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Top Shelf Gin

Review: Top Shelf Gin   86/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted February 27, 2020

Top Shelf Distillers are located in Perth, a town in Eastern Ontario, located on the Tay River, about 80 kilometres southwest of Ottawa. At one time Perth was home to four distilleries, the two most famous, McLaren and Spalding & Stewart, were located in limestone buildings alongside the Tay River catering to the tastes of the early Scottish settlement by producing malt whisky similar to the Scottish style of the day.

Prohibition (the Ontario Temperance Act of 1916) is largely blamed for the demise of the distilling industry in Perth; but now, about one hundred years later, Top Shelf Distillers have began to once again bottle spirits in Perth. Vodka and Gin are their core brands, making up most of the distilleries total volume, with their primary market being Ontario. They have also began to sell their spirits in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. In addition to Gin and Vodka, the distillery produces a number of different Moonshine brands and they have just began to bottle and sell their Perth Whisky.

Top Shelf Gin is presented as a classic citrus forward gin with a botanical selection which includes Juniper berries, fresh & dried Grapefruit peel, faint notes of Cardamom, Angelica and Licorice root. The spirit is bottled at 40 % alcohol by volume.

In the Bottle 4/5

When I received my samples, I had to look twice at the Top Shelf Vodka bottle when it arrived as at first I thought the label had been misprinted with the Top Shelf logo on upside down. I checked the Top Shelf Gin bottle (shown to the left) they had sent me as well, and I saw that this was no misprint, the distillery has this quirk of the upside down logo on all of its products, and on its website. I suspect the aim is to catch someone’s attention and in my case it worked.

You probably have noticed the green ‘One Bottle, One Tree‘ round sticker in the upper right corner of the bottle. This is to let the consumer know that for every bottle of Top Shelf Vodka sold at the LCBO the distillery commits to have one tree planted within 100km of the purchase site. It is their way of contributing to the protection of Canada’s forests and woodlands.

Although, the bottle and label presentation are adequate, I think the label could use some dressing up. It looks sort of generic and in my opinion wouldn’t catch my eye in a retail setting unless I already knew the back story of the brand; but usually retail consumers are not motivated to research back stories, they are just looking for a bottle that catches their eye. This one does not, except for that upside down logo, which unfortunately the consumer might mistake for a misprint as I did.

In the Glass 8.5/10

When I poured some Top Shelf Gin into my glass I was pleased with the aroma that drifted into the breezes to entice me. Scents of juniper are melded with licorice which softens the piny edge of the spirit making it just a little softer and more earthy. (The angelica may be exerting its influence as well.) Alongside we notice the effect of cardamom and citrus (in particular grapefruit peel)  as they provide a spicy accent. Hints of lemon and mint are glimpsed and then lost. Whether these two botanicals are present is unknown, the impression may be provided by the interaction of the cardamom with the distillate and the other botanicals.

The combination of botanicals is simple, yet effective. Top Shelf Gin promises to be a dry gin in the quintessential style.

In the Mouth 52/60

When sipped. the gin is perhaps just a touch spicier than the nose implied. Both the ginger-like cardamon and the grapefruit zest seem to take a larger role. Both now play alongside (maybe even ahead of) the juniper and licorice, which seem to carry that earthy quality through the entire delivery. I like the traditional flavour which I am encountering.

For cocktails, I can pretty much start anywhere. The classic style and flavour promises to work very well with all of my standard gin cocktails. I made a gimlet, and it tasted fine. I moved to a Gin and Tonic and the libation I created offered no complaints. If I had some Vermouth I would try a Martini, and I have no doubt that the serving work be more than satisfactory.

The Gin while holding no surprises, offers no disappointments either.

In the Throat 13/15

The finish is somewhat earthy, and somewhat spicy. I taste more juniper and citrus in the finish than in the delivery. Citrus zest and spicy cardamon both accent the exit which part of the reason the spirit works so well in cocktails.

The Afterburn 8.5/10

I was extremely happy to encounter what I consider to be a traditional flavour profile within Top Shelf Gin. It is my opinion that a new producer is best served mastering the classic style before venturing into the side roads of contemporary gin. Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel the distillery has chose to hone in on what makes gin such a wonderful spirit in the first place. Of course now that proficiency has been accomplished, I look forward to seeing just where Top Shelf goes next.

You may read some of my other Gin Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


Suggested Recipe

The classic Gin and Tonic is an excellent choice for Top Shelf Gin. And when I mix a Gin and Tonic, I usually like to make the serving more gin forward in a serving that resembles more of a cocktail format than a straight highball.

In this serving the Top Shelf Gin really shines

Gin and Tonic #2

1 3/4 oz Top Shelf Gin
1/2 oz fresh Lime Juice
3/8 oz Sugar Syrup (1:1 ratio)
2 1/2 oz Fentimans Tonic Water
Cucumber chunks

Add the first three ingredients into a rocks glass
Stir and add ice
Fill with Q-Tonic
Garnish with cucumber chunks

Enjoy Responsibly!

Note: If  you are interested in more of my original cocktail recipes, please click this link (Cocktails and Recipes) for more of my mixed drink recipes!


My Final Score is out of 100 and you may (loosely) interpret that score as follows:

0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing spirit. Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89 Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94 Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and Bronze medal scale as follows:

70 – 79.5 Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5 Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95 Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+ Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)


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