Review: The 86 Co. Aylesbury Duck Vodka and Ford’s Gin

The 86 Co., based in New York, is a sort of negociant of the spirits world. crafting spirits in cahoots with other distillers and distilleries from around the world. The company launched a barrage of four spirits in 2012, including the two we’re profiling below.

aylesbury duck vodkaAylesbury Duck Vodka – Distilled from Canadian winter wheat, bottled in California with a touch of Mendocino well water, then named after, yes, a duck. Modestly filtered only to remove particulate matter. I really like this vodka. The nose has earthy overtones, playing things safe. But the body’s quite a different animal. It’s sweet without being sugary, much in the way an fresh apple is sweet. The character is actually more akin to crisp pineapple, offering tartness and bite with each sip, with a finish that brings across notes of vanilla and milk chocolate. Medicinal hints creep up on the very back end of the finish. This is a fun and surprisingly modern vodka that exhibits that rarest of character traits in a world of overblown sugar bombs: restraint. 80 proof. A- / $26 (1 liter)

fords ginFords Gin – Named because it’s a collaboration of The 86 Co. with Simon Ford, but oddly lacking an apostrophe. Column-distilled from English wheat in London, this is the only gin in memory that doesn’t just outline its botanical bill, but tells you exact percentages of each ingredient in the infusion blend. Here, they are: Italian juniper (49.5%), Romanian coriander (30.5%), Haitian/Moroccan orange peel (3.2%), Turkish grapefruit peel (3.2%), Polish angelica (3.2%), Indonesian cassia (2.1%), Chinese jasmine (3.2%), and Italian/Moroccan orris root (2.1%). There’s only one real eyebrow-raiser there — the jasmine — but these otherwise typical ingredients come together quite well in Fords. Despite the hefty juniper component, this isn’t a particularly green-tasting gin. It’s readily evident on the nose, before offering notes of rose petal, sandalwood, and sage. The body pulls out the cinnamon (cassia) fairly quickly, and the palate grows with more lemony (or grapefruity) notes as the finish builds. Here, that earthiness comes back a bit, alongside straight-up juniper, before finishing clean. The gin is finished with that Mendocino water in California before bottling at 90 proof. A- / $31 (1 liter)

the86co.com

Review: Sipsmith London Dry Gin

Sipsmith London Dry Gin“The first copper distillery in London for 200 years.” That’s a big deal, and Sipsmith’s London Dry Gin — one of the few London Drys that can claim to actually be from London (the other main one being Beefeater) — stands up to its own self-generated hype.

Sipsmith starts with a barley base and is flavored with 10 botanicals, including Macedonian juniper, Seville orange peel, Spanish lemon peel, Italian orris root, Spanish licorice root, Belgian angelica root, Madagascan cinnamon, Chinese cassia, Spanish almonds, and Bulgarian coriander. Altogether a fairly classic London Dry style botanical bill, with the addition of licorice and two types of cinnamon. Batches are made 400 bottles at a time.

As London Dry gins go, Sipsmith is a quieter, sweeter example. The nose is mild, with the citrus notes easily overwhelming the juniper. The latter is more present on the body, but even there it’s kept in check by cinnamon sugar, some woody root notes, and, surprisingly, those almonds. The finish is more sweet than tart, and the spirit drinks far more sedately than its slightly overproof alcohol level would indicate. 

Worth a try, particularly in more fanciful gin-based cocktails.

83.2 proof.

B+ / $34 / wilsondaniels.com

Review: Batch 206 Vodkas, Gin, and Moonshine

BATCH 206 VODKASeattle-based Batch 206 is a craft distillery focused on hyperlocal raw materials — just about all of its source materials are from the Pacific Northwest. The company cooks up its goodies in a variety of stills, including a unique hybrid pot/column still, and most are filtered heavily through coconut husk charcoal before bottling. Thoughts on four of the company’s primary spirits follow.

Batch 206 Vodka – Hand-crafted and micro-batched it may be, this vodka, crafted from red winter wheat and malted barley, is one of the sweetest I’ve seen. Lush with honey notes up front, it isn’t until you’re well into tasting that the more traditional medicinality comes forth. You’ll have to push past lots of marshmallow notes to get to this vodka’s core… but it’s there, if you go a-huntin’. 80 proof. B / $25

Batch 206 Counter Gin – A modern American gin. The core is seemingly based on 206’s vodka as a base. It’s then flavored, per the company, with “juniper berries from Albania, whole cucumbers from Seattle’s Pike Place Market, tarragon and verbena leaves from Provence, lavender flowers from Sequim, Washington, and orange peel from Seville, Spain, along with Floridian Meyer lemon peel and English orris root as minor constituents.” The fresh nose is driven by the orange peel and juniper, but neither is overdone. These are also big on the body, and some floral characteristics come along next, slightly earthy (the verbena?) notes overwhelming the lavender, which can be a real downer in a gin. The finish is long, slightly sweet (just like the vodka), with some spiciness evident as well. I’d love to see this gin with a little black pepper in it to pump that component up a bit. Meanwhile, try it in a sweeter cocktail. 80 proof. B+ / $25

Batch 206 See 7 Stars Moonshine – Old-school white whiskey, crafted from a mash of Columbia Basin corn and Washington malted barley. Sweet, distinct caramel notes on the nose. The body’s got ample popcorn and plenty of peppery heat, thanks to its higher, heftier proof level and finishes with hints of sugar. Not terribly overwhelming, but not overly complex, either. This is a credible white dog driven by its constituent grain components. Treat appropriately. 100 proof. B / $28

Batch 206 Mad Mint Vodka – Peppermint-infused, overproof vodka, sweetened with local beet sugar. (The mint is Washington-grown, too.) The nose is a perfect recreation of an Andes mint — chocolate and mint, sandwiched together. It’s almost enough fun just to smell it. Of course, the body can’t compare… it’s half alcohol, after all. It’s got the essence of mint and a touch of cocoa here, injected with plenty of raw power. It grows on you wickedly… I presume driving the name of the spirit. Not exactly refined, but it is fun stuff. 100 proof. A- / $27

batch206.com

Re-Review: Citadelle Gin and Citadelle Reserve Gin 2012 Vintage

citadelle reserve gin 2012It has been many years since we last checked in with Citadelle, a French gin that comes in two varieties, a standard rack bottling and a vintage “Reserve” version that’s aged in Cognac casks for six months, giving it a pretty yellow hue. I won’t delve too deeply into the botanicals and production process behind Citadelle (see the above link for all that info), but did want to update my reviews for 2013, particularly my dated coverage of the 2008 and 2009 Vintage reserve bottlings. The standard gin decanter has been updated lately, too. Both expressions are 88 proof. Fresh thoughts follow.

Citadelle Gin – With fresh eyes (and nose and tongue), my thoughts on the current bottling are that the spirit is much more lemon-forward now, with the juniper dialed back considerably. The nose does feature a pine element, but it’s strong lemon oil, with touches of orange, that are clearest to me. The body is forthright and not entirely complicated. I catch some floral notes alongside the citrus, but juniper is more prevalent in the finish, not the attack. It’s curious that my notes are so different from those in 2009. Whether it’s the spirit that’s changed or my palate that’s evolved is hard to say. My money’s on both. B+ / $23

Citadelle Reserve Gin 2012 Vintage – Here I can tell you things have been changing over the years. The proof has gone up and back down again. For 2012 the recipe has been altered, with yuzu, génépi, and bleuet (cornflower) added to the mix. (For 2013, bigger changes are afoot as the aging regimen is changing. Citadelle 2013 is solera aged, such that the spirit within spends from 2 to 5 months in ex Cognac and Pineau de Charente casks. In the long run this will even out the way the individual vintage bottlings taste.)

That’s next year, though. For the 2012 Vintage bottling, here’s how things are shaping up. There’s a much bigger nose on it than the standard variation, with considerably stronger juniper and evergreen notes up front, and a more viscous and lush body backing it up. Some sweetness builds as the spirit develops on the tongue, driven by its time spent in barrel. The juniper is really quite strong overall, though, and it might be dialed up a big high in the 2012 expression, lending the gin a bit of a bitter finish. Tragically, I get virtually no bleuet flavor at all, as notes of vanilla, apple cider, and lemon peel kick in after the juniper bows out. A- / $35

citadellegin.com

Review: TOPO Vodka, Gin, and Carolina Whiskey

topo piedmont ginTop of the Hill Distillery, affectionately “TOPO,” promises its spirits are “100 miles from grain to glass.” That’d be more comforting if I was closer to North Carolina, where TOPO is based. Good luck finding these farther afield. Fortunately, I was able to sample the full lineup of three unaged spirits from way out here in California. Thoughts on these organic spirits follow.

TOPO Vodka – Made from organic Carolina wheat. Whew, pungent on the nose, redolent of a typical white whiskey, with lots of grain aromas filling the nostrils. On the tongue, it belies that funky nose with a brisk sweetness, almost marshmallow-like in character, with a pungent medicinal character underneath. Kind of a strange combination. There’s a lot going on here, and those that like their vodka on the more rustic side will find plenty to enjoy. On the other hand, if you’re looking for balance and refinement, TOPO’s definitely got some growing up to do. 80 proof. B- / $29

TOPO Piedmont Gin – Also an organic wheat spirit. Piedmont, I’m guessing, refers not to Italy but to a big swath of area that runs along the eastern seaboard and crosses straight through central North Carolina. (Now you know!) But whatever the nomenclature, it’s an American style gin flavored with ample juniper, cardamom, coriander, star anise, and organic cucumber. On the nose there’s ample juniper, so much so that you might think TOPO Gin is going to be a one-trick pony. Take a sip and you’re in for a surprise: The juniper fades. Sweet licorice notes, floral snippets, and hints of orange peel arise in its wake. What’s most surprising is the kind of candied flower finish. Either that, or that my tasting notes bear no resemblance to those of TOPO’s. 92 proof. A- / $29

TOPO Carolina Whiskey – Like the above, this is young whiskey based on organic Carolina wheat. It has a lot in common with the vodka, too, as you might expect. It is, however, considerably more pungent (distilled fewer times and likely more pot-distilled spirit than in the vodka, I’d guess), full of deep grain and traditional fuel-driven notes on the nose. The body is of greater interest, loaded with chewy sweetness, plus plenty of cereal notes. The effect is not unlike a good granola bar, breakfast and dessert all in one package. It’s not overblown, but surprisingly well balanced among its various characteristics. As white whiskeys go — which is often a Bad News Bears situation — it’s one of the better ones around. 84 proof. B+ / $22

topodistillery.com

Review: Roundhouse Spirits Gin and Corretto Coffee Liqueur

roundhouse ginRoundhouse Spirits, based in Boulder, Colorado (only the 6th licensed distillery in the state), makes a trio of products, a gin, a coffee liqueur, and a “super rare” aged gin. We got to tangle with the first two products on that list. Thoughts, as always, follow.

Roundhouse Gin – Overall, a classically-structured, big gin (the company calls it New Western), infused with juniper berry, coriander, citrus peel, star anise, angelica, and orris root, plus some oddities: sencha green tea, lavender, and hibiscus and chamomile blossoms. It’s redistilled from neutral grain spirit in copper pot stills, but bottled hot. The heavy alcohol burn keeps the botanicals at bay, at least until the booze burns off a bit. What you’ll find here then starts with the juniper and marches forward with curious biscuit and pretzel notes, characters that aren’t so much driven by flowers as they are by the granary. Chocolate notes develop after that, and finally some more floral elements show themselves on the finish. I’d say the hibiscus is most on the forefront, but the red pepper you get on the very back end makes for a fun little kicker. 94 proof. A- / $30

Roundhouse Spirits Corretto Coffee Liqueur – Brisk coffee grounds on the nose, authentic as you could want. It’s a modest roast, not burnt at all. Corretto is slightly sweetened and touched with vanilla, giving it a real dessert drink quality (but far fewer calories, the company says, than competing coffee liqueurs). I wouldn’t call it complex, but it is wholly drinkable. The long finish tends to grow sweeter and sweeter, which forces the hand to reach for another sip. 40 proof. A- / $24

roundhousespirits.com

Review: Bond Street Gin

bond street ginThis artisanal gin hails from Bend, Oregon, where Jim Bendis, of Bendistillery, was recruited to help craft this brand new, small-batch spirit. A “proprietary blend” of local juniper berries are used, but little else is revealed about the ingredients of this modern gin. (The base spirit is distilled from 100% corn and lava rock filtered.)

Unlike many modern gins, juniper is the easily the most forward note on this spirit, made in a strongly London Dry style that will go up well against most classic bottlings. After that, you get modest lemon and some cucumber notes, with a bit of sweet vanilla on the back end. It’s a very easy-drinking gin on its own and works well with mixers. Try it in a gin & tonic vs. a martini.

80 proof.

B+ / $30 to $35 / bondstreetgin.com

Review: Few Spirits American Gin and Rye Whiskey

Evanston, Illinois-based Few Spirits makes old-timey spirits and even bottles them in old-timey decanters. Today we take a crack at two of the company’s bottlings — the “American” gin and an aged rye whiskey.

Thoughts follow.

few ginFew Spirits American Gin – Big and malty, this is a far different experience than most dry gins you’ve likely encountered. Many call Few’s gin closer to a genever, and that’s a fair descriptor. I think it’s more like a flavored white whiskey, intensely grain-focused and a little funky. Atop that, you get some gin-like character. Clear lemon oil from the second you crack open the bottle, for starters. Hints of vanilla on the finish. But by and large this offers beer-like malt and hops character throughout the body, overpowering the more subtle botanical elements in the whisk… er, gin. If you told me there was no juniper in this at all (you can catch it if you hunt for it, but then you start to wonder if it’s your imagination), I wouldn’t be surprised one bit. 80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2-2-13, bottle #91. B- / $40

few rye whiskey
Few Spirits Rye Whiskey
– A rye/corn blend (actual mashbill unstated) that spends “less than four years” in new oak barrels, Few’s rye offers a plethora of youthful flavors and chutzpah, a punchy whiskey with intense elements of cornmeal, fresh bread, and malt. As with many very young whiskeys, it is a little brash and angry, a brooding spirit overflowing with grain. Oddly, it doesn’t come across as particularly hot, though it’s bottled at 93 proof. Instead, it gets its fire in the form of toasted grains, and the ultra-long finish speaks more of gentle smokiness than heat. What I don’t get is a lot of fruit — just touches of applesauce. The cereal notes are simply overpowering of everything else. Reviewed: Batch #11-85, bottle #77. B / $60 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

fewspirits.com

Review: “Art in the Age” Sage Liqueur

art in the age sageSage is the fourth product from Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, which focuses on creating wholly unique and, sometimes, questionably mixable liqueurs. These liqueurs are often drawn from historical texts and/or are inspired by curious ingredients (like gingersnap cookies). With this product, sage herbs are the focus.

Unlike AitA’s three other spirits, sage is clear. Like them, it’s infused with a vast array of botanicals to give it its character, including elderberry, pine, black tea, rose, dry orange peel, cubeb, angelica, sage (at last!), lavender, spearmint, dandelion, thyme, sumac, rosemary, licorice root, and fennel. Whew!

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Review: Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Vodka and Gin

caledonia spiritsCaledonia Spirits in Hardwick, Vermont primarily markets its products in the Northeast and uses honey in just about everything it makes, from honey mead to vodka and gin. We tasted both those spirits, plus an elderberry cordial from the company. Thoughts follow.

By the by: Mind the beeswax seal on the vodka and gin (they use this stuff in everything!). It’s extremely pungent and can be smelled from a mile away once the plastic wrap is taken off.

Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Vodka – Made from raw Vermont honey, and it shows. Distinct — but richly earthy — honey notes pervade the nose, a common trait among vodkas distilled from honey. This one’s pungent enough to come across like a flavored vodka, intense with that almost nougaty, caramel flavor. Barr Hill has far too much residual character in it for the most common places where vodka finds itself, but for fans of honey, this may make for an interesting sipper. 80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #20 reviewed. B / $33 (375ml)  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin – This is overproof Barr Hill Vodka flavored with juniper, and nothing else. That may sound a little simplistic for gin, which typically comprises at least 8 ingredients, and Barr Hill Gin doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel. It’s unapologetically juniper-forward, but the strong honey character from the vodka provides a lot of balance. The nose is heavy with forest notes, but the herbal body is balanced with moderate sweetness. The finish is big and piney, lacking the citrus and earth notes that the great gins typically offer — but some drinkers may find that advantageous. Not at all hot despite weighing in at 90 proof. Batch #32 reviewed. B / $58 (750ml) [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Caledonia Spirits Elderberry Cordial – Pungent and exceptionally sweet, this cordial (flavored with elderberry, apples, and honey) is intense with notes of prune, lingonberry, and dark, dark fruit. Almost syrupy in consistency, it’s a monstrous cordial that’s clearly designed for the after-dinner drinker who finds Port too daunting. This isn’t at all bad, but the overwhelming fruitiness is just too much for my palate. 14.4% abv. C+ / $35 (375ml)

caledoniaspirits.com