Category Archives: Gin

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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Review: Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin

Monkey 47 ginMonkey 47 is one of those spirits with a really long and involved backstory, but the nut of it is that you’re drinking crazy gin from Germany. Created by a WWII Royal Air Force pilot who settled in the Black Forest after the war, our hero made his own gin out of local ingredients and exotic botanicals inspired by his upbringing in India. The gin wasn’t commercialized, but its recipe was meticulously documented.

That recipe — plus intact samples — were recently discovered, nearly 50 years after Monkey 47’s creator vanished. And now, this oddball German gin is being commercially produced and can be yours… if you can track it down.

The Monkey refers to sketches that accompanied the gin (and which now grace the bottle). The 47, to the number of ingredients that are used in its production. That’s a really huge number, and while the full list isn’t published, the known ingredients include such items as cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, almond, ginger, Ceylon cinnamon, liquorice, Acorus calamus (aka sweet flag), bitter orange and lemon, spruce tips, lavender, iris, honeysuckle, blackberries, pomelo, lingonberry, sloe berries, sage, and verbena. The botanical list seems to have been driven as much by what was growing around the creator’s house as it was anything else.

And so, on to the tasting. While juniper is prominent on the nose, intense herbal notes rise up to meet it in stride. Dried rosemary and cloves are prevalent, along with a kind of dried mushroom character. On the body, there’s much less juniper, as those herbs punch through to the forefront. On the tongue the herbal quality comes across as fresher — again, rosemary is a biggie — plus lots of evergreen notes and some black pepper shortly behind. There’s a huge forest floor element to Monkey 47, too: woodsy, earthy, and a bit like the embers of a smoldering campfire. If you’re wondering if all that fruit in the infusion bill comes across, it does. At the end, Monkey 47 takes a sweet and fruity turn, with a slightly tart character that offers notes of blueberries, orange, crisp apples, and peaches. It’s very easy drinking despite clocking in at 94 proof.

Bizarre, lots of fun, and a wholly unique gin experience. Find some.

Reviewed batch #21, bottle #11413.

A- / $61 (500ml) / monkey47.com [BUY IT FROM MASTER OF MALT]  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Master of Malt Origin Single Estate Gins

origin single estate juniper seriesIt’s well known that Pinot Noir from California tastes different than Pinot Noir from France — even if the wines are made identically. But does the concept of terroir extend to spirits like gin, too? Can juniper berries sourced from the far ends of the world really express their differences after going through the long process of distillation and bottling as gin?

Master of Malt sets out to find the answer with this, the Origin Series of Single Estate gins. Seven versions are on offer, each made with juniper sourced from a single location, each in a different country (all are in Europe). Each batch arrives in a bottle that is distilled just from juniper, with no other botanicals added. However, a small add-on vial of distilled botanicals (the usual gin stuff) comes with each bottle. To turn your juniper-flavored spirit into real gin, just add the vial to the bottle and you’ve got single-estate gin, with all the fixings. (Note: You can buy them as minis if you don’t want to shell out for full bottles of seven experimental gins.)

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Review: Master of Malt Worship Street Whistling Shop Cream Gin

master of malt cream ginMaster of Malt has no shortage of bizarre concoctions, but this one is a new one for me: Gin distilled using cream as a botanical. The result is called, simply, cream gin.

Cream gin, we are told by MoM, “was popular in the Gin Palaces of the Victorian Era, however back then the gin would probably have been mixed with a cream and sugar then left to infuse. To update this classic idea, this Cream Gin has been cold-distilled using fresh cream as a botanical (the equivalent of 100ml cream per bottle!), to capture the fresh flavour of the cream in a perfectly clear spirit. Because the cream is never heated during the distillation process, no ‘burnt’ or ‘off’ flavours end up in the finished product. Cream Gin has the same shelf-life as any other distilled spirit.”

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Review: Aviation Gin (2013 Bottling)

aviation gin 2013 label“New Western Dry Gin” from House Spirits in Portland, Oregon, Aviation has been a popular spirit across the U.S. since its launch in 2006. We’re finally getting around to reviewing it seven years later, just in time for a brand new bottle design (pictured at right), which is being rolled out later this year. (The recipe hasn’t changed, mind you.)

The botanicals in this gin (distilled from rye) are by and large traditional, though they offer enough uniqueness to be evocative of the Pacific Northwest, where Aviation is made. The roster includes: Juniper, cardamom, lavender, Indian sarsaparilla, coriander, anise seed, and dried orange peel.

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