Tuesday 3 January 2012

A Beginner's Guide to Gin Part 2: Buying Gin in B.C.

It seems my post on buying tequila in B.C. got the biggest response, so I'm going to backtrack to a previous post on gin add some more information on buying and choosing products.
I did similar research - seeing what gins are available in the government liquor stores, what their typical ratings and prices were, and I will re-make suggestions for what to buy.

Despite buying gin regularly, I was still surprised by what I found. For starters, despite this not being the case in the liquor stores I frequent (usually Alberni, Commercial Drive, or West Vancouver), there are actually fewer brands of gin available than brands of tequila. That's the sort of bad news... the good news is that not only are they much cheaper in general, they're mostly good or decent brands. As I mentioned in part 1, a "bad" or cheap gin is not really that bad, whereas a bad tequila or whiskey can be just awful.

All in all, there are 13 brands available to government liquor stores in B.C., with seventeen products altogether (I am including Pimm's Cup and Gilbey's Lemon Gin Collins for good measure). There are other gins in independent stores that I've seen, but very few and they're overpriced. As always, I suggest going to Legacy for anything you can't find in the government store.
Let's look at some general ratings: out of the top ten gins as rated by the Beverage Tasting Institute, only two kinds (Hendrick's and No. 3) are available in the government stores (both of them worth over $40), and I've only seen one other kind at an independent store (Martin Miller's). Out of the top twenty rated gins on www.proof66.com, a spirit rating and reviewing website, we can get seven.
And, on the bright side of our available gins being mostly decent, there are only three products for which I couldn't find any ratings or reviews, meaning that they either weren't even submitted for tastings or they were reviewed and scored very low. Good news!

Now onto the brands and some prices. Below is a list of everything we can get in the government store with a price:

Gins under $30
Gordon's London Dry - $23.75 
Beefeater London Dry - $24
Gilbey's London Dry - $25
Tanqueray London Dry - $26.50
Bombay Sapphire London Dry - $27.50

Gins Between $30 and $40
Beefeater 24 - $30
Victoria Oaken (375mL, which is half size) - $35
Pink 47 - $40
Juniper Green London Dry Organic - $40

Gins Over $40
Tanqueray No. 10 - $43
Hendrick's - $44.50
Urban Distilleries Spirit Bear Okanagan - $45
Potter's London Dry (1.14L, or 1.5 times bigger than average bottle) - $46.09
Victoria - $50
No. 3 London Dry - $55

Now for some suggestions.

Best Value Gins
Beefeater and Tanqueray London Dry gins are probably the best gins you can get for your money, and if you're looking to get into cocktails these are the two I recommend. Beefeater is a smoother, softer, more citrus-forward flavour, and Tanqueray is more herbal and juniper-forward, which might be a little more of an acquired taste. Beefeater 24 is a great deal too, with a very smooth flavour showing some grapefruit and faint tea notes.

Best Gins If You're Willing To Spend
If you're willing to spend a little more, or if you already enjoy gin and you want to get something really nice, Hendrick's is unique and delicious with a slight floral aroma and an interesting cucumber characteristic, Tanqueray #10 has a lot of citrus notes and is very easy to drink if you don't like gin, No. 3 is a very well-balanced but probably overpriced choice, and Victoria gin is one of my top three favourites I've ever tasted. It's soft and buttery in your mouth, it has some really interesting herb and spice notes, and the juniper is present without being too heavy.

Most Decorated Gins
Out of all the above, the most consistently high-rated and award winning brands are Hendrick's, Tanqueray, Beefeater, and No. 3.

Gins Worth Trying That Aren't In The Government Store
Martin Miller's is another unique and interesting flavour (another of my top three). There are some root and floral flavours, it's well-balanced, the juniper is present but not overpowering, it's smooth, and there is an interesting flavour there that I would describe as dill. I've mixed some 'regular' gin cocktails with it and suddenly they become very exciting, different, and expensive tasting. It will cost you at least $50 in Canada, but if you get down to Seattle you can get a bottle for $28.
The other worth trying is Plymouth. It's essentially its own style of gin (ie, not a London Dry) and is also the oldest gin distillery in the world. The flavours are soft and balanced and it mixes very well in complex cocktails (whereas a forest-y one like Tanqueray can sometimes over-complicate some drinks). It's only about $30 if you find it. For both of the above, try Brewery Creek liquor store on Main Street, or Legacy.
Another of note is G'Vine gin (you can see my full post on it here). It's a French distillery with a couple products, and they use a grape neutral spirit instead of grain, and taste very different than a London Dry, or really any gin you'll taste. They get consistently high, sometimes top ratings at spirit competitions. Unfortunately, you'll be paying $90 at Legacy for it, but I did see some in Seattle for $30-50 depending on which product you choose.

In Conclusion
While we can't get that many gins easily, they're all basically decent, and we can get some of the best in the world - without spending too much either (compared to other spirit prices). Independent stores are getting more and more selection, which is exciting, so we are getting more and more options.
Here's my ultimate suggestions -
If you're starting out, get Beefeater.
If you're used to gin and want to mix drinks at home, get Tanqueray or Plymouth.
If you want to spend extra, try my favourites Hendrick's, Victoria, and Martin Miller's.

If you want to try new kinds, but like me you're a little afraid of throwing the cash around without knowing what you're getting into, go to a good bar and do some tastings! Pourhouse in Gastown is great about letting you have a little taste of the spirit by itself before you try a cocktail with it. Have fun!

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