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The Best Gin for a Martini Depends on What You’re Mixing with It

The Best Gin for a Martini Depends on What You’re Mixing with It

The iconic martini has stood the test of time for a few reasons. It’s instantly recognizable—everyone knows the namesake V-shaped glass—and unmistakably bracing, crisp and versatile. The cocktail is a pristine canvas to customize with varying amounts of vermouth (dry, wet, 50/50?), garnishes (olive, twist, onion?) and flavorings from olive brine to dashes of liqueurs. With an always-expanding constellation of variations, it’s no wonder that the martini is one of the most popular drinks around the world.  

While martinis can be made with a base of vodka or gin, we prefer the classic recipe with gin. Since the botanical spirit imparts so much character into the cocktail, it pays to choose wisely depending on what you’re mixing. Below, we’ve got your guide to picking the right gin for the right style of martini. 

What is Gin? 

Gin is a distillate flavored with botanicals, notably pine-like juniper berries. The botanicals are usually the most distinctive part of the spirit. In addition to juniper (which can be nuanced or pronounced but is required to be part of the mix), common gin flavorings include spices like coriander, cardamom and anise; flowers like rose and lavender; and citrus peel, especially lemon and grapefruit. Some distillers select botanicals with specific concepts in mind, such as forest-like, tropical or ocean-inspired flavors. 

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While juniper-forward London Dry gin is the best-known variety, the spirit can be made anywhere (not just London, England), with a wide range of raw materials in the base distillate (like grain, grapes and whey). It also comes in a variety of styles. 

So, What Type of Gin is Best for a Classic Martini? 

For a classic martini—meaning gin and dry vermouth, plus a garnish—the pros recommend a juniper-forward, London Dry-style gin. 

“Juniper has to be the first thing you taste, otherwise for me, it’s not a gin martini,” says Adam Montgomerie, bar manager of Hawksmoor, in New York City. But that juniper must be balanced with the other botanicals, he adds: “I’m a big fan of citrus-forward bottles that complement the juniper notes and sing in a martini.” 

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He also recommends looking for a slightly higher-proof gin, meaning higher than the standard 80 proof (40% alcohol by volume). “Anything 90 to 100 proof is pretty spot on,” Montgomerie says. “You want something with a little more alcohol that stands up in the drink and doesn’t get overshadowed by the vermouth—especially if you like to drink them on the wetter side.” 

What Type of Gin is Best for a Dirty Martini? 

While the dirty martini is typically made with vodka (not gin), vermouth and olive brine, a wave of savory drinks has brought olive brine to gin martinis, too.  

For a head start on these cocktails, many bartenders look to gins that include a hint of salinity. Stephanie Castaneda, director of beverage for STK Steakhouse in Denver, says she seeks out a gin with “a more savory profile rather than a floral one, to ensure it balances the brininess of the olive juice or other saltier martini additions,” like blue cheese-stuffed olives or caviar.  

What About a Gibson or a Vesper? 

The martini has myriad variations that span from classic spirit-forward renditions to pineapple-infused creations. The Gibson, noted for its cocktail onion garnish, and the Vesper, which includes both vodka and gin plus a splash of Lillet, are among the best-known. 

“Plymouth Gin is recommended for a Gibson, as it has a more citrus-forward taste than London Dry and fewer juniper-forward notes,” explains Chris Miller, director of food and beverage at The Knickerbocker, in New York City. In other words, the relatively neutral profile of Plymouth lets the Gibson’s distinctive onion note take center stage. 

Meanwhile, Miller suggests a classic London Dry for a Vesper, “as there is little to no sweet taste to balance out the Lillet,” a French aperitif wine. 

While most pros lean toward London Dry as the go-to for most martini styles, “it mostly comes down to personal taste,” Miller assures. 

Seeking more specific recommendations? Check out our expert picks below.

Best Overall: Boatyard Double Gin 

Sweet gale – a shrub also known as bog myrtle – supplies this gin’s earthy, woodsy warmth. Lemon peel and grapefruit pith lead into dusty spices, cedar shavings and coriander, finishing dry and bracing. 91 points. Best Buy. — Kara Newman 

The Whisky Exchange

Best for a Classic Martini: Tanqueray London Dry Gin 

Inside the recognizable green bottle, look for bold juniper plus notes of anise, lemon peel, and a faint white-floral touch, laced with black pepper heat. Overall, a clean, classic profile that’s just the ticket for gin & tonics. 93 points. Best Buy. — K.N. 

Total Wine

Best for a Gibson: Plymouth Gin

A soft, classic gin, ideal for Negronis and a wide range of other drinks. Overall, the flavor is neutral, but it has a touch of sweetness and complex underpinnings of pine, citrus and black pepper. Because it’s so versatile, this workhorse is recommended for anyone starting to build a bar. 92 points. — K.N.

Astor Wines

Best for a Martini with a Twist: Uncle Val’s Zested Gin

Warm star anise, cinnamon bark and a teasing whiff of cocoa nibs perfumes this gin. The palate opens with a sweet, tingly mintiness that lifts off the palate, winding into a citrusy finish laced with lime peel astringency.  — K.N.

Love Scotch

Best Craft Gin for a Martini: Wonderbird Spirits No. 61 Gin

Made with a base of Mississippi Delta rice, this gin offers a bold licorice twang on nose and palate. The finish is subtly sweet, with star anise warmed by black pepper and clove heat. 90 points. — K.N. 

Wonderbird Spirits

Best for Dirty Gin Martinis: Four Pillars Olive Leaf Gin

A cool, lightly mentholated whiff leads into a savory palate featuring rosemary, fleeting green olive, a hint of saline and a zippy juniper finish. Made as an antidote to citrusy gins, the producer says, this gin is made in the Yarra Valley from Australian olive leaf and olive oil. Producer recommends for Gibsons. 92 Points. — K.N.


Best for 50-50 Martinis: Procera Gin

Distilled in Kenya and made from fresh (not dried) juniper plus a dozen other botanicals from Africa, this gin has a delicate floral aroma and clean, brisk palate. Mild coriander, lavender and lemon peel make an ideal backdrop for Martinis and more. 95 points. — K.N.

Astor Wines

Best for Vespers: Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength Gin

Crisp and classic, this gin is ideal for martinis. A light cucumber aroma leads the nose, opening up with more cucumber and juniper on the palate, finishing smooth and brisk on nutmeg and coriander accents. 94 points. — K.N.

Astor Wines

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