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

Review: Captive Spirits Big Gin

Big GinSeattle-based Captive Spirits makes one product and one product alone: gin. Big Gin, actually.

Crafted in the London Dry style 100 gallons at a time and is imbued with nine botanicals: juniper, coriander, orange peel, grains of paradise, angelica, cassia, cardamon, orris root, and Tasmanian pepper berry. Altogether it’s a fairly traditional botanical bill, with only a couple of twists in store.

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Review: Schramm Organic Gin

schramm ginYes Virginia, they make gin in Canada. This unique gin comes from Pemberton Distillery in British Columbia, where a smattering of products are produced. None seems more highly lauded than Schramm Organic Gin, an organic dry gin made from distilled potato base and infused with a mere eight (organic) botanicals: juniper, coriander, orange peel, rosemary, angelica root, Ceylon cinnamon, rosehips, and hops.

A more unique infusion bill you’re unlikely to find, but when poured, the immediate nose is none of these but rather — inexplicably — cucumber. A deeper exploration into the aroma reveals that it is the last two elements on that list — rosehips and hops — that strangely meld into this unique cucumber character. Behind it there’s a sort of smoky/earthy character that is likely driven by the angelica root.

On the body, this is a gin that’s overflowing with flavor. That cucumber character dominates here, too, but it takes on a deeper and more smoldering character than you get on the nose. Very much like a tree bark (cinnamon-driven, maybe) character and hints of the forest floor. Not so much juniper berries, but definitely limbs of juniper trees scattered about under the canopy shadows. The finish offers a respite from this depth, with notes of lemongrass and some mint. All of which is curious because none of those ingredients are actually in this gin.

Reviewed: Batch #09 (now sold out), bottle #165. Distilled Dec 2012. 88 proof.

A- / $55 / pembertondistillery.ca

Review: Plymouth Gin and Navy Strength Gin

plymouth gin 2013I’m no stranger to Plymouth Gin — it’s the very product that started me off in spirits reviewing, over a decade ago. Plymouth is a unique gin because the term describes both a style and a brand. “Plymouth Gin,” like “Scotch whisky,” is gin that is made in Plymouth, England. There’s only one company making gin in Plymouth, though, and that is the Black Friars Distillery, where it produces Plymouth Gin (the brand).

Plymouth Gin also has a specific style associated with it. While it is similar in structure and distillation process to London Dry, it is less juniper-focused, more citrus-forward, and imbued with more of the earthier components typical of gin, including orris and angelica roots. The total bill of botanicals includes nothing unusual: juniper, orange peel, lemon peel, coriander seeds, angelica root, orris root, and cardamom. Just seven ingredients… nothing in a world where modern gins will commonly have 20 ingredients or more.

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