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

bluewaterdistilling.com

Review: Master’s Selection London Dry Gin

MASTERS-FRONT

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 / mastersdrygin.com

Review: Hammer & Son Geranium Gin

geranium_front

Only a few months back we reviewed Hammer & Son’s Old English Gin, a classically structured gin with old timey trappings. Now the company is already back to the well with Geranium, a gin fit for those with somewhat more modern trappings.

There’s no botanical list published, but as the name implies, Geranium looks to floral elements for its inspiration, and you’ll find plenty of those to delve into here. Rose petals, orange peel, and lemon peel are all evident on the nose. I couldn’t tell you what geraniums smell like, but I’m guessing there’s a few of those in there too.

The body is lightly sweet and full of perfume, again pumping up both those juicy citrus notes and layering on floral elements to a degree you don’t often see in even the most modern of gins. The finish keeps the sweetness going, offering just a touch of chalk and angelica root to keep things interesting, but it’s hard to punch down a mountain of rose petals. It’s not at all bad on its own, but this level of flowery business is often at odds with cocktailing, where perfume notes can overwhelm the more delicate elements of a beverage, so tread lightly.

88 proof.

B / $38 / geraniumgin.com

Review: Ingenium Dry Gin

IngeniumGin

Portland, Maine-based New England Distilling presents this avant garde “new western” gin, made from a triple pot-distilled mash of 2-row barley with a bit of rye added. Botanicals include juniper, lime zest, lemongrass, bay leaf, mace, and rose petals — plus some other oddities.

That description alone gives you plenty to think about. Pour a glass and you get plenty to write about, too.

Let’s start with the mashbill. That barley base creates a very white whiskey-like experience on the nose, malty and full of cereal, with some evergreen notes bringing up the rear. The botanicals barely peek through, unable to push past that granary-fueled base.

The palate offers more interest, though it’s inconsistent. Here some floral notes make for an odd but somewhat successful balance with the malted milk-like body. Curious but somewhat compelling. As the finish arrives, the clear lime and mint notes — about the only things even remotely traditional in this gin — offer some hint that this might work in a cocktail, but on the whole it’s so weird that it’s a struggle to see where it would feel truly at home.

94 proof.

B- / $40 / newenglanddistilling.com

Review: Wigle Rye Whiskey Deep Cut and Barrel-Rested Ginever

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based Wigle (aka Pittsburgh Distilling Company) is an up-and-coming craft distiller that makes loads of products including, in a page taken from the Tuthilltown/Hudson Distillery playbook, a wide range of different whiskeys — seven of them at current count.

Today we look at two of the company’s products, a rye and an aged “ginever,” both curiosities that you’ll only find from a true craft operation.

Thoughts follow.

Organic-Rye-Deep-Cut-375_5Wigle Organic Rye Whiskey Deep Cut – Called “Deep Cut,” per the company, because of the “bold cuts taken on this Whiskey to create our most assertively Rye-forward, spiciest Whiskey.” I presume that means they leave more heads and tails in the still with this than the do with other products. Whatever the case, the description is apt. A small-batch product, it’s made from local, organic grains. Aging time varies from bottle to bottle, but is set at about a year in 10- to 15-gallon casks.

Deep orange in color, it looks like an intense Bourbon. At full cask strength — nearly 60% abv — it’s a fireball in the glass. The nose is intense with roasted grains, wood smoke, and tar. Sipping it at full proof doesn’t reveal a lot — I don’t often balk at cask strength whiskey, but this one’s just too much to parse without water. Adding a healthy slug of H2O is a huge help, revealing a gentler smokiness that’s balanced by deep cereal notes, lush allspice and cinnamon. There’s a brutish core to this whiskey that is somehow balanced by its celebration of the underlying grain. It is fire and earth, both at once. Though when push comes to shove, fire is winning. 117.5 proof. Reviewed: Batch DCK#3, aged 14 months. B+ / $61

Aged-Ginever-750Wigle Organic Barrel-Rested Ginever – This aged gin (tangentially related to genever, which starts with a barley-based distillate) is made from a pot-distilled mash of local and organic wheat, rye, and malted barley (don’t call it ginwhiskey!), the white spirit is infused with a collection of botanicals, including juniper berries, cardamom, cubeb, and lavender (among other undisclosed agents). The resulting spirit is aged for an unstated length of time. Racy nose, offering a complex collection of aromas in the world of dried herbs, licorice, modest juniper, dried apricots, and raw wood notes. It’s muddy, but vaguely enticing, too.

The body is equally weird. It starts out almost bitter, with a quinine and licorice/root beer character to it. Sweetness emerges quickly to wash this away, and here the vanilla notes driven by the barrel aging start to take hold. The finish is both fruity and floral, offering a fresh apricot note flicked with honeysuckle, brown sugar crystals, and cardamom spice. Some cinnamon and nutmeg come across on the finish.

Weirdly lovable, it’s like a gin and whiskey mix, maybe with a dash of amaro in it. Endless cocktail possibilities. 94 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1. A- / $50

wiglewhiskey.com

Review: SW4 London Dry Gin

sw4 ginNamed for its place of origin in Clapham, South London, SW4 is an independently-produced gin made of 5-times distilled neutral grain spirits, which is re-distilled in a pot still with its botanicals. The botanical list includes most of the classics, with a few minor twists. The full list includes juniper, savory, orris, angelica, cinnamon, cassia, licorice, coriander, nutmeg, orange, lemon, and almond.

There’s a big burst of lemon and juniper right when you pour a shot out of the bottle. The juniper hangs around the longest, forcing the citrus notes into the background. The body is quite sharp, the polar opposite of so many modern gins, which turn to floral notes and a gentle sweetness to become more palatable to a modern, sweet-toothed crowd. You’ll get none of that here. SW4 is old school, juniper-forward stuff, dense with pine forest notes, almost to a fault. Balance is a tricky issue with SW4. I catch some of the nutmeg, cinnamon, and licorice notes here, but those botanicals are fleeting and soon overpowered by a strong, forest-fueled finish.

Nothing at all wrong with this approach, just be ready for a gin that doesn’t pull any punches

80 proof.

B+ / $30 / sw4gin.com

Review: Hammer & Son Old English Gin

old english gin

Henrik Hammer, M.D., brings us Old English Gin, thankfully out of England proper. Distilled in a pot still from English wheat, the gin is said to be based on a recipe dating from 1793. In fact, Hammer is attempting to recreate gin so old that I would have expected it to be called Olde English Gin, or even Ye Olde English Gin. Even the bottle design and presentation are intended to be historically inspired, if not quite accurate.

I can’t comment on how Olde this gin is, but I can tell you how it tastes. Verily:

There’s plenty of juniper on the nose here, and the gin is indeed classically built with subtle layers of citrus and touches of mushroom. On the palate, juniper again hits first and hits hard, with fresh lemon underneath. That earthiness is again present, more chalky and forest floor-like than mushroom, but all of the aforementioned are present and accounted for. The finish is sharp and sweet at the same time, offering gin’s classic “pins and needles” character as it goes down clean.

A solid product, it’s good as a martini constituent or as a component of various tall drinks.

88 proof. Bottled with a wax-covered, driven cork, so bring your own stopper.

A- / $40 / oldenglishgin.com

Review: Prairie Organic Gin and Cucumber Vodka

Prairie_GinPrairie Organic Vodka, a clean, corn-based spirit from Minnesota, has been with us for the better part of a decade. At last the company is out with two line extensions, a gin and a cucumber-flavored version of the original spirit, both organic releases. Thoughts on both follow forthwith.

Prairie Organic Cucumber Flavored Vodka – Take Prairie’s corn-distilled vodka and add “garden-fresh cucumber flavor” and you have this spirit. Cucumber is becoming increasingly common as a vodka flavor, and this rendition is both straightforward and perfectly credible — largely authentic with almost nothing in the way of secondary flavor notes at all (aside from some subtle sweetness). Nothing shocking, just a quiet recreation of cucumber sandwiches, hold the sandwiches. 70 proof. B / $26

Prairie Organic Gin – Prairie doesn’t publish its botanical list, but alludes to mint, sage, and cherry (!) on its bottle hanger, along with the usual juniper. On the nose I get a lot of floral, almost perfumy notes, along with touches of cinnamon and mulled wine. The body is a bit more traditional: Juniper comes up first (barely), with citrus peel notes… but there’s also gingerbread and honey on the finish. Pleasant enough, but it doesn’t quite muster enough in the body department for my tastes. 80 proof. B / $26

prairievodka.com  [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Spirits of Santa Fe Spirits

santa fe apple brandy

Santa Fe Spirits is based, you guessed it, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Founded by Colin Keegan in 2010, the company now offers a range of five spirits, all with a southwestern bent and primarily column-distilled. We tasted four of them (all but the aged, single malt whiskey). Thoughts follow.

Santa Fe Spirits Apple Brandy – This was Santa Fe’s first product, made from New Mexico-grown Mountain West apples, including some from Keegan’s own orchard. Barrel aged “for years.” Big, punchy nose. It’s got mashed apples, sure, but lots of wood, and some coal fire character to it. The body is on the oily side, burly with overpowering wood notes and a big, tannic finish. Overall: A curiosity that never quite pulls it all together. C+ / $45

Santa Fe Spirits Wheeler’s Western Dry Gin – A newfangled infusion and the most avant garde of the bunch. This gun includes only botanicals that are sourced from within 30 miles of the distillery: white desert sage, Cholla cactus blossoms, osha root, Cascade hops, and local juniper. My first cactus-infused gin! The nose is a delight. Quite citrusy, like Meyer lemon, with distinct sage notes. On the body, those hops come through right away, while the sage and citrus character lingers. All of these things balance quite well, though the hops tend to dominate a bit too heavily. 80 proof (it could have stood to be 86, in my opinion). B+ / $32

Santa Fe Spirits Silver Coyote Pure Malt Whiskey – Made from 100% malted barley and bottled as unaged white dog. A lighter style of white dog, relatively restrained (comparatively) with a curious mix of grain and slate notes on the nose. The body isn’t overly complex, wearing its maltiness and youthful barley notes on its sleeve, with a lightly vegetal finish. Think green beans and sweet potatoes. Or competently made white lightning, anyway. 92 proof. B+ / $30

Santa Fe Spirits Expedition American West Vodka – 6 times distilled from a corn base. Interesting nose here, supple and sweet but not overdone. It’s not at all “corny,” but the aroma is almost like a nice bit of cotton candy or marshmallow. On the body, similar notes prevail, with a subtle fruitiness that recalls apples and banana. The finish has a touch of medicinal burn, but by and large it’s a smooth operator that offers a modern profile balanced by a restrained and refined backbone. 80 proof. A / $25

Note: This quartet is available in a four-pack of 200ml bottles. Total price: $55.

santafespirits.com

Review: Beefeater Burrough’s Reserve Barrel Finished Gin

Beefeater Burroughs Reserve Gin

Remember when genever was going to be the next big thing? Of course you don’t. That stillborn trend gave way to aged gin, which is now — cautiously — on the rise. Will barrel-aged gin be successful where genever was not? Let’s take a look at a bottling from one of the biggest names in gin, Beefeater.

Burrough’s Reserve (tagline: “the gin for free thinkers”) is distilled in 268-liter small batches (the botanicals used are not published) before being aged for an unspecified time (not long, I think) in former Lillet aperitif wine barrels.

The color is a light gold, not unlike Lillet Blanc, with a nose reminiscent of modern gins. The intense juniper notes of Beefeater are absent here, replaced with notes of camphor, licorice, citrus peel, and some curious sea salt notes. The more seaward components are what linger in the nostrils, even as you sip it to reveal some of the classic gin components, including angelica, light lemon and orange notes, white flowers, and vanilla on the finish. The body is on the sweet side, and surprisingly creamy. Juniper? Frankly it’s hard to find at all here, just a vague evergreen character that develops on the nose over time.

The only sticking point with Burrough’s Reserve, an otherwise excellent product that both gin and brown spirits fans should like, is the price. At $70 a bottle it’s a hard sell, even if you’re a gin fanatic. If the price is too rich, maybe stick with the genever then?

86 proof. Reviewed: Batch #5, bottle #74.

A- / $70 / pernod-ricard.com