<preform>From the new botanicals to the classic cocktail base, gin is it. But for the perfect martini or G&T, which brand is best? Richard Johnson and his panel find out</preform>

Four gin experts drinking martinis in a bar. Sounds like a joke - but this was a serious matter. Shaken or stirred? Dry or wet? There was one thing upon which we agreed. If you don't have a decent gin, don't bother. That goes for gin and tonic, too.

Four gin experts drinking martinis in a bar. Sounds like a joke - but this was a serious matter. Shaken or stirred? Dry or wet? There was one thing upon which we agreed. If you don't have a decent gin, don't bother. That goes for gin and tonic, too.

Gin is a wonderful pick-me-up - a snifter that produces results in anything short of an Egyptian mummy. But which bottle should you buy? In recent years, a raft of luxury gins has hit the market. To blind-taste the burgeoning gin market - supermarket brands, newcomers and classics - I invited along Ben Reed of IP Bartenders and a brand consultant for the industry; Alexandra Fiot, bar manager at Lonsdale (the London bar which hosted the tasting), and Ian Wisniewski, specialist drinks author (seven books and counting).

We tasted 11 leading brands, each in two favourite forms. First, with tonic, ice and a slice of lemon. Then as a classic martini, with an olive. Luis Buñuel said connoisseurs should merely allow sunlight to shine through a bottle of vermouth before it hits the gin. That's rubbish. Without a slug of vermouth, it's not a martini - it's just gin in a jaunty glass.

Juniper Green Organic, £11.99

G&T: This gin reminded Ben of an old bar trick. "Tip a glass upside-down on a tray of cheap gin to flavour its lip with alcohol. Then fill it with neat tonic water. That's what this tastes like to me - a cheap scam." Ian and Alexandra agreed. 4/10

Martini: It fared even worse in a martini. "It's subtle," said Alexandra. "But I don't really like it. I can't say more than that." 3/10

Bombay Sapphire, £13.99

This was much more to Ian's taste. Ben agreed, liking its light, summery quality. "Anyone for tennis?" he said. Alexandra laughed. 8/10

It went down even better in a martini. "That's me," said Ben. "That's exactly what I'm looking for from my martini". "Yeah baby," said Ian. 8/10

Tesco Finest, £11.99

"Nice for a pre-dinner gin and tonic," says Ben. Everyone liked its sharp taste of juniper and coriander. 7/10

Ian called it "a curtain-raiser for a great night out. And the longer you keep it on the palate, the more it opens up." 8/10

Tanqueray No. Ten, £49.95

This premium gin, with its fresh (as opposed to dry) botanicals, split the jury. Alexandra called it cheap. Ben called it harsh. But Ian liked it - especially its lemony quality. He liked it less when I told him the price. 7/10

The Ten was deemed "too peppery for a martini". Ben said it was "too heavy". 5/10

Sainsbury's Blackfriars, £11.49

"Definitely a lower standard than the others," said Ben. He staked his reputation on the fact that it was either from Sainsbury's or Tesco. The judges thought it an unimpressive gin with not a lot to say for itself. 3/10

The feelings were borne out in the martini. "I don't like it at all," said Ian. "Nor do I," said Ben. "And nor do I," said Alexandra. 2/10

Plymouth, £12.99

Surprisingly, Ben and Alexandra found this strong gin bland and unremarkable. Only Ian got excited, and that was at the sweetness and dryness of the tonic coming through. "I love tonic water, so it's not a criticism," he said. 5/10

Ben found the Plymouth tasted strong. Too strong, if anything. But everyone applauded its spicy finish. 6/10

Beefeater, £14.99

"Balanced and sweet," said Ben, but without a great deal of flavour. Benefits from the beefy quinine taste of tonic. 6/10

Ian was hit by "a great big thud of juniper" when the Beefeater was used in a martini, and didn't really like it. Ben felt that it was "Juniper, juniper, juniper, with no peaks or troughs". Overall, it tasted cheap. 4/10

Miller's, £17.49

Everyone picked up on the gin's taste of cucumber. But Ian was on his own when he isolated a top-note of Turkish Delight. "It's not what I would expect from a gin," said Alexandra. "An eccentric spirit, with a lot of individuality - like a full-bodied wine with lots to say for itself," said Ben. 7/10

Ben recognised the Miller's immediately. "It doesn't work well in a martini. Quote me. The cucumber ruins it." And Alexandra agreed: "It's not what I would expect from a martini," she said. Available from Waitrose. 5/10

Gordon's, £11.29

"Boring" was the verdict here. And "unexciting". With only a pretty bottle - and a large advertising budget - to recommend it. 5/10

"Aaaah," said Ben, when he tasted the Gordon's in a martini. "That's only because it's cold - and I've got fillings." Alexandra felt that all the botanicals arrived in the mouth at the same time, and disappeared far too quickly. "It's almost completely neutral," said Ian. 5/10

Tanqueray, £14.79

"This one tastes a bit too junipery for my liking," said Ian. "But it dissolves away more than the Beefeater." 6/10

Funnily enough, everyone preferred the Tanqueray when it was served in a martini. "This makes a really easy-drinking martini," said Ian. "This would be a perfect starter martini. Good for a beginner," said Ben. 7/10

Hendrick's, £18.50

"A most peculiar gin," reads the advertising pitch, and everyone agreed. This is never going to be to everyone's tastes, and true to form, Ben and Alexandra liked it, Ian didn't. He couldn't get a handle on its botanicals - an unorthodox combination of rose petals and cucumber. 7/10

Mix it as a martini, and suddenly everyone is in agreement - this was the most popular cocktail gin. "A lovely burst of fresh citrus," said Ian, which goes to show the difference vermouth can make. "We all loved it," said Ben, "even though it was the last martini we tasted." 9/10

All the gins on test, except supermarket own-brands and Miller's (available at Waitrose), are widely available at good off-licences.

With thanks to Lonsdale, 44 Lonsdale Road, London W11 (020-7727 4080)