Review: Stonecutter Spirits Single Barrel Gin

stonecutter ginStonecutter Spirits is based in Middlebury, Vermont, and this is the company’s signature product, a gin matured in former bourbon barrels. The botanical bill, source of the barrels, and length of aging isn’t revealed — aside from the note that juniper, orange peel, and cardamom are used (which doesn’t tell us a whole lot).

Stonecutter’s nose is promptly in line with other aged gins, moderate to heavily herbal but laced with considerable and sweet vanilla notes. The palate kicks things off with a healthy juniper and bittersweet citrus peel slug — heavier than you get from a typical aged gin — before jumping into some more exotic and odd flavors, including coconut, pineapple, and lingering vanilla notes. The finish is herbal and racy with red pepper, tempered with notes of cocoa powder and bubble gum.

While I don’t suspect any oddball botanicals are used in the production of Stonecutter, as the description above might indicate, this aged gin ultimately comes across as a bit scattered. That said, it’s quite charming in its own right, and would make a good addition to basic mixers. I’m thinking ginger beer?

90 proof. Available in Vermont.

B+ / $55 / stonecutterspirits.com

Review: Beefeater Burrough’s Reserve Barrel Finished Gin Edition 2

Beefeater Burrough's Reserve Edition 2 paired with 'savouries'

A few years ago Beefeater was at the forefront of what has become a regular procession of barrel-aged gins. It’s Beefeater Burrough’s Reserve remains one of the better expressions on the market. Now the distillery is back with Edition 2. The twist? Edition 1 was rested in former Lillet aperitif barrels. Edition 2 instead spends time in a mix of red and white Bordeaux wine barrels. As with the original gin, there’s no information about the base botanicals used or how long the gin spends in these barrels before bottling.

I put the two side by side to see whether Beefeater was on to something.

While the DNA may be in the family, Burrough’s Edition 2 is a significantly different gin. The nose offers dark flowers, citrus peel, and fresh herbs, backed by hints of cocoa powder and vanilla. It’s got a much harder and more savory edge — much closer to unaged Beefeater’s — than Edition 1, which is comparatively sweet.

The palate punches up the herbs — juniper and rosemary, with notes of licorice and some bitter roots — before leading to a somewhat spicy, bittersweet finish. Contrast this with sweet and flowery, citrus-focused character of the original and you really see that this is a much different gin. Overall I prefer the first edition, but this one isn’t without its charms.

86 proof.

B+ / $79 / pernod-ricard.com

Review: Booth’s Recipe No. 1 Finest Dry Gin Cask Mellowed

Booth's Finest Dry Gin Cask MellowedBooth’s is a British gin brand that dates back to the 1740s — so venerable it is considered the oldest brand in continuous production. The company calls it “The King of Gins.”

While Booth’s standard edition bottling is laregely seen as a budget brand, the company has revived this barrel-mellowed version as a push upmarket, an old expression that was said to be born when some of its new-make spirit was accidentally stashed in some sherry casks. There’s no information on how long this expression spends in sherry casks (not long, in my opinion) or any data on the recipe (traditional London Dry, it would seem), but let’s give it a try anyway.

Pale yellow in color, the nose offers modest juniper first, followed by notes of rosemary, grapefruit peel, and a little camphor. Kind of a curious start, but cask-aged gins can go in unpredictable directions, so let’s reserve judgment. On the tongue, the gin is extremely mild — “mellowed” here isn’t wrong. It takes a few seconds before anything registers at all, really, at which point the gin evokes more evergreen notes, lemon, chamomile flowers, and a little brown sugar character. The finish is clean but sticks with fairly sharp juniper and a slug of sweetness that tempers the herbal character, the only real remnant of its barrel aging regimen.

There’s nothing offensive here, and if you are looking for a very mild gin, Booth’s Cask Mellowed may do the trick. That said, my thought is that gin that goes into a barrel ought to elevate itself above “harmless.”

90 proof.

B / $47 / no website

Review: Azzurre Gin

AzzurreGin_Bottle_PRESSBased in Las Vegas and produced in Mountain View, California, Azzurre Gin is a spirit unlike any other — and this is coming from a guy that’s seen an awful lot of spirits. The brainchild of corporate finance veteran Dan Pettit, the gin is made from a distillate that is bizarre to say the least: It’s made from 33% apple, 33% grape, and 34% sugar cane. Let’s call it a third of each.

Botanicals aren’t fully revealed, but the bill does include tangerine, grapefruit, ginger, basil and rose petals — all of which are designed, per Azzurre, to tame the juniper character.

Despite all that, the nose is surprisingly traditional, with dominant juniper notes along with notes of licorice and some nutty elements. Over time, a sweetness emerges on the nose, once the juniper has time to fade a bit. Given this introduction, the body comes across as sweeter than expected, fruity with a melange of peach, blood orange, grapefruit, and apricot notes up front. The finish however turns somewhat herbal and occasionally vegetal, with echoes of evergreen. As a gin, what I find definitively missing are the earthy characters that really round out a solid gin. I was excited about the tangerine/grapefruit idea — but they don’t really come through cleanly and clearly enough.

80 proof.

B- / $NA / azzurrespirits.com

Review: Vikre Vodka, Gin, and Aquavit Lineup

vikre spruce white bkgrdDuluth, Minnesota, on the shores of Lake Superior, is the home of Vikre Distillery, which takes a localvore approach to making a wide range of (mostly white) spirits, using local grains, herbs, and water from the lake next door to make its craft spirits. The six spirits below — 1 vodka, 3 gins, and 2 aquavits — represent the bulk (but not all) of Vikre’s production. Who’s ready to take the plunge into the production from this neighbor from the Great White North?

Join us.

Vikre Lake Superior Vodka – Distilled from malted barley. Very mild, clean, and fresh. The nose is gentle but hints at hospital notes. On the palate, light sweetness starts things off, but the overall impression is surprisingly clean and pure. Only on the finish do some secondary notes start to emerge… a dusting of bee pollen, some thyme and rosemary, and a pinch of cinnamon. Surprisingly well done and nearly perfect in its balance. 80 proof. A / $35

Vikre Boreal Juniper Gin – Purportedly a traditional dry gin, including standard (local) botanicals plus rhubarb. One whiff and this is anything but traditional — quite sweet on the nose, at offers heavily fruity notes and an intensely floral/rose petal undercarriage. The body hones in on that sweet-and-sour rhubarb, confectioner’s sugar, a mild slug of juniper, and chocolate notes on the finish. I know what you’re thinking: What a random collection of flavors. And so am I. Calling this a “Juniper Gin” leaves me a bit bewildered. 90 proof. C / $35

Vikre Boreal Spruce Gin – Spruce is the primary botanical here, as you might expect. The overall impact is a lot closer to a traditional gin than the Juniper Gin above, though again it carries with it a sweetness that is unexpected. Piney notes mingle with brown sugar and, again, more indistinct florals and perfume notes. Here, the balance is a bit more appropriate, as the spruce character is brought up to where it needs to be, and the sweeter elements are dialed back. Still, it’s an unconventional gin that will need the right audience. 90 proof. B / $35

Vikre Boreal Cedar Gin – This one was fun because I’m allergic to live cedar, so I was excited to see if I would break out in hives from drinking a gin flavored with cedar wood (along with wild sumac and currants). I didn’t, and I wasn’t in love with the gin, either. The nose is much different than the two above gins — musty and mushroomy on the nose, with a medicinal note and some evergreen beneath that. Again, the body is quite sweet — the currants are distinct — with a slurry of notes that include ripe banana, fresh rosemary, and some nutty characteristics. Pumped up evergreen on the body tends again to give this a more balanced structure, but the overall character is, again, a little out there. 90 proof. B / $35

Vikre Ovrevann Aquavit – It’s actually Øvrevann Aquavit, but I have no idea if that’s going to render properly online. Caraway, cardamom, and orange peel are infused into this traditionally-focused aquavit, which is a more savory, herbal meditation on gin. Appropriately Old World, it layers exotic, caraway-driven, Middle-Eastern-bazaar notes with touches of licorice, juicy citrus, seaweed, and light sandalwood notes. Credible on its own, but it probably works best as a substitute for gin, cutting a profile that was probably along the lines of what Bombay Sapphire East was going for. 88 proof. B / $35

Vikre Voyageur Aquavit Cognac Cask Finished – The above aquavit, finished (for an indeterminate time, but long enough to give the spirit a gentle yellow hue) in used Cognac casks. I like the combination a lot. The nose features a fruitiness that Ovrevann doesn’t have, plus a touch of barrel char that adds mystique. This leads to stronger licorice notes on the nose, plus notes of cloves, raisins (a clear Cognac contributor), menthol and spearmint, and a lingering, herbal finish. The Cognac balances out the sweet and savory notes in the spirit, giving this a well-rounded yet entirely unique character that’s worth exploring. 86 proof. A- / $57

vikredistillery.com

Review: Sipsmith V.J.O.P. Gin and Sloe Gin

sipsmith (2)

Sipsmith isn’t content to just make a single gin in its garage of an operation in London, England. It actually produces a range of artisan spirits and fortified wines — including the two reviewed below, which are exported to the U.S.

Sipsmith co-founder Sam Galsworthy (pictured) was recently in my neck of the woods, and we sat down with the Sipsmith portfolio for tasting and exploration. (After the meeting he sent me home with the two below bottles, which I reviewed later on my own.)

sipsmith (1)The highlight of the meeting had nothing to do with the company’s commercially available products, though. Rather, it was a trio of samples that Galsworthy had brought in unmarked bottles. These bottles represented in-progress Sipsmith London Dry gin at three different stages off the still. After the heads portion is cut, it takes about three hours for the gin to complete its distillation (until the tails arrive). Galsworthy presented the evolution of Sipsmith London Dry, one hour at a time. After the first hour, the gin showcases clear citrus notes, almost like an orange vodka. It isn’t until the second hour that the juniper really starts to show, with earthier notes coming to the fore during hour three. I didn’t write up any significant notes on these samples since they aren’t actual products for sale, but it was a lot of fun to see how a spirit evolves over a short amount of time during the distillation process. (Click on the chart above for a little more detail.)

Fun stuff, but let’s look at two commercially available Sipsmith bottlings.

Sipsmith Signature Edition Series V.J.O.P. Gin – This is the same botanical mix as standard Sipsmith London Dry — but with three times the juniper and a three day maceration instead of one day. The results are as expected — palpably piney. Juniper is overwhelming on the nose, to the exclusion of nearly anything else in the botanical bill. On the palate, it’s crushingly juniper-forward and very hot (just look at that proof). Water coaxes out more notes — though the juniper dominates from front to back, it features fresh orange, some brown sugar, licorice, and a touch of cinnamon. While it’s an overwhelming experience, it’s not an unsatisfying one — the juniper finishing on a clean and refreshing note. While I’m not normally fond of juniper-heavy gins, Sipsmith’s V.J.O.P. (“Very Junipery Over Proof”) is quite a compelling beast that lets you know from the get-go what its intentions are, and follows through with style. 115.4 proof. A- / $52

Sipsmith Sloe Gin Special Edition 2013 – Sipsmith only makes a sloe gin on an occasional basis (the photo on its website is a 2010 bottling), so I have no idea if this is the current edition. Why vintage? Because sloe berries are an annual harvest, and these are picked in the wild of West Country, UK, in the autumn. The London Dry gin is rested on these berries for 3 to 4 months before bottling. The company says each vintage does indeed taste different, but 2013 is “noteworthy.” Sloe gin often has a cough syrup character to it — it’s really not meant for straight sipping — and Sipsmith’s offers a powerful and pungent character that grabs you by the throat right away. The nose features aromas of dense raspberry and melted Jolly Ranchers, but the body is extremely tart, the hallmark of sloe gin. It comes on strong with an intense herbal overtone, notes of bitter chocolate, and orange rind. All in all, it’s pretty much exactly what you want a good sloe gin to be — sweet and sour in solid balance, with a distinct weirdness you can’t quite place. 58 proof. A- / $43

sipsmith.com

Review: Big Bottom Pear Brandy and Oregon Gin Collection

big bottom PearBrandy-10-NEWIf you know Big Bottom, you probably know the company for its bourbons, most of which feature exotic finishes and impressive levels of quality.

Big Bottom also makes white spirits, though, including fruit brandies (pear now, apple is coming) and a collection of gins. Today we take a look at four of BB’s latest white offerings… well, three white spirits and one with a touch of age on it.

Thoughts follow.

Big Bottom Oregon Pear Brandy – Made from a blend of Oregon-grown Asian pears. Rather musty up front, the nose offers fruit restrained by astringent notes, a commonality of young fruit brandies. On the palate, significant earthy notes interplay with modest pear character — and you can indeed pick out that slightly citrus Asian character vs. the more traditional flavor of domestic pears. The finish, however, is a bit hot and indistinct. This is clearly a labor of love, but as with many pear brandies, it’s one that could benefit from some tempering by wood. 80 proof. B- / $45

Big Bottom Oregon Gin – 16 botanicals (none named) are used in the production of this New Western gin. It’s got a significant floral character, with a touch of black pepper adding spice. Juniper is present, but modest and restrained, as sweeter notes dominate. On the palate, it’s a gentle gin with ample sweetness enveloping the palate, those floral notes — honeysuckle and some white flowers — quite dominant. Citrus elements come on strong as well, with just a little kick of that pepper hitting on the back end. Fun stuff, and a nice change of pace from juniper-forward bruisers. 91 proof. A- / $30

Big Bottom Oregon Gin Navy Strength – Same gin as the above, but higher in proof. It offers similar notes to the lower-proof product, but it’s plenty racier if that’s your bag. As with many an overproof product, the higher-proof version will immediately fire up the palate, but it also offers a few surprises: a slightly fruitier character, and juniper that’s more immediately evident. Slight caramel notes offer a silky sweetness on the back end. All in all, it’s a solid Navy version of a juniper-restrained gin. 114 proof. A- / $46

Big Bottom Oregon Gin Finished in Oak Whiskey Barrels – Same gin as the first, aged (for 12 months in a new solera system) in used whiskey barrels outfit with new heads made from a mix of Oregon oak and Hungarian oak. The gin takes on a more dessert-like note here, with clear cinnamon notes and some mulled apple cider character. Sweet caramel on the finish takes this gin on a ride between a white spirit and a light, spiced whiskey, with notes of cloves and vanilla in lieu of any significant juniper or floral elements, which are washed away by the wood. Aged gins can be hit and miss, but this is surprisingly fun stuff, perfect for winter cocktails or even sipping straight with dessert. 91 proof. A / $38

bigbottomdistilling.com