Review: Far North Spirits Solveig Gin and Alander Spiced Rum

solveig ginYou’re a Minnesota-based craft distiller that names its products after Scandinavian words. For your first two products, what do you release? You nailed it: Gin and spiced rum, just what our friends from the north are known for!

Kidding aside, Far North (technically Får North, which would be pronounced “for north,” but never mind) produces craft spirits in some really beautiful, minimalist, Scanditastic packaging. While the company now boasts five spirits in its stable, here’s a look at the first two out of the gate.

Far North Spirits Solveig Gin – Pronounced soul-vai. Distilled from Minnesota rye and flavored with juniper, grapefruit, thyme, and other undisclosed botanicals. This is an update on our original review, which we removed when Far North said we received a bad batch of its gin tainted by problems from a bad water purifier. With round two, I’m not noticing any of the funky, methane-and-rubber characteristics I got in the bad batch. Rather, this bottle of Solveig is surprisingly light and almost tart on the nose — with notes of lemongrass, grapefruit, mixed florals, and white pepper coming to the fore. Some earthier elements emerge on the nose with time in glass. The juniper is dialed way back from start to finish, though; some gin drinkers may find this pushed too far into the citrus world, and some lavender notes, particularly strong on the body, are not going to be for everyone. But the fruitier elements are engaging and refreshing, just dusted a bit with perfume to take things to a clean and enchanting finish. 87 proof. B+ / $30

Far North Spirits Alander Spiced Rum – (oh-lander) Louisiana sugar cane spiced with vanilla, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves — plus a hint of espresso(!). This is a much more capable spirit, but it’s incredibly exotic for this category. Things start out with gentle sweetness before diving into some exceptionally sultry, savory spice notes. That espresso hits you immediately — more cocoa nib than ground coffee — while the cloves and allspice play a strong supporting role. The body is far more bitter than you might expect from a spiced rum, almost to the point of astringency at times. It takes some doing, but the finish manages to dial it back a bit. Here, gentle notes of sweetness finally re-emerge, the way a bite of too much cinnamon can initially be overwhelming but eventually settle down into something nostalgic and soothing. 86 proof. B / $30

Review: Beehive Distilling Jack Rabbit Gin


Utah-based Beehive Distilling makes gin and only gin. Production involves some traditional technique melded with a few newfangled flavoring agents. Beehive explains:

Jack Rabbit is produced on a small (300-liter) hybrid column still in Salt Lake
City. Beehive’s lead distiller macerates crushed Albanian juniper, orris root, grain
of paradise and coriander in grain neutral spirits for 24 hours before redistilling
the spirit. During distillation, fresh sage, rose petals and lemon zest are added
to the gin basket for vapor infusing; the resulting distillate is proofed to 45%.
The finishing water comes from the Wasatch Mountains, and is further ROI filtered
for purity. Heads and tails cuts are made on each run, with only the mids—or hearts—being used for the final product. Three runs off of the still are combined for each batch, yielding roughly 65 cases. Prior to bottling, the combined runs are rested for one week in our holding tank, allowing the flavors to bind. After resting, the gin is filtered one last time before being hand-bottled, labeled and batch-numbered.

(There is also a barrel-aged expression, which we aren’t reviewing here.)

This is a racy gin, almost bruising at times. The nose is lightly floral but dusted with cereal notes, some dried herbs, and just a hint of sweetness. Hitting the palate it is fiery with red pepper, menthol, and juniper berries (which are more earthy than that more aromatic, piney, needle-like character that’s more traditional in gin). It doesn’t take long from there for the spirit to develop its true, pungent body. The sage influence is profound and lasting, a deep vegetal character studded with white pepper, licorice, and petrol exhaust. The finish is dense with underbrush notes, almost peaty at times.

A true curiosity more than an everyday sipper.

90 proof.

B- / $30 /

Tasting with Branded Spirts: Hana Gin, Motu Rum, HM Blended Scotch, and Majeste Cognac

Majeste_XO_White Background

Treasure Island, California-based Branded Spirits recently sent us its Arctic Fox Vodka for review… then they stopped by with more — everything the company is currently producing, in fact. Originally a major exporter to China — where it once held the license to sell Heineken beer — it’s now making a bigger, broader push for the U.S. as well.

We tasted through four additional products from Branded, including a gin, rum, Scotch, and Cognac. The company promises more goodies to come, including a single malt and some vintage Cognacs, to boot.

All spirits are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Hana Gin – Triple distilled (presumably from corn, like Arctic Fox Vodka), this gin is infused with just four botanicals: Albanian juniper, orange peel, lemon peel, and lavender. The lavender note is quite fragrant up front, leading to a floral-driven nose. Juniper is big on the finish, but modest medicinal notes creep in as the finish fades. B / $20

Motu Rum – Distilled from Polynesian molasses, then rested in used French oak barrels for two months. A hint of hogo up front, with some agricole character at first. The rum sweetens out as the body builds, offering tropical and coconut notes. Quite chewy, with a lasting, slightly fruity finish. Quite unique and sophisticated for this price level. Some proceeds go to support Tongan conservation charities. A- / $20

HM The King Blended Scotch Whisky – A Highland style blend which includes some peated malt along with other Highland malts mingled with Lowland grain whisky. Leather saddle notes start off what develops into a rustic nose, with a slight smokiness and plenty of earth. The body offers honey and toffee, plus some floral elements, making for a spirit with two faces — brooding and leathery on the nose, but sweeter and gentler on the palate. Curious. B+ / $25

Majeste L’Empereur Cognac XO – A 10-plus year old Cognac sourced from Dupuy Bache-Gabrielsen in Cognac. Delightfully minty on the nose, followed by the expected raisin notes, plus hints of cloves. The body builds to a sultry, leathery note, studded with tobacco character but balanced with fruit, lots of sweetness — a bit of vanilla, with some burnt marshmallow — and a perfectly crafted finish that pushes out gingerbread, baking spice, and a bounty of those sultry raisins. Great stuff. A / $110

Review: Anchor Distilling Old Tom Gin

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Old Tom, for the uninitiated, is a style of gin that was last at its height of popularity somewhere around 1880. As London Dry came to the forefront, Old Tom fell out of favor, and from the 1950s until a few years ago, no one made it.

The modernist cocktail revival has brought Old Tom back to the masses, and San Francisco-based Anchor Distilling is one of a handful leading the charge.

Old Tom has no official style, but it tends to have a bigger body than London Dry gin has but without as much of the bite. Most notably, Old Tom tends to be sweeter, owing to the use of sugar or other added sweetening agents. Old Tom also tends to be pot-distilled while most London Dry gins are column distilled. Some brands are barrel aged before bottling (like the vastly different Ransom Old Tom). Anchor’s Old Tom is pot-distilled and, while not aged, it is unfiltered, giving it a gentle cloudiness you don’t see in London Dry gin. The gin is flavored with the typical gin botanicals, but the infusion bill also includes star anise and licorice, plus the addition of stevia as a sweetener.

Lightly hazy, Anchor Old Tom Gin gets going with a nose of sharp juniper but also sweet dairy cream and citrus. There’s an undercurrent of savory herbs — coriander-like — that complement all of the above. On the palate, it’s immediately sweet — not overdone, but lightly sugary and touched with a bit of cinnamon. A lightly woody, almost smoky element arrives after some time in glass, until, finally, the licorice/anise element hits solidly as the finish builds. Anchor Old Tom goes out not with a fiery bang but with a sigh, slowly making its sultry, sweet escape.

90 proof.

A- / $30 /

Book Review: The Spirit of Gin

The Spirit of GinJesus, Matt Teacher really likes gin. His new hardcover, The Spirit of Gin: A Stirring Miscellany of of the New Gin Revival, crams nothing but juniper-scented spirits into its 350-plus pages.

Rest assured, there’s not really 350 pages of material to be revealed in the giniverse. The Spirit of Gin is breezy and light, with lots of white space and plenty of pictures.

The book begins with the dutiful history of gin and some discussion of various gin distillation methods. Cocktail recipes old and new are interspersed with profiles of gin-focused bars around the world (but priumarily in the U.S.) — good old-fashioned “gin joints,” all of ’em. A full third of the book is devoted to an “incomplete” catalog of modern gins, a simple, alphabetical guide to some of the noteworthy craft gin brands out there. If your tastes run more to Caorunn than Tanqueray, it’s a section you’ll enjoy perusing to pick up a few new suggested bottles.

The “Miscellany” in the subtitle is right. The Spirit of Gin is built like an encyclopedia but reads more like a coffee table book. Incredibly scattered but interesting, it’s the kind of book that is more fun when you simply open it to a random page than when you try to read it from front to back. Hey, who wants a Tom Collins?

B / $20 / [BUY IT HERE]

Review: Spirit Works Gin, Barrel Gin, and Sloe Gin

spirit works aged gin

Sebastapol, California is in the heart of Northern California’s winemaking operations, and it’s here where Spirit Works can be found, cranking out a variety of gin, vodka, and white whiskey products. They even make an authentic sloe gin here — and we were lucky enough to try it, along with the company’s standard gin and a barrel-aged variety. All are made with California botanicals and hand-labeled with batch information. Thoughts on the gin, barrel-aged gin, and sloe gin all follow.

Spirit Works Gin – Distilled from red winter wheat grown in California, infused with juniper berries, orris root, angelica root, cardamom, coriander, orange and lemon zest, and hibiscus. The nose is hefty with grain, initially coming across almost like a white whiskey. Heavy on earth tones, the body is surprisingly un-gin-like. Juniper is present, but just barely. Instead you’ll find it dense with notes of mushroom, Eastern spices, and eucalyptus. The finish is touched just a bit with some citrus peel, but all told it could really use more of a punch to push it more squarely into gin territory rather than this curious middle ground it currently occupies. 86 proof. Reviewed: Batch #010. B / $35

Spirit Works Barrel Gin – The above gin, aged for several months in new American oak barrels. This is a far different animal, the nose coming across like — you guessed it — a young whiskey. Racy lumberyard notes meld with aromas of incense, roasted meats, and aftershave. The body sticks along these lines, folding in vanilla notes to a palate that features light evergreen, bitter lemon, and ground cardamom. The finish is a blessed release of sweet butterscotch pudding, ultimately making for one of the most decidedly weird gins ever. 90.1 proof. Reviewed: Batch #001. B / $38

Spirit Works Sloe Gin – A traditionally-made spirit infused with whole sloe berries, giving this crimson-hued sloe gin the sweet-and-sour flavor of liquefied cranberry sauce. Good sloe gin is hard to come by — and rarely used these days in cocktails — but the hints of mint, orange peel, rhubarb, and eucalyptus oil make this a standout in a truly niche industry. 54 proof. Reviewed: Batch #008. A / $40  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Wildwood Spirits Stark Vatten Vodka and Kur Gin

Stark VattenWildwood Spirits is a new craft distillery located in Bothell, Washington. We tasted the company’s first two products, a solid vodka and a uniquely flavored gin. Thoughts follow.

Stark Vatten Vodka – Swedish for “strong water,” made from heirloom, local red winter wheat in a self-proclaimed European style. I think that’s a reasonably fair description. This is a rounded and creamy vodka with mild, vanilla- and cocoa-tinged sweetness. The core however offers modest hospital notes, gentle astringency that isn’t exactly biting but which finishes clean and easy. While a true European vodka would have less sweetness and more of a medicinal kick, this is at least a good entry point to the style. 80 proof. B+ / $29

Kur BottleKur Gin – Essentially made the same way as Stark Vatten, then infused with “classic juniper aromas and flavors with subtle citrus (Seville orange) as well as Douglas Fir and Braeburn apples from Mr. Liedholm’s [the distiller] back yard.” Also in the mix are orris root, fennel seed, and coriander seed. There’s no soft hand with the juniper on this one; it’s a punchy pine bomb from the get go. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the apple notes are intense and vivid — the lively and saucy character like what you get in a young apple brandy, lightly spiced with what come across like pie spices of cinnamon and cloves. The finish is chewy and hangs on the fruit, building caramel notes and tempering the juniper considerably. A very unusual, but worthwhile, gin. 80 proof. B+ / $29

Review: Oregon Spirit Vodka and Merrylegs Genever

vodka odsTwo more spirits from Oregon Spirits Distillers in Bend, Oregon — these renditions of those two most classic white spirits, vodka and gin. Let’s taste them together!

Oregon Spirit Vodka – Distilled from winter wheat. Very innocuous on the nose, it’s got just some modest hospital notes and a dusting of white grape juice to provide tartness and sweetness. The body is extremely neutral — all vodka is supposed to be flavorless, in theory, but this is one of the most neutral vodkas I’ve ever encountered. No bite. Nothing much at all on the palate aside from just the lightest touch of toffee character to provide a little sweetness on the very end of the finish. If you truly want a flavorless vodka, look no further. 80 proof. A / $25

merrylegsMerrylegs Genever Style Gin – Genever-style gin is distinguished by being a distillate of barley wine, and sure enough Merrylegs stakes its claim on being “authentic” because it is indeed made from a base of 100% malt barley. The infusion bill includes juniper, coriander, star anise, green anise, pink rose, and lemon. The gin is fragrant like a white whiskey, its malt character rising instantly to the forefront. This masks all the botanicals on the nose, but you’ll find them front and center on the palate. The anise character is easily the strongest, giving this gin a light licorice touch up front. At the back end, the coriander makes its presence felt more strongly, with a little kick of sweetness and a licorice candy echo to finish things off. I’m not sure what to think of this product — it’s easy to sip on, but it doesn’t come across much like gin at all. (I get almost no juniper character in it at all.) White licorice whiskey? Starter absinthe? You tell me. 80 proof. B+ / $30

Review: Ballast Point Old Grove Gin and Barrel Rested Gin

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Ballast Point is a beer and spirits producer in San Diego, where the company churns out a dazzling array of products. Old Grove Gin is made with juniper, rose petals, coriander, and a total of nine other (unspecified) botanicals. Available in a straight and barrel-aged version, we tasted both. Thoughts follow.

Ballast Point Old Grove California Small Batch Gin – Pretty and elegant on the nose, this gin features a heavily floral but balanced nose that offers instant intrigue. The body is very light, gentle, and a touch sweet. Flowery at first, it segues into notes of butterscotch, honeycomb, and vanilla, before eventually — finally — just hinting at juniper. The finish is warming and a little astringent, like a good vodka. I’d say this is more of a vodka drinker’s gin, and it mixes quite well in tall drinks. A bit simplistic, but hard not to enjoy. 88 proof. B / $26

Ballast Point Old Grove Barrel Rested California Small Batch Gin – With this expression, Old Grove spends 50 days in charred oak barrels before bottling. The interesting nose recalls aquavit, a sweet mix of vanilla and caraway seeds. The body takes the aforementioned notes in the unaged gin and punches them up with touches of salted caramel, a little licorice, and some dusty wood character. The finish brings out more of a dark chocolate character, with evergreen notes in the distant background. As with the straight gin, this really doesn’t drink much like a gin at all, instead coming across more like a lightly aged whiskey. Is that a good thing or a bad? You decide — just don’t try making a martini out of it. 88 proof. B+ / $35

Review: Bluecoat Barrel Finished Gin

Bluecoat has become a beloved gin of the New American school, and now the brand is taking things a step further by launching a barrel-finished expression.

Essentially this is standard Bluecoat that is aged — for an unstated length of time — in new American oak barrels. This gives the gin a lively bronzed yellow color, something akin to a reposado tequila.

On the nose, the juniper is restrained, relegated to the background while notes of cedar wood, butterscotch, and honeysuckle take over. There’s also a sharp, acidic edge to the aroma, something that’s tough to identify but which I can best describe as a lingering floral character that’s mingled with crushed red berries. The body is more juniper-forward than all that would imply, but there’s a lot more going on here as well than simple botanical notes and wood. On the palate you get a rush of evergreen that is chased by a wild collection of notes that include forest floor, orange peel, cream soda, and some hospital character. There’s a whole lot going on, but finding a balance in all of this is elusive to the point where the spirit ultimately becomes confusing.

94 proof. Available February 2015.

B / $TBD /