Review: Stirk’s Gin Oak Barrel Finished

Stirk's Gin Bottle Shot

“Stirk” of Stirk’s Gin is David Stirk, the creator of the Exclusive Malts line of Scotch whiskies, and this is his gin, or rather, some sourced London Dry that was placed into recently-dumped single malt Scotch barrels for finishing (the amount of time in barrel is unstated). The results? Let’s take a look.

It’s got an unusually heavy amount of juniper on the nose for a barrel-aged gin, but the intense evergreen and spice aromas driven by the distillation are just prologue for what’s to come. The nose leads to a palate that melds fresh botanicals with ample, but not overwhelming, barrel influence — with flavors of vanilla custard, banana cream, and some toasty wood notes. That may sound awfully whisky-like, and indeed Stirk’s Gin is just that, a rich and surprisingly creamy spirit that finishes like a flan that’s somehow gotten mixed up with a classic G&T.

That all may sound odd, but Stirk’s works out better than most mashups. Both Scotch and gin fans should give it a try, should the opportunity present itself.

92 proof.

B+ / $40 / impexbev.com

Tasting and Testing: MashBox Club Spirits Samplers

mashbox

Like Flaviar and the Whisky Explorers Club, MashBox aims to expose you to spirits you wouldn’t normally get to try. The main difference with this booze-of-the-month club is that with MashBox you get a lot more than just whiskey (as we’ll see below). It’s a veritable tour of the entire spirits universe.

The deal is simple: $99 a year gets your four boxes of three 50ml samples. which works out to about $8 per dram. That’s about what a shot of Jack will cost you around these parts, so it’s not a bad deal.

MashBox’s focus is squarely on craft and unusual spirits (with a heavy focus on New York-based operations) — and some of the products included in the sample kits I’ve received I’m never encountered in the wild, or even heard of before this. There’s no need to scour the web for data, though. Each shipment comes with a set of cards offering some basic production information and tasting notes on each product you receive. And if you like something, you can buy a full bottle at a discounted price.

Here’s a look at nine of the samples from three recent MashBox shipments. These mini-reviews are in no particular order as the products of the various sample boxes we received got mixed up, but they should give you an idea of what to expect each quarter. While not every product is a home run, I’m a big fan of trying something off the beaten path once in a while. Give MashBox a try and see what you think!

Kings County Distillery Bourbon – Young bourbon from Brooklyn, NY. Heavily grainy, with chocolate malt overtones and tons of wood. It’s initially undercooked, as craft whiskey can often be, with a surplus of ginger and baking spice on the back end to help temper the heavy barrel influence. 90 proof. C

Barrell Whiskey Batch 2 – We’ve covered Barrell a few times, but batch 2 of its sherry-cask treated whiskey is a new one for us. Interesting butterscotch notes and red berries meld well with caramel and vanilla notes. A bit astringent, but that happens at 123.8 proof. B

Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye – Spicy, with rather intense mulled wine notes. Tastes like Christmas. See full review here. 65 proof. B+

Van Brunt Stillhouse Rye Whiskey – Van Brunt’s 9 month old rye is youthful and brash (see other Van Brunt reviews here), but its pungent nose finds a curious companion in a body that offers up notes of cloves, petrol, burnt bread, and a bit of burnt rubber, too. Intriguing, but extremely young. 84 proof. C+

Oak & Rye Wormwood – Grain-distilled spirit (corn- and rye-based whiskey) flavored with wormwood. In other words, it’s a unique spin on absinthe by way of a flavored whiskey. The nose is so hard to place — forest fires, rubber, and scorched herbs — but the palate is gentler, with a smoky sweetness that finds a strange complement in the form of lingering anise notes. One of the more bizarre spirits I’ve seen lately. 90 proof. B-

Maid of the Meadow – Vodka with herbs and honey from Denning’s Point Distillery in Beacon, New York. Quite good, and it delivers on exactly what the description promises. The honey is restrained and gentle, the herbs a dusting of cinnamon, sesame, and lemon. Tastes like it’s made for a toddy. 80 proof. A-

Glorious Gin – Breukelen Distilling offers this heavily floral gin, which includes rosemary, ginger, and grapefruit in the mix. It tops a somewhat earth-toned core with a good amount of fruit character and only a modest juniper slug. Interesting stuff and unexpected from the normally bombastic craft gin market. Try with a craft tonic. 90 proof. B+

Kas Krupnikas – A traditional Lithuanian honey spiced liqueur made in Mahopac, New York. Richer and much more honey-focused than Maid of the Meadow, but just as compelling in its own, special way. While Maid of the Meadow feels like an ingredient, Kas Krupnikas is a soothing sipper that works beautifully on its own. Very heavy honey — equal parts fruit and earth — dominates, with some hints of orange peel, cloves, and fresh gingerbread. A beautiful little surprise. 92 proof. A

Doc Herson’s Natural Spirits Green Absinthe – A South African madman makes absinthe in Brooklyn, people. What he’s come up with is a classic rendition of the spirit, with a sweet licorice and fennel focus that comes alive with sugar and water. It doesn’t need much doctoring, mind you, just a little kick to bring out its inner beauty. Lovely mint and cocoa powder notes emerge on the finish. 134 proof. B+

mashandgrape.com

Review: Frey Ranch Vodka and Gin

Frey-Gin-Bottle (Jeff Dow)

Nevada-based Frey Ranch produces its spirits with an intense estate focus — just about everything that goes into the products is produced on the Frey Ranch estate. As the company likes to say, “When you purchase a bottle at our distillery, it is the first time any of these quality ingredients have ever left Frey Ranch.”

We tasted Frey Ranch’s home-grown vodka and gin. (A whiskey, not reviewed here, is also produced.) Thoughts on both of these follow.

Frey Ranch Vodka – Triple distilled from a blend of corn, rye, wheat, and barley. The nose is quite corny, almost like a white whiskey, with some unfortunate mothball notes. The palate is sweeter, the granary note fading into a sweet corn character that’s underpinned by some nutty brown rice notes, scorched sugar, and mushroom. On the whole, this is an atypical vodka that will likely be divisive to vodka lovers. It’s not entirely to my taste, but your mileage may vary. 80 proof. C+ / $40

Frey Ranch Gin – Presumably made with the same base as the vodka, this gin is flavored with estate-grown juniper and sagebrush (not the same thing as sage, by the way), plus a mix of imported (and unstated) botanicals. This comes together more effectively than the vodka, its heavy aromatics hitting on the nose with a combination of camphor, herbal sage, and juniper — in that order. The body is heavy with all things herbal — no citrus overtones on this one — pushing those green notes even further as it attacks the palate. The finish is all herbs, pungent with a touch of cucumber and a dusting of black pepper. If you like your gins with a heavy vegetal note (and I know some of you do), this one’s for you. 90 proof. B / $33

freyranch.com

Review: Few Spirits Breakfast Gin

Few Breakfast Gin

Gin for breakfast? Well, brunch anyway.

With Breakfast Gin, Few Spirits is targeting some specific cocktails — including the Ramos Gin Fizz and the French 75, which are a little more appropriate before noon than, say, a Manhattan. Botanicals include juniper, lemon, and Earl Grey tea (among others).

Launched in Chicago in summer 2015, the gin was a local hit and is rolling out nationally now.

Thoughts follow.

The gin is light on its feet, at first a bit woody on the nose, but in time revealing more of the herbal notes driven by the tea element. On the palate, the gin is gentle at first, with uncomplicated juniper notes up front. These give way to more of those tea-driven notes, heavy on orange peel and grapefruit peel notes, before finishing with a brighter burst of citrus.

It’s got less going on than you might expect based on the unusual addition of tea in the botanical bill, but it’s definitely worth trying out in the above mentioned cocktails, or in one of the ones below.

84 proof.

B+ / $40 / fewspirits.com

And now, some recipes…

Madteani
by Sara McDaniel, MAD Social, Chicago
3 oz. Few Breakfast Gin
.5 oz. brewed Earl Grey tea
.5 oz. honey syrup (1 part honey, 1 part water)
3 dashes Bar Keep Lavender Bitters

Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a Martini or coupe glass. Garnish with an edible flower.

White Lady
by Todd Elkis, Adele’s Front Room, La Grange, Ill.
1.75 oz. Few Breakfast Gin
1.25 oz. Cointreau
1 oz. lemon juice

Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

The Spell
by Ergys Dizdari, SIP, Chicago
1.5 oz. Few Breakfast Gin
.5 oz. elderflower liqueur (such as St. Germain)
.75 oz. lemon juice
.75 oz. Rose-Lavender Syrup*

Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with a spritz of rosewater and a rose petal.

*Rose-Lavender Syrup
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 cup dried rose petals
.5 cup dried lavender

Add all the ingredients to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and let stand until cool. Fine-strain and store in the refrigerator.

Review: G’Vine Floraison and Nouaison Gin (2016)

gvine combo

It’s been six years since our last encounter with G’Vine (and nine years since our first)… so now’s a good time to give these now-classic gins (which are distilled from Ugni Blanc grapes in France, just like Cognac) a fresh look. Let’s look today at new samples of both G’Vine Floraison and G’Vine Nouaison to see if our original assessments still hold.

G’Vine Floraison Gin – G’Vine’s “fresh and floral” expression is still a winner, offering pretty, flowery, and almost perfumy notes atop very gentle juniper and other herbs. The citrus notes I previously called out feel dialed back a bit now in the wake of even stronger floral elements, though lemon peel is particularly evident. The finish remains refreshing and quite clean, leaving behind traces of white flowers — but also a bit of rubbery Band-Aid character, too. 80 proof. B+

G’Vine Nouaison Gin – This is the “intense and spicy” gin from G’Vine, and it drinks more like a traditional London Dry. The nose and up-front palate is all juniper, which comes across as almost overly simplistic, but as the body evolves and the finish emerges, the gin begins to fade into a heavy hospital character, featuring notes of rubber, tree bark, anise, and hazelnuts. What’s left behind is a bit astringent and mouth-coating. It cries for a mixer. 87.8 proof. B

each $29 / g-vine.com

Review: Captive Spirits Big Gin Peat Barreled and Barrel Reserve

big gin

Seattle-based Captive Spirits makes one thing and one thing only: gin, and lots of it. The company recently expanded its Big Gin line from two to a total of four expressions. The line now includes one standard bottling and three barrel aged versions. Just added, a “peat barreled” version, which is rested in peated whiskey casks, and a barrel reserve bottling, which spends three years in cask and is bottled at higher proof.

Today we look at both of these aged expressions. Note that Big Gin uses the same botanical bill for all its gins; only the barrel treatment differs. The standard collection: juniper, coriander, bitter orange peel, grains of paradise, angelica, cassia, orris, cardamom, and Tasmanian pepperberry.

Big Gin Peat Barreled – With this new expression, the straight expression of Big Gin is rested for four months in Westland Distillery’s Peated Single Malt barrels. Before their time at Westland, these barrels held Wild Turkey bourbon, making this round #3 for the casks. The peat is understated but present here, showing the nose notes of light smoke, some menthol, and ginger. The palate is more familiar and in line with traditional, unaged gins, showcasing juniper, coriander, cracked black pepper, and a smattering of earthy spices, though any citrus notes present in the original gin are dulled by the cask treatment — I don’t really get any of that orange peel here at all. The finish finds some caramel and vanilla notes lingering, the strongest hint of the whiskey barrel coming through. All told, this is a hearty gin that offers a rather classic construction with just the right amount of spin on it (plus a touch of color). I wouldn’t have thought peat and gin would make for compelling companions, but Big Gin Peat Barreled proves me distinctly wrong. 94 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #3-5. A- / $35

Big Gin Barrel Reserve – This is the same gin as Big Gin’s Bourbon Barreled Gin (which we haven’t reviewed), except it is aged for three years instead of just six months in once-used Heaven Hill bourbon casks. It is also bottled at higher proof — 103.5 instead of 94. This is an exotic and compelling gin that merits (and requires) some serious thought. On the nose, heavy whiskey notes prevail — vanilla and cloves, plus some barrel char — while notes of juniper and mint take a secondary role. The combination is immediately both mysterious and engaging and drives you into an even more enigmatic body. Here a rush of alcohol gets things started, then a cascade of flavors hit the palate. First fruit and chocolate notes, then a hit of evergreen (cedar, perhaps), more mint/menthol, and black pepper. The chocolate makes a return appearance on the finish, which takes on an engaging and unusual cinnamon-studded Mexican chocolate character. Combined with the higher alcohol level, it makes for a warming and sweet conclusion to an experience that is on point from start to finish. Some may call this a gin for whiskey fans, and they wouldn’t be wrong. I, for one, don’t see a problem there. 103.5 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #01. A / $NA

captivespiritsdistilling.com

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