Review: Ungava Canadian Premium Gin


When thoughts turn to Canada, the mind immediately thinks of its national spirit: Gin.

Wait, what? Ungava isn’t just a Canadian gin — made exclusively with handpicked native Canadian botanicals — it’s a bright yellow Canadian gin. Think electric, Galliano-class yellow. Now that’s a unique gin.

Inspired by all things in the Great White North, Ungava is a gin infused with six botanicals, many of which are completely foreign to most of us. Nordic juniper is the most mundane, followed by crowberry, Labrador tea, cloudberry, Arctic blend (a leafy evergreen shrub), and wild rose hips (which give Ungava its bright yellow color).

It’s nothing if not eye-catching. Here’s how it works out in the glass.

There’s pretty juniper starts off the nose, with touches of lemon peel and an indistinct grassiness. The body is juniper-forward, but only modestly. As the more piney elements fade the gin brings forward notes of forest floor, sour apple, saffron, and rubber. The finish veers more toward earth than botanical pungency, offering a sort of chewy tree bark character as it fades to black.

All told, Ungava is a balanced, versatile, and likable gin, remarkably traditional in many ways despite its unorthodox botanical bill, but with enough distinction — and that unmistakable color — to merit continued exploration.

86.2 proof.

B+ / $30 /

Review: The London No. 1 Gin

gonzalez byass

The world of gin is awash in numbers. There is Tanqueray No. Ten. Beefeater 24. Monkey 47. No. 3. No. 209. And London 40. Now the numismatics are coming full circle, with The London No. 1.

This gin is produced in England but under the ownership of the Spanish comany Gonzalez Byass, best known for its winery (where it is the producer of Tio Pepe sherry). That’s curious enough on its own, but London No. 1’s blue color is also of particular note. This is not a blue-tinted bottle like Bombay Sapphire. This is blue gin (courtesy of some certified colors).

The blueness is a nod toward one of the more unique botanicals in the mix here, namely the iris flowers used here as an addition to the more standard juniper, coriander, angelica, lemon peel, orange peel, and both cassia and cinnamon. Also in the blend are liquorice, almond, savory, and bergamot.

That sounds like a lot, but London No. 1 is surprisingly well-constructed. On the nose you’ll find a solid juniper base, plus hints of caramel sauce, orange and even grapefruit notes. The licorice character is mild but distinct — while this ingredient is becoming commonplace in modern gins, this is one of the few products I can recall where I could actually taste the licorice element.

The body of London No. 1 Gin starts off restrained, zero alcoholic burn, and almost tasting watery despite a hefty 47% abv. But things open up a bit with some air, revealing more of the gin’s nuances. Some earthy notes emerge at the start, with juniper and citrus peel close behind. The midpalate veers toward a bittersweet character, its citrus taking on balsamic notes, with some of that lily-driven floral character finally emerging as the finish rumbles along. There’s sweetness on the back end too, a bit earthy, almost caramel mixed with honey in character, perhaps thanks to the bergamot. It’s a nice way to end things — not too dessert like, and providing a nice balance to the racier front side.

I’m not sold on the blue color, but the gin itself is versatile, well-made, and unique in its own way.

94 proof.

B+ / $30 /

Review: Uncle Val’s Restorative Gin

uncle val's restorative ginDoes this bottle look familiar? Does the name sound familiar, too? Ah, you’re probably thinking about Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin, which we reviewed upon release in 2012.

Uncle Val’s Restorative Gin offers a somewhat different formulation. In lieu of juniper, cucumber, lemon, sage, and lavender — the key ingredients in Botanical — Restorative offers juniper, coriander, cucumber, and rose petals.

If that sounds a lot like Hendrick’s, that’s because it is a lot like Hendrick’s. And once again, my tasting notes run to some unexpected places that are not wholly in keeping with the botanical bill. The nose presents juniper and lemony citrus (surprising, as there’s no citrus in the gin), a brisk and powerful introduction that should keep fans of more traditional, juniper-forward gins happy.

The body folds in the florals — lots of rose petal character (considerably more than Hendrick’s) that fortunately manages to stay on this side of the perfume counter. The coriander adds an earthy element that is present mainly on the finish. Cucumbers are the only element that don’t really make a major showing. Intended to be “cooling,” the gin does have a gentler (and sweeter) let-down on the back end than you might expect, which takes things out on a refreshing and, well, restorative finish.

I like this gin a bit better than the Uncle Val’s Botanical bottling, although with only four botanicals to rely on, Restorative has to work harder for your love. For the most part, it succeeds in earning it. Hendrick’s fans should definitely give this a shot to compare and contrast.

90 proof.


Review: Genius Gin and Navy Strength Gin

genius gin

Texas loves its gin (why? it’s hot!), and they’re making some right there in the capital now. Genius Gin hails from Austin, Texas, where they (of course) do things a little differently. Per the company:

The many ingredients in Genius Gin are balanced and treated with individual care. Our incredibly detailed two-part “Hot and Cold” process caters to the delicate and unique characteristics of each botanical as exposed to different temperatures.

First, we ferment and create a low % alcohol (essentially a beer), to be redistilled for purification and strength reasons. This first run is prepared through our beautiful 6-plate copper still. The resulting product is then infused at room temperature with the first half (the Cold) of our proprietary botanical blend for over 72 hours. (this blend includes: Elderflower, Lavender, Lime Peel, Angelica Root, and more….) When ready, this fragrant and colorful mix is distilled again (the Hot) in a process that pushes vapors through our remaining ingredients enclosed in a basket within the still. These heat activated ingredients include: Juniper, Cardamom, Coriander, and a few others..) Each “Hot” preparation involves the toasting and muddling of all the fresh ingredients. (think “made to order” Gin).

That’s a complicated process, so let’s see if the proof is in the bottle.

Genius Gin (Standard Strength) – Fragrant right out of the bottle, it’s got plenty of juniper up front, but the more feminine elements like lavender and elderflower make a strong showing on the nose, too. The body offers a surprisingly complex collection of flavors. Floral at first, it quickly segues into evergreen notes alongside complex touches of mushroom, grapefruit peel, and some cloves. A final act comes along in the finish, where fresh fruit and citrus notes dominate. Think frozen table grapes dusted with fresh lime zest. There’s a ton going on here, but Genius presents itself in courses, offering something new with each passing second. It’s a really, er, genius product. 90 proof. A / $26

Genius Navy Strength Gin – Surprisingly, the nose is less powerful here than that of the standard strength edition. Evergreen notes still dominate, but the intensity isn’t quite as sharp, and the floral notes are gone. The body is naturally a powerhouse of alcohol first and foremost, and it takes some time to really warm up and show off its charms. It comes across as sweeter than the standard strength, offering more of a caramel note that washes over the rest of it. Lavender is the strongest secondary note. The finish offers less clarity. You could add water to coax out more of the gin’s nuance as evidenced above… but what would be the point of that? 114 proof. B+ / $33

Review: Re:Find Vodka, Cucumber Vodka, Gin, & Limoncello

refind Gin-Vodka

Distilled from grapes in Paso Robles, California, Re:Find is a boutique distillery that turns its “neutral brandies” into a variety of straight and flavored spirits. Distilled “from grapes” has certain connotations, but Re:Find is careful to note its vodka is not grappa, a specific type of brandy that is distilled from a by-product of winemaking. Re:Find is rather made from “free run” juice called saignee that is bled off during pressing, before red wine grapes are fermented — so it’s closer to an unaged brandy in composition. These are high-end grapes, which just so happen to be used to make wine at Villicana Winery — which is under the same ownership.

Mostly available only in California, we got a look at four of the spirits in Re:Find’s lineup. All four spirits reviewed below are 80 proof.

Re:Find Vodka – A bit grappa-like on the nose, with some of that funky, twig-‘n’-stem character you see on this spirit, but it’s undercut with the lightest aromas of honey and marshmallow. The body offers more in the way of hazelnuts, banana, and vanilla cookies, which makes for an interesting counterpart to the funkier nose (again, much like a good grappa). There’s a lot going on in this spirit and while it’s initially a bit much when sipping straight, it does show lots of nuance and character, and it merits exploration both on the rocks and in more complex cocktails. A- / $35

Re:Find Cucumber Vodka – Interesting choice for your first flavor, but damn if a nose full of Re:find Cucumber doesn’t smell like you’re headed to a day at the spa. Crisp and authentic, this vodka offers pure and refreshing cucumber flavor through and through, with just the lightest dusting of sweetness on the finish to offer some balance against the vegetal notes up front. You get none of the earthy grappa character in the unflavored vodka here, just fresh cukes from start to finish. Impressive considering this is legitimately flavored with fresh cucumbers. Seasonally available. A / $25 (375ml)

Re:Find Gin – Triple distilled and infused with (mostly local) juniper berry, coriander, orris root, lemon & orange peel, grains of paradise, and lavender. This is an engaging gin, juniper-forward on the nose, with hints of lavender underpinning it. On the palate, things get a bit switched up. Here the lavender picks up the ball and runs, with the citrus notes coming on strong. It’s quite a trick, as the nose sets you up for a big evergreen bomb, then the body lets you down easy with a more sedate character suitable for the tropics. Re:Find Gin could benefit from a bit more complexity — maybe grapefruit peel or black pepper, or both — but as it stands it’s an engaging and quite drinkable little spirit. A- / $43

Re:Find Limoncello – Pale in color in comparison to many commercial limoncellos and translucent, Re:Find’s Limoncello looks and smells more like pure, fresh lemon juice — much more so than the stuff you typically see from Italy. Heavy on sour juice and bitter zest, this is intense stuff. If you’re looking for a sweet and lightly sour limoncello that will pair well with your berries-and-whipped-cream dessert, this isn’t the liqueur for you. If intense, almost raw, lemon character is your bag, give it a go… though you’ll have to visit Re:Find’s distillery to get some. B+ / $NA (375ml)

Review: Oryza Vodka and Oryza Gin

Oryza vodkaDonner-Peltier Distillers, the Louisiana-based company behind the Rougaroux line of rums, has a little bit of everything in its stable including, of course, two white spirits: Oryza Vodka and Oryza Gin.

Oryza Vodka is distilled from local rice, 17 times, they say, in a copper (column) still. The vodka has a rustic quality to the nose — a touch earthy and vegetal, but with a frosting-like sweetness atop it. The body largely follows suit, exhibiting some forest floor notes that ultimately turn a little salty and sweaty as the vodka opens up in the glass. Sweetness builds alongside the finish, but it has a somewhat saccharine character to it, something that just doesn’t play well with that funky saltiness up front. 80 proof. B- / $30

Oryza Gin is made from the same base as Oryza Vodka, and is flavored with an exotic blend of botanicals that includes juniper, satsuma, lavender, orris root, cantaloupe, coriander, pink peppercorn, angelica root, paradise seed, orange peel, and lemon peel. Yes, cantaloupe! The tagline of this gin includes the phrase “Distinctively Citrus,” and that’s easily the strongest element here. I couldn’t peg the oranginess as satsuma by any stretch, but it’s got an indistinct citrus fruit character that’s definitive on the tongue (more so than on the somewhat muddy nose). What’s lacking here is just about everything else. I don’t catch any juniper at all, and aside from a touch of spice and just a hint of melon, none of the other components in the botanical bill make an impact. If I’d tasted this blind I’d have told you it was a workable orange-flavored vodka, and discriminating drinkers should probably approach it as such. (My rating considers it on that scale, not as a true gin.) 96 proof. B / $30

Review: Brockmans Intensely Smooth Premium Gin

brockmans gin

Never mind the double negative in the name, that’s a lot of superlatives to put on the label before you ever tell anyone what the product is. “Intensely Smooth Premium Gin?” That’s a little like saying you have the “Absolutely Tastiest Expensivest Whiskey.” Maybe this bottle is working a little too hard and it ought to let the gin do some of the heavy lifting.

While it’s made in London, this is as far from a London Dry Gin you will find. The botanicals include (wait for it) juniper, blueberries, blackberries, cassia bark, licorice, lemon peel, coriander, angelica, orange peel, almonds, and orris. The resulting potion is distilled in a copper pot still before being bottled in a unique, black glass decanter.

The berries in the botanical list above probably stood out when you read it, and they more than stand out when you experience the gin. The nose is full of fruit notes, but here they come off as more like strawberry, with notes of rose petals and violets underpinning them. Nosing it blind, you’ll swear this is a fruit-flavored vodka, and not a gin. There’s more going on on the body, though again those berries hit you first. Juniper is here, along with more bark-and-root driven notes from the angelica, orris, and coriander. The berries push back hard on the finish, however, taking things out on a sweet and tart note… and perhaps earning Brockmans its “intensely smooth” moniker.

It’s definitely one to consider if you want an exotic Cosmo mixer, but martini fans will cringe.

80 proof.

B / $40 /

Review: Few Spirits Standard Issue Gin, Barrel Aged Gin, and Bourbon

Few Bourbon bottle shot

We’ve covered a few of the spirits of Evanston, Ill.-based Few Spirits in the past. Today we turn our attention to some of Few’s more exotic offerings. As with the previously-reviewed offerings, these are true craft products made with local grains (all within 100 miles of the distillery) and no bulk or sourced alcohol in the mix.

Thoughts follow.

Few Spirits Standard Issue Gin – Not to be confused with Few’s American Gin, this is a high-test Navy strength spirit that’s intended to be more juniper forward, and features the addition of fennel to the infusion list. (The remainder of said list is not public.) The addition is immediately noticeable. After the initial rush of heat from all that alcohol fades, some intense licorice notes are left behind, alongside a smattering of very light herbal/almost root beer notes. Bone dry, the gin is almost completely lacking in citrus character, letting the one-two punch of juniper and fennel do the heavy lifting. If that relatively simple combination sounds like a winner to you, this overproof spirit will be right up your alley, otherwise it can come across as decidedly, well, “standard.” 114 proof. B / $40

Few Spirits Barrel Aged Gin – Aka Few Barrel Gin, this gin, a relatively standard infusion of juniper, coriander, and other botanicals, is aged in a mix of new oak barrels, ex-Bourbon barrels, and ex-rye barrels for an unstated amount of time. The results are pretty tasty. Here the racy herbal notes — juniper, citrus peel, coriander, and licorice — find an interesting balance with the woody notes of vanilla and dark chocolate. The finish is bitter and almost quinine-like, with hints of sweetness if you sip on it long enough — it’s altogether a solid example of a burlier style of aged gin — with the emphasis on “aged.” It’s pretty easy to enjoy alone, and it also mixes well with simple mixers. 93 proof. B+ / $50

Few Spirits Bourbon Whiskey – A high rye mash is used for this home-grown bourbon, fermented with a “special, peppery yeast.” No word on the aging regimen, but Few Bourbon drinks at a moderate age. The initial rush is sweet vanilla and racy red pepper mixed with ample baking spices, but corny cereal notes come to the forefront as the palate progresses. This pairs well with a nose that presents the best of both of those worlds — popcorn and vanilla syrup in a sort of Cracker Jack conflagration. It’s not a complex take on bourbon, but for a younger craft spirit, it’s drinking remarkably well. I’d love to try a version of this again after 2 more years of barrel time just to see how those popcorn notes settle down. 93 proof. B+ / $50

Review: Bluewater Distilling Organic Vodka and Halcyon Gin

bluewater halcyon ginBluewater Distilling in Everett, Washington makes a variety of spirits (including an aquavit!), but it’s best known for two major staples, a gin and a vodka, both organically produced and crafted in a classic copper pot still — not a column still, which is by far the norm for most vodkas and gins.

Thoughts on both of these spirits follow.

Bluewater Organic Vodka – Pot-distilled from organic wheat. Immediately enticing. Classic, old-world nose, with rich light medicinal character and undertones of old wood and wet earth. This intriguing aroma leads you into an even more engaging palate. The body is surprisingly mild and easygoing, yet it’s quite punchy with flavor. It kicks off with notes of toffee and butterscotch, then develops fruit and acidity as it builds on the tongue. Within a few seconds, it’s pummeling the palate with lemongrass and grapefruit, black pepper, and some pine tree/cedar notes. The finish is both silky and sharp, but lacking in the expected astringency. One of those vodkas that’s easy to sip on at length, even at room temperature. 80 proof. A / $27

Bluewater Halcyon Organic Distilled Gin – Note that the “Bluewater” is very small on the bottle here. You’ll most likely find it listed under “Halcyon” instead. The wheat-based distillate on this London Gin style gin is crafted with a classic 24-hour infusion of juniper, orange, lemon, coriander, angelica root, orris root, licorice root, and cassia bark. The intense nose features lots of fruit, modest juniper, and some spongy, earthy notes driven by a few of the root-based ingredients. Unlike with the vodka, there are few surprises on the palate here. Lemon and orange remain strong, and the juniper is a bit more present on the tongue than the initial nosing would indicate. All in all it is stylistically on par with many a UK-crafted gin and a versatile spirit that works in all kinds of classic cocktails. 92 proof. A- / $30

Review: Master’s Selection London Dry Gin


You don’t have to make London Dry Gin in London, England. Turns out you don’t have to make it in Great Britain at all. Case in point: Master’s Selection London Dry Gin, which is made in Barcelona, Spain by a family-owned distillery that dates back to 1835.

Process-wise Master’s is a bit unique: Grain alcohol is redistilled in a pot still with Spanish estate-grown juniper, Spanish coriander, and Guatemalan cardamom. After this round, three separate macerations of Spanish citrus are introduced: sweet orange from Valencia, bitter orange from Seville, and lemons from Seville. Each of these macerations is rested separately for a full year being blended together and distilled again. At last, the juniper-coriander-cardamom distillate is blended with the citrus distillate and bottled in a cobalt blue (and, tragically, plastic-looking-but-actually-glass) decanter.

With all that talk of oranges, Master’s better pack some citrus power, and sure enough it does. In fact, there’s so much of it here you might mistake it for a citrus vodka instead of a gin. There’s ample sweetness here; rather than using just the peel as is traditional in gin, Master’s includes whole fruit, and some of that juiciness has found its way into the finished product. That’s not a complaint, and the citrus is well complemented here by the comparably modest juniper and coriander notes.

Ultimately and despite the convoluted production process, this is a perfectly drinkable but far from complex gin. Citrus, then juniper, then a dusting of Asian spice… that’s really about it. This isn’t a big martini gin (or much of a London Dry for that matter), but it’ll work with fruitier cocktails — or even sub in for orange-flavored vodka. Price is right, too.

87.8 proof.

B / $20 /