There was a time in level four lockdown 1.0 when, for a time, we ran out of gin. Since that fateful moment in time, we swore it would never happen again. So, along with a garage stockpiled with toilet paper and canned chickpeas, we also had an enviable array of gins on hand.
What else were we to do to pass the time but conduct a highly scientific piece of service journalism all in the name of you, our dear readers. We expect our Pulitzer to arrive (safely, contactlessly) by post any day now.
What began as a fun, easy story ended up taking us to dark places that made us question everything we knew about ourselves, and our supposed love of gin. We suffered in service for you. But there was a clear winner! Keep scrolling to see our awarded gins.
Rebecca’s husband poured 50ml of gin into nine unmarked bottles (left over from various juice cleansers; now that’s balance), which were numbered accordingly and left on the doorstep of our selfless tasters with a bottle of Schweppes tonic via safe and contactless delivery.
Disclaimer: We paid for eight of these nine gins. The Dancing Sands Sauvignon Blanc gin was gifted to us earlier in the year. Technically as a ‘flavoured’ gin it’s in a slightly different category to the others but we had already enjoyed their plain variety so wanted to include it.
Meet our gin tasters
Eli Matthewson, Comedian; 30s
Favourite or usual brand of gin… Hendricks.
Favourite way to drink gin... Cucumber + mint in the sunshine.
“When I worked at the Court Theatre in the Arts Centre in Christchurch we had lots of gin nights drinking in the bar and out in the grass, it’s super nostalgic for me. I honestly started drinking it because I was mainly a beer drinker and then someone told me gin helped them lose weight? They said they went on a “gin diet”. These days I’ve realised gin is full of sugar, but I went to a really flash gin bar in Glasgow (brag) and since then I’ve been hooked on gin as the perfect drink when you want something fancy that’s not a full cocktail. Drinking gin makes me nostalgic for Christchurch summer evenings (about the same temperature as an Auckland summer evening). I definitely get emotional and share too much on gin - so look forward to that as the tasting progresses!”
Rebecca Wadey, Ensemble co-founder, 45
Favourite or usual brand of gin… Equal opportunity gin consumer but have recently loved Four Pillars.
“I’m not a big drinker by any means but love an early evening G&T on holiday. It gives me a nice buzz that sees me through to bedtime and reminds me of long summer evenings and great times with friends. I’ve never been someone who’s had a glass of wine with dinner or at the end of the day and can go for weeks without a drink and not notice. But last lockdown I learnt the art of stopping for a G&T, indulging the kids with a mocktail, and dancing around the grass to D-Nice’s Instagram live sessions.
“In 1995 (my second year of university) I somehow got a job for a market research company blind trialing cigarettes. Each morning a courier would drop a plain white packet of cigarettes to my doorstep, I would carefully smoke them and fill out the accompanying form. Eventually I decided all cigarettes taste the same and that the differences between them are too negligible to discern without the prestige of branding. 18-year-old me panicked that I was ranking Silk Cuts the same as Winny Reds. 45 -year-old me is having the same panic today with gins.
“I am an unabashed label snob. I insist on only the best, and if it’s local, small-batch, artisanal all the better to taste it with my dear. So I enter this test with some trepidation. I set up nine small drinks of gin and my fears seem overwhelmingly founded. Am I basic? Are those fragrance notes complex botanicals of hand-harvested organic ingredients, or are they actual synthetic fragrances put there to fool cheugs like me?"
Courtney Sina Meredith, Author and arts manager; 35
Favourite or usual brand of gin… I feel this is a trick question in case I’ve marked it terribly, ha! Anywho, I have a nostalgic soft spot for Bombay Sapphire. My soon to be wife is a huge Scapegrace fan.
Favourite way to drink gin… With tonic and fresh lime.
“Summertime sweetheart, gin is a fave with my besties, it brings up good memories of plenty of good times! I recommend wearing giant dark sunnies while drinking gin in lockdown, it adds an extra cool factor and you can trick yourself into believing that no it’s not your living room - it’s Santorini ;-p”
Suzanne Timpson, Psychotherapist; 60
Favourite or usual brand of gin… I like to mix it up: Bathtub gin, Four Pillars Shiraz, Kino Bi-Kyoto Dry Gin, Bombay Sapphire.
Favourite way to drink gin… With Fever tree tonics: Aromatic, Elderflower, Mediterranean. Sometimes with lemon but lately not sure about the lemon. Always lots of ice. Sometimes straight if it's medicinal.
“My love of gin has been passed down through the generations in my family. Gin was the tipple of choice of both my grandparents and my parents while I was growing up. There was always gin to steal for my hip flask in my teens. I associate gin with parties, laughing, everyone in a good mood. I would often time asking my mother something difficult until about half an hour after I heard the all too familiar 5 o’clock shtick of the metal cap being unscrewed on the gin bottle.
When my best friend’s mother (our mothers’ bonded over gin) immortalised a bottle of Bombay Sapphire in a painting, I had to have it.
[Editor’s note: this is NZ artist Jacqueline Fahey’s painting Here's to brave women everywhere; pictured]
I really love gin, or should I say, did really love gin. This assignment may have changed that. It is true that you can have too much of a good thing. Drinking nine gins is an instant cure for worrisome drinking habits. Right now, if I ever have a gin again it will be too soon.”
Zoe Walker Ahwa, Writer, Ensemble co-founder, Stuff style editor; 36
Favourite or usual brand of gin… Whatever is in the cupboard, I’m not fussed. But it’s usually Bombay because it’s always on special at the local liquor store.
Favourite way to drink gin… At home. An ice cold G&T that my husband has made for me, at around 5pm in summer.
“I didn't grow up in a gin family, and so I didn’t engage with it until later in life (was more a bogan vodka RTD type of teen). I feel like a gin & tonic was a drink that I heard someone else order at a bar or club when I was in my early 20s, and I thought it sounded sophisticated so I copied them. I’ve always viewed gin as a “grown up” spirit. Now that I am a grown up (apparently), I do love a G&T at the end of the day especially in summer. But it’s usually just one. After drinking nine small gins and having to actually think about them rather than just enjoy sipping on a sunny evening...I think that I might hate gin now."
The gin tasting
Eli Matthewson This one has a mild citrus smell, tastes quite summer in energy. It’s sweet but mild, the flavours aren’t that strong to me. The flavour profile is quite warm, I’m tasting orange in here. It’s a fairly neutral one for me - can’t say I love or hate this. Rating 4/9
Rebecca Wadey Tastes quite basic but nice. Quite smoky? Not as fruity or floral which feels refreshing. Earnest. Rating 5/9
Courtney Sina Meredith Smells like teen spirit. Quite a strong scent, sharp to the nose, a little on the meths side. I’m taken back to drink ups at Home Bay in Herne Bay many moons ago. I’m seeing tea candles in empty jars and someone is singing Alanis Morissette… Rating 5/9
Suzanne Timpson Very fumey to smell. Bit one dimensional, has heat, classic?. A cheaper one? Reminds me of Gordons. Reminded me of my teenage years. Rating 3/9
Zoe Walker Ahwa Smells very “gin-y”? Very botanical. It tastes quite sweet; but I found this one to be a pretty classic, easy gin. Reminds me of a classic refreshing G&T (that may be because it’s literally gin number one). I bet this one is Bombay Sapphire. Rating 8/9
Tanqueray 1000ml $53.99
Overall ranking: 6th=
Eli Matthewson Very peppery, hurts my nose a little bit. This one tastes the most like a classic gin to me, very full bodied flavour. Maybe I accidentally poured more gin in this glass. It’s a bit fruity, I can taste the berries. At a guess I reckon this is probably one of the more widely available gins, I feel like I’ve drank this one a lot before - through good times and bad. I think it might be on the cheaper end. Rating 5/9
Rebecca Wadey Complex, smokey, expensive and yum. Intellectual. Like it makes me really smart. Rating 8/9
Courtney Sina Meredith Forgotten mango on a hot summer’s day. Fruit peel, the song ‘Mustang Sally’, with a sea-urchin edge. I’m on the train from Oxford to London pre-loading for a comedy show starring a guy I met while digging out a fire pit in Mile End. Rating 5/9
Suzanne Timpson Aromatic, more subtle, botanical. Spicy? Very nice, tasted expensive. Rating 8/9
Zoe Walker Ahwa Not a fan of this one. My notes literally say “smells like acid” which seems a little dramatic. The taste, however, isn’t nearly as intense as the smell; I was expecting something much sharper but it is actually quite sweet. Rating 3/9
Island Gin 700ml $95
Overall ranking: 2nd=
Eli Matthewson Smells like paint stripper. This seems a little bit peppery and quite floral. Herby? Could have this one with a rosemary sprig maybe. This one has more of a savoury energy than the others. Feels good for drinking outdoors, could be a nice with-dinner gin! It tastes fresh and great for a hot day, feels like a good one to drink at a bar that’s near some water. Rating 7/9
Rebecca Wadey Didn’t love. Just tastes like gin. Rating 1/9
Courtney Sina Meredith The quiet kid in class. This gin is an introvert. Reminds me of watching Anika Moa sing Iive this morning on IG when she mouthed a verse and we were all encouraged to whisper along with our kids. I sip, I taste whispers… Rating: 6/9
Suzanne Timpson Grassy, peppery, subtle. Nice straight, gorgeous. Tastes expensive. My favourite. Rating 9/9
Zoe Walker Ahwa Subtle, not much smell. My note here from my tiny sip of it straight was “rocket fuel”, which again, seems a little dramatic. Rating 2/9
Bombay Sapphire 1000ml $54.99
Overall ranking: 6th=
Eli Matthewson Super lemony scent. Too much fruity flavour for me. This could be Mandarin yuzu. It tastes like what I would drink at high school parties - basically like Fanta. It does get nice the more I drink it, but it’s too sweet for me. It’s kind of a candy-like flavour - good for youngies or people who don’t really like gin. Rating 3/9
Rebecca Wadey Tastes like summer, super fruity. Delicious but basic? Am I basic?! It tastes different from the others and I can’t figure out if that’s because it’s gorgeous and natural, or synthetic. My going in blind anxiety kicks in with this one as I can’t figure out if I love it or hate it (which a label would help ascertain). To settle, I keep it firmly on middle ground. Rating 4/9
Courtney Sina Meredith Smells like the good life. Escapism to tropical wonderland, lush, smooth, sweet, with a lil city tang. Walking into the Domain wintergardens in full bloom, that one magical business trip to Fiji, if you could bottle the idea of paradise. Rating 9/9
Suzanne Timpson Smells like straight alcohol, ethanol? Thought it was going to burn on the way down. Slipped down more easily than I was expecting but nothing to write home about. Reminded me of Bombay Sapphire. Rating 6/9
Zoe Walker Ahwa Very sweet? Rating 4/9
Dancing Sands Sauvignon Blanc gin 700ml $79.99
Overall ranking: 5th
Eli Matthewson Super strong scent, not quite full paint stripper, with a little bit of floral. This almost tastes like nothing to me. A little bit of floral, maybe coriander. It’s easy to drink, but not much going on. Rating 2/9
Rebecca Wadey First impression is that it smells good; it tastes like a holiday. Sunshine. Makes me feel like an influencer in Capri (disclaimer I have never been to Capri and have no idea what it smells like). Wonder if this one is Malfy as it tastes like their branding looks. Rating 7/9
Courtney Sina Meredith Smells like an upstanding reliable gin - not the wild flame of your life - but the one you should marry. It has a soft tang, sweet aftertaste, warm fuzzies, a generally good vibe reminiscent of boat shoes, white linen, tennis bracelets, getting home before midnight and patting yourself on the back. Rating 7/9
Suzanne Timpson Smells herbaceous, a bit earthy even. Nice straight, smooth taste. Taste with tonic was ok, but somehow something was missing. Rating 5/9
Zoe Walker Ahwa Look, at this point they are all blurring into one. But sipped straight, this one has a nice smooth taste and with the tonic and ice, it’s totally fine; I’d happily drink again. But I feel like all I can really taste is tonic? Rating 7/9
The Botanist 750ml $84.99
Overall ranking: 4th
Eli Matthewson This smells floral to me - a bit of liquorice. Almost smells like a nice perfume. This is really yummy - feels like gins with the girls out in a nice bar with lots of plants. Maybe a sprig of rosemary in the glass. It has herby notes and it tastes fancy to me. Want this one in a big bowl glass. I finished this whole glass quite quickly. It’s a downward slide from here for my drunkenness, but this summery drink has got me on a good buzz! Rating 9/9
Rebecca Wadey Floral but yummy. Tastes like running through a floral field, or a chamomile lawn. Reckless and carefree but safe, not dangerous. Like, there’s no snakes going to bite your ankles. Rating 9/9
Courtney Sina Meredith Smells like fruit salad bliss. Drinkable sunshine, this is so sweet it must be flavoured? Whatever it is, I'm feeling it. I like the sweet complexity, surprising salted honey aftertaste. Reminds me of drinking gin in Rarotonga with my family, crushing fresh limes, telling jokes, sitting out in the heat while the sun dips. Rating 9/9
Suzanne Timpson Floral. Tastes perfumed, I did not like. Rating: 1/9 equal (could not decide between 6 and 8 which was worse)
Zoe Walker Ahwa This one smells...earthy? An intense methanol taste on first sip, but it’s very sweet with the tonic. Again...I think all I can taste is tonic! Rating 1/9
Albertine Gin from Hastings Distillers, 500ml $95
Overall ranking: 2nd=
Eli Matthewson Unpleasant, petrol - this smells like a SPIRIT. This has quite a weird aftertaste, it tastes bitter. Look, I’d drink it if I was given it for free, but I’m not rushing out to the shop for this one. Tastes like gins I had on bus trips in Christchurch (everyone had a bus trip for their eighteenth birthday)… some of the bleakest nights of my life. It’s a no from me. Rating 1/9
Rebecca Wadey It just kind of tastes like…. Gin. Rating 3/9
Courtney Sina Meredith Smells like wilting flowers from a troubled lover that you just can’t throw away. I can see this being a strong base for an afternoon gin punch at Long Bay that has to stretch across a tribe lol. Each sip is more noxious than the last, a power punch! Rating 4/9
Suzanne Timpson Meh, ok. (Faculties fading somewhat at this stage in the proceedings) Rating 4/9
Zoe Walker Ahwa Smells like candy? My notes say “tastes very ‘round’” which...ok? Rating 5/9
Malfy Con Original, 700 ml $57.99
Overall ranking: 9th
Eli Matthewson Citrussy, strong smell. This to me tastes dry. I get confused about how that should be used when describing drinks, but this one has a nice crisp, clean taste. It’s a nice gin for winter, and goes down nicely sitting by the heat pump. Which is where I’m sitting now. Rating 6/9
Rebecca Wadey Smells nice. Tastes like freshly cut grass. Would love some cucumber in it. It’s fresh, crisp. Is it Hendricks? It tastes British - like buttoned up people experiencing one moment of blissful sun each year, bottled. Rating 6/9
Courtney Sina Meredith Smells like floral nail polish. Tastes fiery, a little flame at the back of the tongue, black pepper sparkler. Reminds me of emotional limbo, only to realise you’re just very tired! Rating 4/9
Suzanne Timpson Hmmm, gin like smell. Chemically taste. Yuck. Rating 1 equal (could not decide between 6 and 8 which was worse)
Zoe Walker Ahwa Really smooth to taste. Rating 6/9
Hendrick’s 1000ml $110
Overall ranking: 8th
Eli Matthewson Floral and peppery. Smells yum, and does not hurt my nose. My nostrils like this. This is almost my favourite one I think but maybe just cause I’m having it last so I have had a lot of gin at this point. Pip, pizzaz, floral, fruit - a bit of peppery flavour. Would work with cucumber and mint - ideal for me. Happy with this gin, easy and fun to drink. My flatmate is drunk and loves them all - a great tasting session. I really like this but I’m worried it’s the super cheap one and I’ll look like a BLOODY IDIOT when this comes out. Fingers crossed! Rating 8/9
Rebecca Wadey I feel like this is too intelligent for me, like I’m basic? Like a group of amazing poets and intellectuals would sit around drinking this and creating art, while I’m in the corner reading Flowers in the Attic. Like, it’s nice, but difficult. Rating 2/9
Courtney Sina Meredith Smells like expensive Duty Free parfum. Tastes of spice, berries, pepper, classy yet underground? It’s giving me gritty global lushness, I’m feeling overseas vibes like Melbourne, Honolulu, Edinburgh, and I’m grateful, this is the most traveling I’ve done in forever! Rating 9/9
Suzanne Timpson Smells nice. I think. Tastes nice straight. Rating 7/9
Zoe Walker Ahwa Warm and smooth, very easy to drink. I liked this! This feels like a nice one to end on. Rating 9/9
Roku Gin (Japan) 750ml $64.99
Overall ranking: First
First: Roku Gin
Fourth: The Botanist
Ninth: Malfy Con Original