Codex – Alex Day, Nick Fauchald & David Kaplan

Book Of Bitters – Dr Adam Elmegirab

Wine Folly – Madeline Puckette & Justin Hammack

Aperitivo – Kay Plunkett-Hogge

The Martini Cocktail – Robert Simonson

The Negroni – Gary Regan

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this little collection of gins, books and everything else.  The post has come slightly later than previous years but it’s been a bit of an odd start to the year so….  Yeah.

*Two weeks after writing this I signed up tot he cocktail club…. It was inevitable.

Have you tried any of these gins?  Would they make your top for last year?  Have I missed your favourite?  Come check out my social media channels:

Instagram

Twitter

Facebook

And we can chat about it.

Also – just looking for opinions – I’ve taken photographs of all the gins featured specifically for the post…  How do you feel about the uniform photos?  Too boring?  Nice and smart?  Let me know.

Also how super sexy is this banner? Big thanks to Martin from the Gin Cooperative for sorting this

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