Review: Painted Stave Distilling Candy Manor Gin and South River (Red) Gin

candy manor ginBased in Smyrna, Delaware and founded only four years ago, Painted Stave Distilling is an artisan craft distiller that is dipping its toe into all manner of spirits. For now Painted Stave has a collection of white spirits in production, with aged offerings en route. Today we’re looking at two products, Candy Manor Gin — the company’s year-round release — and South River (Red) Gin — part of its experimental, avant garde spirit collection.

Available only in Delaware. Thoughts follow.

Painted Stave Distilling Candy Manor Gin – Described by Painted Stave as a “Western style dry gin with strong noted of lavender, sweet goldenrod and lemon-balm to compliment traditional flavors from juniper, coriander, angelica, and orris root.” The nose is a blend of something old and something new — fresh juniper and some earthier coriander, but also floral notes that approximate honeysuckle, iris, and jasmine. I’m not altogether familiar with goldenrod, but I would have expected more of a lavender note than I could sniff out here. The body plays up those florals quite a bit, coming off as almost perfumed with all the delicate botanical elements. Up front it’s a candied, mixed bouquet of flowers, then behind that builds more sweetness — almost chalky in texture. The finish hints at citrus, pine needles, mushroom, and a touch of baking spice. Initially a little scattered, I came to quite enjoy its bracing complexity in the end. 80 proof. B+ / $30

south river red ginPainted Stave South River (Red) Gin – This is a limited-edition “juniper-forward” gin that is aged for 5 months in former red wine barrels. (There’s also a South River (White).) It’s closer to pink than red, but who’s fact-checking? The nose is quite sharp, loaded with notes of pine tar, vanilla, and Vicks VapoRub. The body is initially fiery, with more of that menthol note, but it slowly settles into a more seductive groove. Intriguing notes of chocolate and caramel, licorice, and some slight rhubarb notes all bubble up as it develops. Really quite unexpected and enchanting, and the reddish hue makes it quite a conversation piece. 80 proof. Bottled 5/16/14. A- / $22 (375ml)

paintedstave.com

Review: Mahon Gin

Mahon Gin Bottle USAOn the Spanish island of Menorca, they make gin. Have been, since 1708. Also known under the brand name of Xoriguer (say it five times fast), Mahon Gin — aka Gin de Mahon — is one of the only gins in the world (alongside Plymouth Ginupdate — Plymouth is no longer geographically protected, whoops!) to have a specific geographic designation. “Mahon Gin” will be the worldwide brand name going forward, so look for it under that label.

Gin got its start on this Mediterranean island back when it was a British colony. Given it was a popular waystation for sailors, all the more reason to crank out the juice. Under Spain’s ownership (which became formal in the late 1700s), gin continued to be produced here, and now it’s going global after just 300 years.

Mahon is distilled from grapes in small copper pot stills and is flavored with juniper and other, undisclosed herbs. It is also rested in American oak barrels (neutral, I presume) before bottling.

This is a pretty and very simple gin, but it’s not without some serious charms. The nose is driven by juniper, but not in a heavy-handed way. Fresh pine mingles with some earthier notes — coriander, I’m guessing — plus a slightly soapy character underneath it. On the palate, it’s very gentle, offering more fresh juniper, some lemon peel notes, a touch of sea salt, and some more of those earthier, almost nutty elements, on the back. The finish is clean and just ever so bittersweet, with a slight hint of cinnamon and chocolate lingering on the back of the throat.

That all sounds more complicated than Mahon really is — which is a simple and versatile spirit with lots to recommend about it. Try it in just about any gin-based concoction you can come up with.

82 proof.

A- / $42 (1 liter) / xoriguergin.com

Review: Makar Glasgow Gin

makar glasgow gin

As the full name suggests, Makar is produced in Glasgow, the first gin made in this Scottish city. Makar is focused on the number seven (lucky, I guess?). It is (curiously) pot distilled seven times, bottled in a heptagonal shaped decanter, and infused with seven botanicals — angelica root, liquorice, coriander seeds, lemon peel, cassia bark, black peppercorns, and rosemary. Of course, it’s also infused with juniper, but for some reason Makar doesn’t include that key ingredient in the botanical list. The other ingredients are all “pillars supporting the heart of the recipe.” By the way, if you’re wondering, the name Makar is a Scots word for poet.

It’s a funky and unique little gin not without some amount of charm. The nose first comes off a bit musty — traces of that pot-distilled spirit, I’m sure — with mushroom, tree bark, licorice, and gunpowder aromas. I catch hints of bitter apple, too. The body is a little more familiar, but still quite dusty, that angelica and coriander making a major impact. Even the juniper is dialed back, with the peppercorns and rosemary making the most lasting impression on the finish.

Interesting stuff, but more citrus elements — and maybe some florals — would add some balance that would make this a bit friendlier.

86 proof. Available only in Scotland for now.

B / $53 / glasgowdistillery.com

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

farnorthspirits.com

Review: Beehive Distilling Jack Rabbit Gin

beehive

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 / beehivedistilling.com

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

brandedspirits.com

Review: Anchor Distilling Old Tom Gin

Anchor OldTomGin081514KO-HR

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 / anchordistilling.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]