Those fond of gin will understand when I say that there are few cocktails like a botanically-charged G&T that can put the "day" in daytime drinking. That and a bloody mary, of course. And it would be a disservice to myself if I didn't mention that gin plays an integral role in my favourite cocktail – the negroni – a drink that I can enjoy at almost any time of the day as long as it's past brunch o'clock.
A well-made gin and tonic with the right garnishing can be incredibly complex, which will give your palate a wild time, or straightforward and low-key, which spotlights a few essential botanicals. With a growing number of premium gins around the globe, thanks to a surge in popularity, there's an almost seemingly infinite number of gin and tonic possibilities you can create today.
Three years ago, I touched on the rise of gin in Malaysia in my review of Pahit, and look at how far we've come! Gin specialists like Pahit, Mercat, Maze, and Marigin, as well as the annual gin and rum festival that is GinRunMe working in tandem with initiatives from gin brands, have successfully educated and whetted the public's appetite on gin's many boons. These specialist bars tend to have a dizzying array of gins on their selves, and liquor shops also upped their game and have already carry bottles from independent distilleries unbeknownst to the average gin drinker. This is excellent news for local drinkers, as it means that the market is developing and tastes are broadening. And having more bottles to choose from when I want to make my gin and tonic is always a good thing in my books.
Always down to try something new, I recently had the chance to try three gins that I've never had the fortune of trying before during an online tasting organised by GinRunMe. The three gins, each distinct in their own right, was introduced to us via a zoom meeting conducted by industry veteran Ben Ng of Mish Mash in Penang.
It was fun, insightful, and I am glad to report that all three gins were fantastic. Which, of course, is why I'm writing this piece to share with you dear reader as to why I think you should give at least one of these three gins a shot the next time you're in the market for a bottle.
1) Whitley Neill
Whitley Neill in the UK is known as a pioneer in the flavoured gin scene. While its range is impressively extensive, I got to try the original, a gin that predominantly focuses on the African baobab fruit and the cape gooseberry as its two central distinguishing factors. The brand touts this gin as being spicier than most London Dry-styled gins, and I agree, with a strong entry and a spicy edge that comes from a higher level of coriander and cassia content than what is typically used.
Inspired by its globetrotting founder, the distillery features a wide range of flavours influenced by his travels. There's the pink grapefruit (Spain), blood orange (Sicily), lemongrass and ginger (Asia), quince (Persia), rhubarb and ginger (England), Raspberry (Scotland), and many more that all sound quite enjoyable.
Whitley Neill's original, on the other hand, features nine essential botanicals – juniper berries, sweet orange peel, sweet lemon peel, orris root, angelica root, coriander seed, cassia bark, baobab powder, and cape gooseberry – and was inspired by the founder's wife's home of South Africa.
I really liked this gin, which has a 43% abv. It had a spicy start, a cool crisp juniper taste, a lovely gooseberry aroma and flavour that I found very appealing, and a pleasant finish that gave its bouquet of spices and botanicals just enough time to be appreciated. I drank this neat, and then with a drop of tonic water to really get a feel of its signature taste. I think those partial to a zesty gin would love Whitley Neill's original offering, which I reckon would go great towards making a refreshing G&T or a more citrus-forward cocktail.
2) Von Hallers
Von Hallers is a badass name for a badass gin, born out of one German man's love of Ireland and his desire to fuse the meticulous approach of his homeland with that of Irish inventiveness. German botanicals – German ginger (calamus), halleria lucidia (tree fuscia), and lemon verbena – are introduced to Irish distilling expertise to create Von Hallers. The result is a very pure juniper and ginger-forward gin that's quite refreshing on its own.
On the nose, that juniper-ginger combo is supported by hints of citrus, spice, and light floral nuances. On the palate, that juniper-ginger is even more pronounced, with a tingling spiciness that's rather refreshing and that lasts throughout its medium finish.
This 44% is marketed as a premium gin, and I gotta say that I can somewhat understand why. It's a young brand and marketing themselves as such positions themselves as an exclusive up and comer. As for the taste, I quite dig it, especially when I've learned in recent years to appreciate the taste of ginger.
I'd recommend this for anyone who likes the pronounced spiciness and aromatic punch of fresh ginger, which I think would go great in a bloody mary or a sloe gin fizz.
3) Poor Toms
The strongest of the trio I tried, Poor Toms' Fool's Cut gin packs an abv punch coming in at 52%. Born in Sydney in 2015 by a couple of millennials who share the same middle name "Tom", this small-batch gin was pretty darn potent.
There's the Sydney Dry gin, a down under Poor Toms original (41.3% abv) built upon the backbone of juniper with green apple, strawberry gum leaf, and chamomile for a floral, fresh gin. There's also the strawberry gin, a 40% abv made using fresh strawberries, young ginger, and hibiscus flower variant of the Sydney Dry that's more delicate and fruity.
But I'm not here to talk about those two, I'm here to talk about the pack-a-punch Fool's Cut. Touted as a multi-purpose full-bodied gin, this is great for those who can handle their liquor and want a solid base for a spirit-forward cocktail. There's a whiff of grapefruit in there, but Poor Toms sure fooled me, as I couldn't detect it amidst all that juniper-dominant profile.
Those looking for a solid no-frills gin that's still balanced enough to play nice with other liquids should pick up a bottle. Think a strong negroni or even a gimlet, your imagination's the limit.
All these gins can be found at select stores and gin bars around town. Try googling them!