These award-winning gins are the best tipples to take with your tonic

Here's which local and international sips were crowned the winners of the Sunday Times Lifestyle Gin Awards 2019

12 December 2019 - 00:00 By Andrea Nagel
Dress up your G&T with some fresh blueberries and a sprig of rosemary.
Dress up your G&T with some fresh blueberries and a sprig of rosemary.
Image: 123RF/belchonock

A few years ago we thought gin was having a moment. That moment turned into months, which have turned into years, which look set to become decades.

Gin and tonic, in all shapes, sizes and flavours, is still right up there on the cocktail top hits list, but new and exciting ways to drink it are popping up too — mixed with speciality syrups or with water and fresh lime, or simply straight, on the rocks, allowing for an appreciation of each brand’s unique botanicals.

SA has seen exponential growth in local distilleries, set up to craft gins with local flavours, and the explosion of innovation is only just beginning.

With this in mind, we recently held the second annual Sunday Times Lifestyle Gin Awards, in partnership with Makro, to find out which tipples you should take with your tonic.

Our intrepid panel of judges including Louis Janse van Rensburg (aka The Bearded Gin Guy), Msizi James (5FM radio presenter), Amanda du Pont (actress) and led by Sunday Times Lifestyle publisher Aspasia Karras, spent a few days tasting 110 gins.

They whittled them down to the winners and runners-up in two categories: local and international.

From left: Geometric Gin (winner), Ginifer Joburg Dry Gin, Monks Mysterium and Unit 43 Gin.
TOP LOCAL GINS From left: Geometric Gin (winner), Ginifer Joburg Dry Gin, Monks Mysterium and Unit 43 Gin.
Image: Supplied

LOCAL GINS

WINNER: GEOMETRIC GIN

The gin: Distilled from neutral spirits and fine grape spirit, the gin has a textured, silk-like feel on the tongue. Fresh juniper is underpinned by citrus and cardamom, followed by heathery fynbos. Botanicals are cold-macerated in neutral spirit for 14 days. The grape spirit (brandy) carries the complex flavours around the palate.

The distiller recommends you pair this award-winning gin with an African ttonic like Symmetry; grapefruit peel and rosemary work well as G&T garnishes. Geometric Gin is also great as a dry martini or in a Negroni.

The distiller: Geometric Drinks

Price: R399

RUNNER-UP: GINIFER JOBURG DRY GIN

The gin: Ginifer is a handcrafted dry gin inspired by the vibrant energy of Joburg. It’s a smooth gin carefully crafted in small batches using selected botanicals. It’s copper distilled with 13 different plants sourced from all over the world. A few are native African medicinal herbs and sourced from places such as the Faraday muti market.

The distiller: Angel Heat Disteller

Price: R379

RUNNER-UP: MONKS MYSTERIUM

The gin: Infused with healing herbs of Buchu and Sceletium, the gin is a natural mood enhancer and has a range of juicy fruits and complementing botanicals of juniper berries, coriander, orris root and angelica root. Best served with Goldberg Tonic Water and fresh mint.

The distiller: Monks Distillery

Price: R389

RUNNER-UP: UNIT 43 GIN

The gin: “Find and Refine“ is the motto of the distillers at Unit 43 Distilling Company. They find the best ingredients and refine them into the quality batch distilled spirits in every bottle of Unit 43. It’s a handcrafted gin for a balanced GnT ,Martini or cocktail that has predominant juniper notes and spicy citrus notes from the grains of paradise and coriander followed by a short liquorice/lavender burst.

The distiller: Unit 43 Distilling Company

Price: R369

From left: Beefeater, Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin, No 3 London Dry Gin (winner) and Roku Japanese Gin.
TOP INTERNATIONAL GINS From left: Beefeater, Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin, No 3 London Dry Gin (winner) and Roku Japanese Gin.
Image: Supplied

INTERNATIONAL GINS

WINNER: NO 3 LONDON DRY GIN

The gin: Juniper is the flavour note at the heart of this traditional London dry gin. Each batch is steeped in the three fruit botanicals — juniper berries, orange peel and grapefruit peel — and three spice botanicals — angelica root, coriander seed, cardamom pods.

Which garnish goes best with this award-winning gin? The distiller recommends you pair it with grapefruit.

The distiller: Berry Bros & Rudd

Price: R419

RUNNER-UP: BEEFEATER

The gin: Aromatic and fresh, Beefeater is a classic London dry gin made with a secret recipe that dates back to 1820. It is the only premium dry gin that’s still made in London and represents everything that classic English drink has come to mean to the British people, with it’s refreshingly crisp notes and subtle citrus and fruity edges.

The distiller: James Burrough

Price: R209

RUNNER-UP: DRUMSHANBO GUNPOWDER IRISH GIN

The gin: This is an Irish gin that is the brainchild of three-decade drinks industry veteran PJ Rigney. The gin is a mini-travelogue of sorts, its 12 distinct spices and botanicals a record Rigney’s career-long world travels and everything he learnt about the eastern practice of distilling herb sand botanicals. The “gunpowder“in the name refers to Chinese gunpowder green tea, one of the four botanicals that are vapour distilled into the gin.

The distiller: The Shed Distillery 

Price: R329

RUNNER-UP: ROKU JAPANESE GIN

The gin: The first gin from Japan, it is made using a selection of botanicals, including six Japanese botanicals that provide a whistle-stop tour of the four seasons: sakura leaf and sakura flower for spring, sencha tea and gyokuro tea for summer, sansho pepper for autumn and yuzu peel for winter. Traditional gin botanicals also featured include juniper, orange peel, lemon peel, coriander and cinnamon.

The distiller: Osaka Distillery

Price: R279