Review: Oppidan American Botanical Gin and Malted Rye Whiskey


Oppidan is a Chicago area-based microdistillery that is starting off with two products — a gin and an aged, malted rye. We tried them both. Thoughts follow.

Oppidan American Botanical Gin – A spin on London Dry, with grapefruit peel, hibiscus, cinnamon, elderflower, ginger, cardamom, and chamomile among the named botanicals. The nose is gentle and studded with mixed florals, moderate earth tones, and clear elderflower notes. On the palate, a wealth of flavors come forward — more floral notes, some chocolate, shaved licorice, some fennel, all with a seductive and lightly sweet finish. This is a feminine gin with a restrained and quiet body, a beautiful and delicate number that could pair well with just about anything. In a world where gin is an increasingly interesting category, it’s one of the best new bottlings you’ll find and I recommend it wholesale. 86 proof. A / $30

Oppidan Malted Rye Whiskey – A whiskey made from 100% malted rye, no age indicated. Clearly a young spirit, the whiskey is loaded with notes of grainy malt, smoke, and raw wood. The body offers some sweetness — vanilla, some baking spice, chewy wood, and beef jerky notes — but that youthful granary character is tough to shake. It’s hardly offensive, but you can find this same earthy and woody character in any number of young craft whiskeys on the market today. 92 proof. B / $45

Review: Indian Summer Gin

indian summer ginA touch of saffron gives this newly-arriving gin (from Duncan Taylor in Scotland) a light yellow hue, adding to an otherwise relatively straightforward botanical bill that angelica bark, almonds, coriander seed, cassia, juniper berries, lemon peel, licorice root, orris root and orange peel.

The nose is largely in keeping with tradition: juniper, strong citrus peel notes, and lots of heat due to the higher alcohol volume.

On the tongue, the licorice (surprisingly) hits first, with the juniper coming up quite a bit behind. This kicks off a little sweetness that isn’t really hinted at on the nose — almost evoking chewy licorice candy — before more evergreen notes take hold. On the finish, look for more of a grapefruit-like citrus character followed by the soothing earthiness of the angelica and orris root. Perhaps it’s here where the saffron is making its mark? Not on its own but as a complementary companion to some other herbal elements.

Exotic in appearance, Indian Summer offers some unique notes in its flavor profile, but they don’t quite come from where you expect them.

92 proof.

B+ / $45 /

Review: Tanqueray Bloomsbury London Dry Gin

Tanqueray BloomsburyTanqueray continues to play with the good-ol’ green bottle with its latest limited edition gin, Tanqueray Bloomsbury.

Says the distillery:

For the newest limited edition release of Tanqueray, the juniper-forward Tanqueray Bloomsbury London Dry Gin, Master Distiller Tom Nichol drew inspiration from a recipe created by Charles Tanqueray’s son, Charles Waugh Tanqueray. In 1868, when Charles died, his son Charles Waugh Tanqueray took over his business. He was only 20 years at the time, but was a brilliant businessman and innovator just like his father.

His original recipe on which Tanqueray Bloomsbury was based dates back to around 1880, when the distillery was located in Bloomsbury, England. The new Tanqueray Bloomsbury gin will launch into the on-trade with limited availability at specialty retailers. The launch of Tanqueray Bloomsbury follows the successful release of Tanqueray Old Tom in 2014 and Tanqueray Malacca in 2013.

The recipe is written write on the front label, but it’s in old-timey writing and a bit difficult to make out. The botanical bill includes “Italian berries” (juniper), coriander, angelica, crushed cassia, and just a touch of savory. (Additional elements not on the label may also be present.)

The gin is designed to be juniper forward, but standard Tanqueray is already quite juniper-forward as it is. (That said, though it’s hardly my favorite gin, my 2010 rating now feels a bit low. I’d call it B+ today.)

That helps give Bloomsbury a softer entry, even though it’s built with juniper in mind. That juniper is present both on the nose and on the palate, which folds in clear cinnamon character and a little caramel, too. Is there a nod to the whiskey world here? The juniper is clear and strong, but it quickly fades to a quiet earthiness. The finish offers some dusty coriander character that lingers for a bit.

Bloomsbury is a simple gin, but it’s well crafted and balanced among its component parts. Young Charles Waugh Tanqueray may have just been a kid, but I guess he knew what he was doing.

94.6 proof.

A- / $33 /

Review: St. Augustine Distillery New World Gin

st augustineA gin distilled from 100% Florida cane sugar? Flavored with just five botanicals — juniper, coriander, angelica, orange peel, and cassia bark — St. Augustine’s “New World Gin” is specifically designed to be citrus focused, in keeping with its Floridian heritage.

On the nose, the citrus isn’t as strong as you’d think — angelica and coriander notes, both earthier elements — make a very strong showing here, with some light pine needle notes picking up the rear. On the palate, don’t worry: Despite the cane base, it isn’t sweet. It’s a surprisingly dry gin, and the juniper is quite strong, balanced out with a slight squeeze of orange juice and a light hint of cinnamon on the back end. (This is particularly evident as the gin opens up with some air — or water, as it’s high-proof stuff.)

This is not at all a bad gin, and it grew on me over time. The balance is quite good, particularly when approaching it as a cocktail ingredient. That said, I think St. Augustine would do well to push the citrus agenda even further — a lot further — than it currently does, and really strike out into a territory that only Florida can call its own. And no, not gator flavor.

94 proof.

B+ / $33 /

Review: Deepwells Botanical Dry Gin

deepwellsLong Island Spirits is the producer of LiV Vodka and other products — and now it’s at long last expanding into gin (after six reported years of tinkering with the recipe). Deepwells takes the triple-distilled LiV potato-based distillate and infuses it with 28 botanicals — 9 local botanicals and 19 “exotic” ones. That botanical list is exhaustive, and reads like this: almonds, apple, anise, basil, chamomile, cinnamon, coriander, cubeb berries, cucumber, elderflower, fennel, grains of paradise, grapefruit peel, honeysuckle, juniper berries, lavender, lemon peel, licorice root, lime peel, merlot leaf, nutmeg, orange peel, orris root, pansy flowers, pear, pineapple, spearmint, and watermelon.


That is a huge list of stuff.

Watermelon? Pansy flowers? Everything you could possibly think to put into gin is here, and lots of stuff you couldn’t.

I’m pleased to report the nose smells nothing like watermelon but rather offers notes of wet earth, saddle leather, forest floor, and indistinct evergreen notes. On the palate, it’s a bit muddy, with some bitter citrus character colliding with some of the earthier elements, like orris and coriander. There’s so much gritty, earthy depth here it’s hard to appreciate some of the spirit’s more interesting characteristics — including some delicate floral notes that emerge as the finish starts to show. But ultimately this seems to be a textbook case of trying to jam too much into one bottle and ending up with a melange of flavors that just don’t seem to get along entirely well.

Maybe skip the watermelon next time?

94 proof.

B / $33 /

Review: Russell Henry Dark Gin

RH_DarkGinAbout a year ago, the mad scientists at Craft Distillers took the last 100 cases’ worth of Russell Henry London Dry Gin they had and did a funny thing. Rather than bottle it and sell it, they put it in oak barrels (what type/provenance is unclear). After a year, the aged gin is bottled and branded as “Dark Gin.” Other than the aging, this is the same London Dry that we previously reviewed.

Barrel aging gives Russell Henry Dark Gin an exotic character all around, for better and for worse. Notes of peppermint, roses, citrus oil, and evergreen notes provide plenty of perfume on the nose. On the body, first there’s an attack of pine and juniper, followed by a surprising apple cider character. Vanilla and some marshmallow emerge, but the finish brings out wood oil and some green, slightly vegetal notes. The spirit offers lots of complexity, but the balance just doesn’t seem quite right, as if the barrel has had its way with the relatively delicate nature of the unaged gin.

91.4 proof.

B+ / $65 /

Review: Diep9 Genever (Young and Old)

diep 9

We’ve reviewed so little genever here at Drinkhacker that we didn’t even have a separate category for it until I made one just now. A traditional spirit in The Netherlands and Belgium, it’s traditionally made from a distillation of malt wine (a roughly 100 proof distillate from barley), not neutral spirits, then flavored with botanicals similar to gin, including juniper. It’s sort of a hybrid of a white whiskey and gin, which means it ends up in a wide range of cocktail styles today.

Genever is an ancient spirit with at least 500 years of history that predates just about every other spirit category. Some tastemakers have heralded its return to the scene as another notch in the revival of pre-Prohibition cocktails (which were extremely heavy on genever), but most drinkers have yet to warm up to the spirit.

Diep9 (sometimes written as Diep 9) is a Belgian genever that got its start in 1910, where it’s been made in small batches in a 52-gallon column still, using 100% local, East-Flemish rye, wheat, and barley, and flavored with juniper, orange peel, blessed thistle, carob, nutmeg, grains of paradise, angelica root, cinnamon, and coriander. Diep9 makes two expressions: “Young Genever” and “Old Genever,” the former being unaged and the latter being barrel-aged in French oak for two years. As well, the Young Genever is made with 15% barley in the mash; Old Genever has 40% malt.

Here’s how they acquit themselves.

Diep9 Young Genever – Very vodka-like, and quite mild. The nose is slightly sweet, and a bit astringent and medicinal. At first blush this seems like it could very well be a vodka, and even tiptoeing into the body doesn’t let on that there’s more to encounter here (being only 70 proof helps on that front). Some almost random-seeming notes of cucumber, brown sugar, florals, and a little baking spice make this a strange little spirit, but one that isn’t without some charms. It’s light as a feather, and hard not to like because of it. But maybe it’s best not to think of it as a genever — which is traditionally quite heavy in flavor — but as a very light member of the gin family. Starter genever? Starter gin, even. 70 proof. B / $35

Diep9 Old Genever – After two years in the barrel (plus a tweak to the mash, as noted above), Diep9 takes on a much different, funkier character. The nose is big and malty — and a little swampy. Intense notes of Madeira, old wood, root beer, and raw twine build on the palate. This is a lot closer to what I’ve come to expect of genever, but on the palate Diep9 is a bit muddy — almost to the point of having a wet cardboard character to it. Some of the botanicals — coriander and angelica — manage to push through, but there’s so much leathery earthiness and astringency here that it’s tough to really get close to. 70 proof. C / $35

Review: Painted Stave Distilling Candy Manor Gin and South River (Red) Gin

candy manor ginBased in Smyrna, Delaware and founded only four years ago, Painted Stave Distilling is an artisan craft distiller that is dipping its toe into all manner of spirits. For now Painted Stave has a collection of white spirits in production, with aged offerings en route. Today we’re looking at two products, Candy Manor Gin — the company’s year-round release — and South River (Red) Gin — part of its experimental, avant garde spirit collection.

Available only in Delaware. Thoughts follow.

Painted Stave Distilling Candy Manor Gin – Described by Painted Stave as a “Western style dry gin with strong noted of lavender, sweet goldenrod and lemon-balm to compliment traditional flavors from juniper, coriander, angelica, and orris root.” The nose is a blend of something old and something new — fresh juniper and some earthier coriander, but also floral notes that approximate honeysuckle, iris, and jasmine. I’m not altogether familiar with goldenrod, but I would have expected more of a lavender note than I could sniff out here. The body plays up those florals quite a bit, coming off as almost perfumed with all the delicate botanical elements. Up front it’s a candied, mixed bouquet of flowers, then behind that builds more sweetness — almost chalky in texture. The finish hints at citrus, pine needles, mushroom, and a touch of baking spice. Initially a little scattered, I came to quite enjoy its bracing complexity in the end. 80 proof. B+ / $30

south river red ginPainted Stave South River (Red) Gin – This is a limited-edition “juniper-forward” gin that is aged for 5 months in former red wine barrels. (There’s also a South River (White).) It’s closer to pink than red, but who’s fact-checking? The nose is quite sharp, loaded with notes of pine tar, vanilla, and Vicks VapoRub. The body is initially fiery, with more of that menthol note, but it slowly settles into a more seductive groove. Intriguing notes of chocolate and caramel, licorice, and some slight rhubarb notes all bubble up as it develops. Really quite unexpected and enchanting, and the reddish hue makes it quite a conversation piece. 80 proof. Bottled 5/16/14. A- / $22 (375ml)

Review: Mahon Gin

Mahon Gin Bottle USAOn the Spanish island of Menorca, they make gin. Have been, since 1708. Also known under the brand name of Xoriguer (say it five times fast), Mahon Gin — aka Gin de Mahon — is one of the only gins in the world (alongside Plymouth Ginupdate — Plymouth is no longer geographically protected, whoops!) to have a specific geographic designation. “Mahon Gin” will be the worldwide brand name going forward, so look for it under that label.

Gin got its start on this Mediterranean island back when it was a British colony. Given it was a popular waystation for sailors, all the more reason to crank out the juice. Under Spain’s ownership (which became formal in the late 1700s), gin continued to be produced here, and now it’s going global after just 300 years.

Mahon is distilled from grapes in small copper pot stills and is flavored with juniper and other, undisclosed herbs. It is also rested in American oak barrels (neutral, I presume) before bottling.

This is a pretty and very simple gin, but it’s not without some serious charms. The nose is driven by juniper, but not in a heavy-handed way. Fresh pine mingles with some earthier notes — coriander, I’m guessing — plus a slightly soapy character underneath it. On the palate, it’s very gentle, offering more fresh juniper, some lemon peel notes, a touch of sea salt, and some more of those earthier, almost nutty elements, on the back. The finish is clean and just ever so bittersweet, with a slight hint of cinnamon and chocolate lingering on the back of the throat.

That all sounds more complicated than Mahon really is — which is a simple and versatile spirit with lots to recommend about it. Try it in just about any gin-based concoction you can come up with.

82 proof.

A- / $42 (1 liter) /

Review: Makar Glasgow Gin

makar glasgow gin

As the full name suggests, Makar is produced in Glasgow, the first gin made in this Scottish city. Makar is focused on the number seven (lucky, I guess?). It is (curiously) pot distilled seven times, bottled in a heptagonal shaped decanter, and infused with seven botanicals — angelica root, liquorice, coriander seeds, lemon peel, cassia bark, black peppercorns, and rosemary. Of course, it’s also infused with juniper, but for some reason Makar doesn’t include that key ingredient in the botanical list. The other ingredients are all “pillars supporting the heart of the recipe.” By the way, if you’re wondering, the name Makar is a Scots word for poet.

It’s a funky and unique little gin not without some amount of charm. The nose first comes off a bit musty — traces of that pot-distilled spirit, I’m sure — with mushroom, tree bark, licorice, and gunpowder aromas. I catch hints of bitter apple, too. The body is a little more familiar, but still quite dusty, that angelica and coriander making a major impact. Even the juniper is dialed back, with the peppercorns and rosemary making the most lasting impression on the finish.

Interesting stuff, but more citrus elements — and maybe some florals — would add some balance that would make this a bit friendlier.

86 proof. Available only in Scotland for now.

B / $53 /