The pre-apocalypse gin shoot-out!

I can’t remember where I found this poll. Oops.

If I thought my friend Scarybear was in the minority for thinking that we’re nearing the End of Days, well, perhaps I was right, but it’s not a small majority. This freaks me out a little. I’ve been reassuring myself with the thought that Scary’s an idiot, but he’s got solid backup in this poll and others like it.

When he mentioned the sun had just ejected a massive coronal flare, now speeding toward our little planet, with the potential to duplicate the Carrington Super Flare of 1859, I got really worried and started trying to distract myself with various projects, some of which ended badly.

Scary seemed to be enjoying the idea of all our electronics getting fried despite his reliance on the TV to bring him shows like Dexter and Breaking Bad. His contemplation of disaster seemed even more enjoyable because it freaked me out, my fellow inebriates. I even forgot about my DTs for a while.

And then the brilliant Christine showed up with her canvas bag and effectively banished all thoughts of Armageddon. There was no one in the world I would rather have seen at that moment, and what’s more, Scary vamoosed (being afraid of women), taking with him all notions of solar ejecta and electromagnetic havoc.

Which left us free to do the LBHQ Gin Shoot-Out in peace.

Although Christine had brought Scotch, cask-aged beer, red wine, and a honey hefeweizen, she was perfectly game to get into the gin first. We decided to be scientific and sample the different brands two ways:

  • straight up
  • in identically prepared G&Ts

I’d been envisioning a tableful of gin—seven varieties, perhaps, especially because it was my dad’s birthday—but encroaching old age hadn’t helped my dad find his gin-drinking inner child; nor had the attainment of 47 years triggered the sort of midlife crisis makes a man rush out and blow his whole paycheque on gin. So I had to settle for three brands:

  • GILBEY’S LONDON DRY GIN ($11.88/375mL)
  • GORDON’S LONDON DRY GIN ($12.69/375mL)


This is a Canadian product my parents told me I couldn’t review unless I managed to get a free sample. But at $11.88 per 375mL, it represents the bottom shelf, and the Canadian bottom shelf at that, so they relented for the sake of contrast. For this, our first Gin Shoot-Out, we wanted three distinct tiers, and something needed to be at the bottom. Our other choice would have been a big jug of POTTER’S, also Canadian, but my parents didn’t want to pony up $36 for 1.14 litres. They said we wouldn’t want that much. Hellloooo???

Straight up

No two ways about it, GILBEY’S is rough. Jagged and pointy, front-end palate abuse with no backnote to speak of, the taste lacks not just subtlety but almost the entire array of flavors that make gin so famously nuanced. It’s a little like being shivved in the tongue, drinking this ragged stuff. Perhaps it would appeal to drinkers of cheap vodka with its lack of complexity and harsh edge. You couldn’t possibly get down a martini made with GILBEY’S, not unless you were very committed to drinking that martini. I would do it, of course, but only if I didn’t have GORDON’S and BOMBAY SAPPHIRE winking at me from across the table.

Gin & Tonic

GILBEY’S is much more tolerable with tonic and a big squeeze of lime. But it’s still edgy—sort of like chewing tinfoil or being yelled at. I thought it was okay, and I would do it again.


We’re already fans of GORDON’S at LBHQ; it won us over just last week. The best-selling gin in the world and James Bond’s gin of choice, GORDON’S is a solid, traditional gin.

Straight up

Back to back against GILBEY’S, a straight sip of GORDON’S provides a flood of juniper-infused relief. On the tongue it expands with complexity, although citrus and juniper jump to the foreground. Highly sippable, GORDON’S would make an admirable martini.

Gin & Tonic

Ahhhhhh! Yes! This is what GORDON’S was made to do. With its firm citrus backbone and juniper chorus, GORDON’S owns the gin & tonic. Its personality punches through the tonic nicely and coordinates well with a lime twist. Maybe we’re all primed to delight in a GORDON’S G&T because so many bars mix with GORDON’S by default, but none of us were disappointed by its generously layered flavors. What Christine said about gin in general, “It tastes like more,” couldn’t have been more true with a gin like GORDON’S.


We haven’t had this at LBHQ for many years. My mum grew up with BEEFEATER, practically the antithesis of BOMBAY SAPPHIRE and famous for clobbering the drinker with not unwelcome lashings of juniper. BOMBAY SAPPHIRE strives to be more delicate: a premium but still affordable gin with a more floral profile. As such we expected it to win the martini category but possibly not the G&T category, because its subtle notes might get lost in a mixer.

Straight up

Ahhhhhh! Yes, indeed, BOMBAY SAPPHIRE tinkles across the tongue with delightful botanical essences, none outstripping the others. Of the three gins, BOMBAY SAPPHIRE is the lightest and most playful sipper. With just a whisper of vermouth it would make a perfect martini.

Gin & Tonic

Here we found ourselves divided. My mum thought her BOMBAY G&T was divine; Christine liked hers but preferred GORDON’S; and my dad departed from all reason, describing his BOMBAY G&T as “dusty.” What he meant by that I couldn’t pry out of him. I live in a house full of synaesthetes who don’t know how to describe flavors except in terms of sounds/colors/textures, and I guessed, when my dad said “dusty,” that he was applying some sort of metaphor—that perhaps a G&T made with BOMBAY SAPPHIRE felt venerable somehow; perhaps it threw him back to a past life in which he was a British colonial pounding tonic for its anti-malarial quinine and getting pissed on gin as a side effect. But he said he meant it literally—that it tasted like dust. So I guess we have to take my dad to the doctor.

Results of the Shoot-Out

Here’s the breakdown (lowest being best):

  1. most favorite
  2. second favorite
  3. least favorite

Resoundingly, the bottom-tier gin got waxed in the Shoot-Out. But the whole exercise illustrates the law of diminishing returns. Once you get past the bottom shelf (which, with a mickey, it costs about a dollar to do), you enter a realm of highly competitive products, the best of which often comes down to subjective tastes. For the 375mL size, the three products we reviewed were about a dollar apart. At $11.88 GILBEY’S got trounced. At 76 cents more, GORDON’S represented a whole other echelon. But adding $1.30 for BOMBAY SAPPHIRE didn’t make a significant difference; it was almost a toss-up, with GORDON’S emerging the winner by one point.

Whether this will play out with three other gins, we just can’t know. We can’t know until we do it. But there’s a Shoot-Out Part Deux in the future. If Scarybear’s ideas about global annihilation are wrong and there is a future.

Photo: Reuters/NASA

ASTROLIQUOR for Feb. 24 to March 1—What the stars say you should drink!

My Fellow Inebriates,

Here’s your booze horoscope:

Aries, you are missing out on valuable REM sleep. Try to meditate during your daytime pre-drinking hours. See if you can go into a dreaming state, then write everything down that you see. You’ll be surprised at the creative thoughts churning around in your head. Those ideas want to get out of your head, but they have to swim through a lot of Smirnoff.

Taurus, your mornings are pretty rough this week—aches, pains, tremors. A nice steam bath will fix you up and, one would hope, involve washing that vodka sweat off…so hurry and do it, because your colleagues expect you to deliver a big presentation. OMG, can you hold it together with a headful of Absolut and Cointreau? Let positive thoughts wash over you. Make your presentation as vapid and catchword-laden as possible. Your audience will cheer and invite you out for more drinks.

Relationships are evolving, Gemini, and generally for the better. You’re figuring out what people mean to you, and which Facebook friends you can jettison. This will help you focus at work and give you more time to enjoy gin with coconut cream. Meanwhile, there’s a very seductive Capricorn making your fur stand on end. Be careful…your partner knows all about it. Better make sure you have extra gin.

Cancer, if you’ve been single for a while, this week features an exciting new fling. But if you’re in a long-term relationship, you’ll be yawning a bit. Those of you in the former category, enjoy. Those of you in the latter category, enjoy this:

  • 2 oz dark rum
  • 2 oz light rum
  • 2 oz whiskey
  • 1/4 cup creme de cacao
  • 4 oz cream of coconut

Blend and pour over crushed ice. This is as interesting as it’s gonna get for you this week, so get busy.

Leo, a friend who’s into charitable works will ask you for help with a cause this week. Your impulse is to say yes, throw aside your work, family and all other considerations, and help your friend. That’s cool, but make sure it’s a real charity you’re helping. You don’t want to commit your time to sewing pointy white hats or collecting Richard Dawkins books for an anti-evolution bonfire. The best way to avoid this sort of bad judgment is to break out the rum the moment you wake up. Then keep pouring it in your coffee all day. Ahhhh! When your friend phones, you won’t even be able to form the word “hello.”

Why are you letting yourself get trodden on, Virgo? Normally you’re pretty good at taking care of yourself, but this week brings insecurity and obsessive compulsiveness. The little details overwhelm you, and you lose focus on boundaries. Just like Leo, the best way to avoid being taken advantage of is to hole up inside with a strong drink. I see you lying on the kitchen floor, 12 parts Jagermeister and six parts apple vodka swirling around your brain. If that’s not being the captain of your soul, I don’t know what is.

Libra, your recent pessimism has taken a hike, and skies look blue to you now. Everything is going your way, your energy is bubbling, and you feel safe and secure. Naturally this makes you magnetic to others. Saturday will bring plenty of admirers, including one who’s willing to split a bottle of bourbon with you. Go for it.

The stars are influencing you positively this week, Scorpio. The social calendar looks good, especially Thursday, and you’re fielding attractive invitations to dinner. It’s tempting to order everything on the menu, and not such a bad idea if you want to absorb alcohol and stay alert dessert, which is, naturally, a liquid suggestion:

  • 5 oz espresso vodka
  • 2 oz chocolate liqueur
  • Hershey’s syrup to taste

Sagittarius, although you’ve been vehemently in favor of one strategy at work, this week you’ll do an about-face, causing everyone to wonder if you are a lush. But you’re not the only screw-up at work. So you freak out and let everyone have it! You belittle your colleagues: the weak links, the laggards, the busybodies—everybody. Then you pull a big bottle of Bombay Sapphire out of your desk drawer and openly shake it up with some vermouth in your Starbucks mug. Wow! Unforeseen holiday for you.

You’re fed up with the slow pace at work, Capricorn. But even though you feel you should be further ahead in your career, your colleagues respect and appreciate you. They don’t see your insecurities because you mask them so well behind a constant, some would say shit-eating, rye-whiskey-fueled grin.

Aquarius, a long-hoped-for meeting will take place this week. But you may be disappointed with the other person; he/she can’t possibly live up to your expectations. This will strain the relationship, leading to a mutual bender involving vodka, rum, and whatever else you two can think of to make each other more tolerable. Try Midori Melon liqueur—it gives everyone a happy sheen.

Pisces, there’s no sense getting angry at that coworker who swiped your Kool-Aid/vodka/rum concoction from the communal fridge. Although your boss may back you up, he/she will also remember the incident, when really you should maintain a low profile. You’ll need it for the next time the cops come into your workplace looking for you. You want to be that guy whose name the boss doesn’t remember.