Chanukah might be over, but Adam Sandler would agree, it’s never too late for a gin-and-tonic-ah.

From classic London dry to new school entries with exotic botanicals, here are six surprising gins our judges fell in love with during our 2021 spring and fall Barleycorn competitions.

Photos by Cullen Dalheim

Affinity Gin

Irwindale, California
Vitals: 90 Proof (45% ABV); $39

Rose, lavender, and fresh lemon peel are a few botanicals sharing the stage with crisp juniper to create this gin by Urban Press Spirits, voted Best White Spirit by experts in the 2021 Barleycorn International Spirits Competition. “Unique and distinctive,” Affinity is an excellent specimen of a “well crafted contemporary gin with beautiful botanicals and long, clean finish.”

James Bay Navy Strength Gin

Everett, Washington
Vitals: 114 Proof (57% ABV); $35

“This extraordinary gin is dangerously smooth for its elevated proof.” This is the general consensus of our judging panel about this double-gold scoring naval strength cocktail vehicle by James Bay Distillers. Bottled at 114-proof, the “clean and sharp” aromas of this gin lead to a “botanical bouquet of flavors laced with citrus” on the palate, capped by a beautiful finish of “bergamot, orris, grass cuttings, and menthol.”

Maison Mirabeau Riviera Dry Rosé Gin

Provence, France
Vitals: 86 Proof (43% ABV); $45

“Pretty in Pink!” Our judges clearly love the “rosy hue” of this grape-based rosé gin made near San Tropez in France. But its merits do not rest on its appearance alone. “Flavorful and jam-packed with botanicals,” the expected juniper aromas are balanced with “black pepper and citrus,” with one panelist noting how the “lovely rose petal notes pick up in the finish.”

Amrut Nilgiris Indian Dry Gin

Bangalore, India
Vitals: 85.6 Proof (42.8% ABV); $34

Bangalore-based Amrut Distilleries is best known for their exceptional single malts, but this Nilgiris Indian Dry Gin is a beautiful addition to the Amrut portfolio. Made of locally sourced South Indian botanicals and distilled in copper pots, expect a “rich, deep aroma with biscuit and ginger notes” and a “bright and floral taste laden with citrus peel in addition to juniper.”

Hellcat Gin

Jonesborough, Tennessee
Vitals: 80 Proof (40% ABV); $26

Located in the historic Salt House building in Jonesborough, Tennessee’s oldest town, Tennessee Hills Distillery founder Stephen Callahan embraces heritage by grinding locally sourced grains in an antique mill and distilling his spirits in copper pots that were built onsite by the THD team. These extra steps and adherence to tradition paid off with Hellcat, a Barleycorn double gold medalist that’s “balanced and well-structured with juniper leading the parade.” “Crisp, clean and classic, like a quality gin should be.”.

New Riff Kentucky Wild Gin Bourbon Barreled

Bellevue, Kentucky
Vitals: 94 Proof (47% ABV); $33

Locally sourced botanicals from the Ohio Valley drives the “juniper spice nose” and “sage, pine and citrus” flavors here. At the same time, the gentle bourbon barrel aging introduces aromas of “sweet oak and hints of vanilla” and “brown sugar on the palate.” Ultimately, this bold and adventurous project resulted in a “pretty and subtle” spirit that’s both familiar and unique at the same time; a new riff indeed.

Spirits writers, marketers and designers are among the most influential forces in the spirits industry. Their opinions, ideas and creative talents inform and influence consumer perceptions and buying decisions. The John Barleycorn Society was started by a group of spirits journalists seeking to honor excellence in all facets of the industry. The journalists spent several years creating a comprehensive competition that became the John Barleycorn Awards. An elite team of authoritative and influential spirits journalists was selected to administer the flagship component of the Awards, a blind tasting competition destined to become the preeminent arbitrator of spirits taste, quality and character.