Category Archives: Gin

Recipe: Sweet Basil Cocktail

This recipe comes to us from Virginia mixologist Todd Thrasher, as published in Food & Wine Cocktails ’09. Fun little cocktail… as long as you like basil!

The photo in the book is a whole lot greener, I have to say.

Sweet Basil
10 basil leaves, plus one for garnish
3 oz. Lillet Blanc
1/2 oz. gin
1 oz. simple syrup

Lightly muddle 10 basil leaves in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and other ingredients, and shake well. Double strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with extra basil leaf.

sweet basil cocktail Recipe: Sweet Basil Cocktail

4th of July Cocktail Recipes – 2009

Every time a holiday rolls around, the spirits makers commission all manner of cocktails from their in-house mixologists and professionals in the field. Independence Day is no exception, and this post full of selected recipes is drawn from what is arguably the biggest bumper crop of cocktail ideas I’ve seen since starting this blog. Hope you like red, white, and blue.

Sapphire American Collins 244x300 4th of July Cocktail Recipes   2009The American Collins

1 1/2 oz. Bombay Sapphire
3/4 oz. simple syrup
1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
4 Bing cherries, pitted
8 blueberries

In a Collins glass, muddle the blueberries and cherries in the lemon juice and simple syrup. Add Sapphire and ice and stir briefly. Top with club soda. Garnish: 1 Bing Cherry and 1 Lemon Wheel.

Firecracker

3 oz. Flor de Caña 7 Year Grand Reserve Rum
1 oz. Triple Sec
1 oz. fresh lime juice
1 oz. simple syrup (boil and cool equal parts water and sugar)
4 watermelon chunks
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Whirl all ingredients together and pour into a glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Lucid Stars and Stripes 221x300 4th of July Cocktail Recipes   2009Stars and Stripes

1/4 oz. Lucid Absinthe
1 oz. Blueberry Vodka
1/4 oz. Simple Syrup
Splash of Lemon Juice
Drizzle of Raspberry Liqueur
Ginger beer
Fresh Blueberries

Muddle fresh blueberries and add syrup, Lucid, juice and vodka. Add ice and shake and pour into highball glass. Drizzle Liqueur and top with Ginger Beer. Garnish with one sugar cube.

Sobieski Star

1 1/2 oz. Sobieski Vodka
1/2 oz. Massenez Créme de Peche
3/4 oz. Pineapple Juice
1 oz. Lychee Juice
1/4 oz. Lime Juice
Garnish: Star fruit

Put all the ingredients in a shaker, shake and strain into a Martini glass.

Roman Candle 214x300 4th of July Cocktail Recipes   2009The Roman Candle

4 oz. Korbel Brut
1 oz. Tuaca Italian liqueur
Garnish with dried cranberries

Combine in a tall flute.

ZICO Doodle Dandy

2 oz. ZICO Mango
4 oz. Skyy Infusions Vodka all natural passion fruit
1 oz. Cointreau
Splash of cranberry juice
Slice of orange
Strawberry

Mix all ingredients together in a shaker with ice. Strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with a fresh strawberry and enjoy.

summerjulep 214x300 4th of July Cocktail Recipes   2009Old Forester Summer Julep

1 1/2 oz. Old Forester bourbon
2 oz. Lemonade
1 oz. Pomegranate Juice

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain over ice into a rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

The Roman Candle

In a tall flute add:

4 ounces Korbel Brut (a sparkler for your Independence Day entertaining)

1 ounce Tuaca Italian liqueur (the Italian heritage lends itself to the cocktail’s name)

Garnish with dried cranberries

Review: Beefeater 24 Gin

Tanqueray has its 10. Beefeater kicks that up to 24.

Premium gins — and expansions of big-name brands — are becoming quite the rage, and “24″ from England’s Beefeater is the latest in this trend.

24 is an extension of the venerable Beefeater brand, drawing its name from the 24-hour period its botanicals steep in the base spirit (an unspecified grain spirit) before it magically turns into gin. The botanicals used in this concoction range from the traditional to the exotic, including the usual suspects — juniper, orange peel, lemon peel, coriander seed, angelica root, angelica seed, orris root — some eye-raising, unusual additions — licorice, grapefruit peel, almond — and two extremely odd ones — Japanese sencha tea and Chinese green tea. (Legend has it Beefeater’s founder was the grandson of a tea seller, hence the lattermost additives.)

Traiditonal Beefeater is loaded with powerful juniper character, and 24 is no exception. But here the juniper is softer, tempered by a good amount of citrus. The grapefruit actually comes through strongly, which surprised me.

Sadly I didn’t really get anything I’d describe as tea in this gin — I don’t know how you could when it’s got to stand up to that ingredient list — though I love the idea of it. Maybe, if you strain, and think about tea, you can taste it in there. But maybe that’s just my imagination.

Either way, it’s an interesting, and worthy, gin — but as with regular Beefeater it still strikes me as packing a little too much in the juniper department. But hey, that’s just me.

24 runs a hot 90 proof (needs lots of ice) and bottled in an ornate decanter with an infernal red base. Quite striking.

B+ / $30 / beefeater24.com

beefeater 24 Review: Beefeater 24 Gin

What Web Users Want to Drink…

Today I did a fun comparison, checking out historical Google search trends for the terms gin, vodka, whiskey, tequila, and rum.

While vodka‘s win (based on average search volume since 2004) is no surprise, the fact that tequila was right behind — and has led search volume since late 2007 — was quite a shock.

Also: They apparently love rum in Sweden. (Oh, and wine and beer destroy all the spirits, handily.)

Check out the complete data here!

web search volume alcohol 300x129 What Web Users Want to Drink...

[click to enlarge]

Recipe: The P.B.L.T.

This is an insane amount of work for a drink (and it’s barely a drink), but I absolutely love the presentation. This recipe for a reinvented (and alcoholic) BLT sandwich comes from Gina Chersevani.

P.B.L.T.
1 oz Plymouth gin
1 cube of lettuce water
1 cube of tomato water
Spray vinegar on one side of glass and stick dehydrated bacon dust on side.

First spray vinegar on a glass and dip in dehydrated bacon dust, then place a lettuce water cube, tomato cube, then pour the Plymouth Gin over top.

Tomato Cubes

16 oz of fresh tomato juice (either in a juicer or done in a blender and then strained)
1 teaspoon of white pepper
1 pinch of fleur de sel
4 oz of fresh lemon juice
4 dashes of Tabasco

Combine all ingredients together and fill ice trays.  Makes about 24-30 cubes

Lettuce Cubes

14 oz of lettuce water (2 large heads of iceberg lettuce, that has been juiced in a juicer)
1 teaspoon of white pepper
1 pinch of fleur de sel
4 oz of lemon juice

Combine all ingredients together and fill ice trays.  Makes about 20-24 cubes

pblt Recipe: The P.B.L.T.

Review: Cadenhead’s Old Raj Gin 110 and 92 Proof

Check the top shelf of any respectable bar and Old Raj Dry Gin is probably represented there. And rightly so: This is top-shelf gin in both its incarnations and merits serious praise from any gin aficionado. Old Raj comes from the UK’s Cadenhead’s, a company best known for its independent Scotch whisky bottlings (it’s Scotland’s oldest indie bottler), and you might be surprised at how high-quality it is. It’s certainly priced accordingly…

Old Raj 110 Proof is the variety you’re most likely to see. That’s not a typo, this is really a 55% alcohol gin, making it one of (if not the) highest-proof gins on the market, as well as one of the most expensive. I was girding myself for detox when I took the first sip but, to my amazement, Old Raj 110 isn’t really hot at all. Smooth and subtle, it’s sippable on its own or in a martini (or, really, any other cocktail — it’s quite versatile). Juniper is muted, and orange/orange peel are hefty on the nose. Old Raj is the slightest bit yellow due to the addition of saffron to the infusion, but it’s very subtle, unlike Gabriel Boudier’s nuclear Saffron Infused Gin. The flavors all come across as fresh and natural here — nothing chemical, no aftertaste — all completely in harmony and offering a nicely semisweet finish. If it weren’t for the price this would be my new house gin. A / $62

Old Raj 92 Proof is awfully similar, and while it’s clearly designed to be easier-drinking than its 110-proof big brother, I frankly didn’t notice a lot of difference in the two gins when tasted side by side. The smallest amount of extra melted ice in the 110 proof will, for example, make these two functionally identical. No reason not to grab one over the other, really. The money you save on this bottle — if you can find it; not many outlets seem to stock the milder version — is offset almost exactly by the alcohol lost in the watering down. Stick with the 110 bottle and it’ll last longer (in theory). A- / $50

wmcadenhead.com

Review: Rehorst Vodkas and Gin

Rehorst? Funny name for a vodka, but it’s the name of the man behind Great Lakes Distillery in Wisconsin, which puts out this “Milwaukee Vodka” in a standard and unusual flavored version as well as a gin.

We tried all three. Here’s how they stack up.

Rehorst Vodka is distilled from red wheat and malted red wheat, and offers a very traditional approach to vodka. The nose is moderately medicinal, but the body is lighter, with a sweet entry and bread-like character to the body. The finish is lingering, but pleasant, very lightly bitter, and a bit metallic. Pleasant. 80 proof. B / $30

Rehorst Citrus & Honey Vodka – A flavored first for me — citrus and honey? The nose is heavy with orange and some lime notes, but I didn’t get much honey (other than vague sweetener) until I tried it in a cocktail, when the honey flavors blossomed. This is not altogether fascinating on its own, but it shines as a substitute for regular vodka or gin in any number of cocktails simple or complex. 80 proof. B+ / $30

Rehorst Gin offers a traditional nose, with a little kick. Rehorst kicks up its traditional botanicals (juniper is on the heavy side) with the addition of two unique extras: sweet basil and Wisconsin ginseng. The combination is quite engaging, and you can certainly taste strong citrus and ginseng notes in the spirit. Maybe no basil specifically, but in the combination Rehorst has hit upon, it all comes together quite impressively. My favorite spirit of the bunch. 88 proof. A- / $30


“Breathe Responsibly”

It’s, to say the least, “a very unusual way to imbibe alcohol,” as one man puts it: A sort of steam room that is filled with a gin-and-tonic mist. You don’t drink it. You just breathe it in.

And it gets you a little drunk along the way. Per the Times Online:

The mist tastes sweet and tangy – like an excellent gin and tonic – and is actually very satisfying to breathe in. None of us are quite sure if we feel drunk. Spending 40 minutes in the room is supposed to be the equivalent of a single cocktail but presumably heavy breathers (athletes and brass players?) will inhale the most.

The bad news: Unless you want to be covered with gin from head to toe at the end of your breathing session, you have to wear a special outfit during your time in the drunk tank.

Click through for video and information on getting tickets should you find yourself in London.

Review: Organic Spirits Complete Lineup

Organic everything — that’s the sell of Organic Spirits (aka Maison Jomere), which imports five different products, bottles them disconcertingly in the exact same cylindrical decanter, and puts on each a label emblazoned with the Royal Warrant of HRH Prince Charles. The Warrant is offered for placement on products which have been used for five consecutive years or more by the Royal Household, and it’s something Organic Spirits is quite proud of.

Hey, if it’s good enough for Prince Charlie, it’s good enough for us… to review, at least.

Highland Harvest Organic Scotch Whisky – To my knowledge this is the only organic Scotch in the world. (Update: Actually it’s not, see comments below for some others; it may however be the only organic blended Scotch out there.) It’s a blended Scotch, composed of three organic malts and one organic grain. The resultant spirit is a bit of a mess, all over the place with rough and raw whisky character. There’s a touch of charming honey and heather in there, so it’s not a complete loss. Could work as a mixer, but this one’s hard to enjoy on its own. 80 proof. C+ / $32

Papagayo Organic Spiced Rum – Take the Paraguayan Papagayo white rum (reviewed below) and spice it up with organic mead(!), molasses, ground ginger, ground vanilla, and ground chili. You can really taste the ginger, and the overall effect is pretty interesting for a spiced rum. Reasonably smooth, but with a funky finish that tastes a bit rubbery. 80 proof. B- / $22

Papagayo Organic White Rum – Well of course there’s a white rum version, right? The base spirit, straight outta Paraguay, crystal clear. Immediately I assumed I had gin in the bottle, just mislabeled, because of a strong juniper character in the bottle. But on cracking open the gin I realized, no, this was indeed rum, just the strangest rum ever to exist. Made from sugar cane from a single plantation in the ‘guay, once you get past that juniper oddness, this is actually not an unpleasant rum, particularly on the rocks, after you get some meltwater in the glass. Not much to it, really, but serviceable in some cocktails. Mixes poorly with Coke, though. 80 proof. B / $26

UK5 Organic Vodka – Distilled from organic rye grown on a single farm in Germany that’s been organic for 30 years. Deceptively mild on the attack, it soon gives way to a shockingly charcoal-infused finish. You can get a hint of it in the nose — woody and smoky, hard to describe but something in the neighborhood of beef jerky. 80 proof. B- / $22

Juniper Green Organic London Dry Gin – A traditionally styled London gin, taking the UK5 vodka and infusing it with organic juniper, coriander, savory, and angelica root. You can still catch that weird smoked meat smell from the UK5 here, but at least it’s tempered a bit with the botanicals. Juniper is the predominant note, but this is a gin crying out for some lemon and orange peel to give it more life. Very dry in finish, this might work in a gin martini with six or seven olives. Somehow it raises the proof a bit above UK5′s to 86 proof. B / $25

maisonjomere.com

Review: Citadelle Gin and Citadelle Reserve Gin 2008 Vintage

One occasionally gets in the mood for gin, and when one does, said mood hits hard. Citadelle is a relative newcomer to the scene… with not one but two gins for your drinking pleasure. These gins hail, unusually, from France, and both are 88 proof, distilled from wheat.

citadelle gin 199x300 Review: Citadelle Gin and Citadelle Reserve Gin 2008 VintageUp first is standard Citadelle Gin, though there’s little that’s standard about its botanicals. I’ll let Citadelle explain itself rather than digesting it here. Part of an uncovered recipe from the 18th century, Citadelle includes 19 botanicals: “coriander from Morocco; orange peel from Mexico; cardamom and nutmeg from India; licorice from China; cubeb pepper from Java; juniper, savory, violet and star anise from France; fennel from the Mediterranean; iris from Italy; cinnamon from Sri Lanka; almonds and lemon rind from Spain; cassia from Indochina; angelica from Germany; grains of paradise from West Africa; and cumin from Holland.”

That’s quite a concoction, but the juniper is tragically the most prevalent component here. You’ll also get notes of the more earthy parts of the blend, especially the cardamom and coriander. Citrus notes are lacking, which was a big disappointment for me. I tried this in a casino cocktail but it clashed with the other elements. Some say tonic is is Citadelle’s best fit, and that’s a combination I can get behind. B / $25

I was a much bigger fan of Citadelle Reserve Gin 2008 Vintage, which infuses the spirit with the same 19 spices but then ages the blend in oak cognac casks for six months. Each bottle is vintage dated (mine is 2008), though I doubt you’ll see much variation from year to year.

I liked this far better than the unaged Citadelle, though the strongly yellow color is surprising. The juniper is much more understated after that time in the barrel, and a nice vanilla sweetness comes into the forefront. It’s very citrusy on the tongue, with a lively spiciness — perhaps that is the cubeb pepper? While far from anything I’d describe as traditional, Citadelle Reserve is good enough to merit possible replacement of Plymouth as my go-to standard gin (and it’s amazing in cocktails)… but does six months in oak really merit a $15 price hike? Yikes. A / $40

citadellegin.com

citadelle reserve gin Review: Citadelle Gin and Citadelle Reserve Gin 2008 Vintage

Review: Right Gin

Who knew they made gin in Sweden?

Right Gin may in fact be the only gin from Sweden, but remember that gin is really just flavored vodka, which Sweden certainly knows from Adam.

The flavor choices here are largely traditional — juniper, coriander, cardamom, and a variety of citrus botanicals (including lemon as well as bitter orange, bergamot, and lime) — but the real surprise in Right Gin is the addition of black pepper — yes, black pepper like the stuff on your dining table.

First sip offers up-front citrus, and orange peel is strong on the nose, too. Juniper is moderate but fades away quickly. And then that pepper kicks in. It’s extremely strange, and so unexpected it’s difficult to place properly when you taste it in a gin. I’m glad Right told me they use pepper in the blend or I would have had a tough time placing it. But once you realize that’s what you’re tasting, you can almost taste nothing else in it, at least after the initial citrus punch fades away.

The pepper character makes Right — which, on the whole, is quite drinkable — somewhat inflexible as a cocktail ingredient. It might work better in a gibson than a martini, for example, and isn’t really cut out for fruit-oriented cocktails like a casino. Right’s best concoction? Probably a good-old gin and tonic, where pepper actually enhances the drink.

80 proof.

B / $40 / rightgin.com

right gin Review: Right Gin

More Spirits Awards from Food & Wine

Can you tell I’m reading the latest issue of the magazine now?

Some interesting picks here: Smirnoff for best value vodka, Grey Goose and Prairie Organic also awarded. Junipero and Plymouth gin recognized, with Beefeater named the best value. (I’ve never seen Plymouth for the $30 they list it here… I’d call it the best value instead.)

Ron Zacapa as best aged rum, and Bulleitt, at $36, the best value bourbon. Kind of a strange pick there, considering that’s more than the high-end vodka pick. Also interesting: Black Bottle as best blended Scotch.

Get the full list here.

Review: Cricket Club Gin

From the out-there world of saffron gin we return to something more traditional, a relatively straightforward London style gin called Cricket Club (from the folks at Indio Spirits).

86 proof and crisp is a fresh apple, Cricket Club isn’t overly surprising. A moderate hand with the juniper helps some of Cricket’s other charms come through: Decent citrus, coriander, and — in a bit of whimsy from the distiller — a touch of lemongrass on the palate. The finish is dry and short, though it’s surprisingly sweeter than most other gins I’ve reviewed.

Cricket Club is a versatile gin that works in all kinds of cocktails because it’s so mild. If you don’t mind having on the bottle the name and image of a sport you’d probably never consider watching in your life, well then, have at it.

B+ / $23 / indiospirits.com

cricket club gin Review: Cricket Club Gin

Review: Gabriel Boudier Saffron Infused Gin

One look at Gabriel Boudier’s saffron gin and you are instantly intrigued. The king of the spice world married with spirits royalty?

The result is intriguing to say the least, but it’s unfortunately somewhere short of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier. I tried a tiny sample of Boudier at last year’s WhiskyFest but now that I’ve got a full bottle to tinker with, I’m delving deeper into the juice.

First you’ll note the bright, Tang-like orange color. Alas, it’s not all from saffron: The product “contains certified color and FD&C Yellow #5,” which is kind of a letdown. There is saffron in the gin, however, along with the usual botanicals, plus the curious addition of fennel, too. So that’s a good thing.

And on to the tasting. The nose is surprisingly traditional, with juniper taking center stage and some citrus notes beneath that. But sipping is a different beast. The juniper fades away and the saffron becomes clearer. Yes, the fennel is also there, and together with the traditional gin notes it’s quite pleasant sipping on its own. Very mild, on the whole, but different than most other gins on the market.

Doesn’t work in martinis, however. Even sans olives, this just doesn’t marry well with vermouth. Leave it on its own or try with tonic, as Boudier recommends. Definitely a curiosity worth seeking out if your a gin fanatic.

80 proof. Imported from France.

B / $30 / boudier.com

gabriel boudier saffron infused gin Review: Gabriel Boudier Saffron Infused Gin

Esquire’s Best Cheap Booze

I expect to see lots of recession-minded lifestyle coverage in the upcoming months. Esquire magazine doesn’t disappoint with this roundup of the best cheap spirits — stuff that’s affordable but which you wouldn’t mind actually serving to guests. The winners: Paul Masson Grande Amber VSOP brandy, Brugal Anejo rum, White Horse Scotch, Gordon’s gin, and Evan Williams Black Label bourbon — a bottling that invariably wins the “cheap bourbon” roundup every time I’ve seen it done. Note to self: Get a fresh bottle and check it out. It’s only 12 bucks!

(Also worth noting from the piece: Never drink cheap tequila!)

Review: Organic Nation O-N Vodka and Gin

Organic spirits are a category that you just can’t stop. Organic Nation hails from Oregon’s Cascade Peak Spirits Inc., and Organic Nation Vodka and Gin are the company’s first two offerings. A ginger-flavored vodka and at least one whiskey (organic whiskey is decidedly rare) are coming in 2009. While we wait for those, we occupied ourselves with the initial bottles. These products are both certified Oregon Tilth Certified Organic, which the company says is the most restrictive organic certification in existence.

Organic Nation O-N Vodka – This 80-proof vodka is distilled from a blend of rye, wheat, and corn, and it’s smooth as silk. There’s no mistaking it: This is vodka, with a moderate nose of medicinal aromas, but from there, O-N gets much more complicated. A mild sweetness attacks the palate, and dessert notes of vanilla and cocoa wash over on the finish. Creamy and buttery — but with a pronounced bite — it is at once a traditional vodka and a modern one. Very limited availability. A- / $30

Organic Nation O-N Gin – This 86-proof gin is said to be one of only four organic gins in the world. Flavored with 12 botanicals, it’s non-traditional, including both black pepper and basil in the blend along with more typical gin components. You’ll definitely catch the basil in the mix, but the pepper is more elusive. Citrus is more prominent in the concoction, with a touch of bitterness on the finish. Another winning product and something for gin-lovers to try and seek out. A- / $30

organicnationspirits.com

organic nation vodka and gin Review: Organic Nation O N Vodka and Gin

Drinkhacker’s 2008 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

What better gift is there than a bottle of booze? Not only will your giftee think you’re incredibly sophisticated, chances are he’ll let you drink a good amount of it before he realizes his terrible mistake. What’s the best booze to put under the tree this Christmas season? Of course you want to offer something a little unusual — something that your buddy couldn’t pick up himself on a routine trip to the grocery store, at least — but above all it has to be good. Here are my picks for the absolute best booze to give for 2008, split up by type (and with at least a few good, affordable options for the budget-conscious).

Bourbon – Eagle Rare 17 Year Old (2008 Edition) – $65 – An awesomely sweet bourbon that’s just the right age. Jump on this near-perfect spirit for yourself, too. For a bit more check out Four Roses Mariage Collection, though it can be tough to find. At just $40, Basil Hayden’s is always a worthy present that won’t break the bank and is on just about every liquor store shelf.

highland park 18 year 200x300 Drinkhackers 2008 Holiday Gift Guide   Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasScotch – Highland Park 18 Year Old - $100 – Yeah, it’s expensive, but the quality is second to none — and other top picks released this year, like Glenlivet XXV, run twice as much money or more. HP18 is generally accessible in the market, and it’s sure to liven up any holiday gathering.

AbsintheObsello - $54 - The best absinthe on the market today is also one of the cheapest. This Spanish number is suitable for absinthe newcomers and veterans alike; it goes down easy while still offering complex, intricate herbal flavors. The new Pernod is also worth a look.

Gin – Whitley Neill - $30 – Some good gin to be found in 2008, but I like the African genesis story behind this unusual gin from Whitley Neill the best. Bluecoat‘s also good. Both are pretty widely available and will make any G&T fan perk up.

Vodka – Xellent - $40 – If you must give someone vodka this year (and really, I beg you to think a little more creatively), try this strikingly-bottled vodka from Switzerland.

rhum clement cuvee homere 21 241x300 Drinkhackers 2008 Holiday Gift Guide   Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasRum – Rhum Clement Cuvee Homere - $85 - So many good rums out this year, but the Cuvee Homere Clement is too good not to recommend, and the bottle design alone makes it absolutely perfect for gift-giving. Hard to go wrong in this category though, with Zacapa, Oronoco, and Atlantico all good alternatives. Click the “rum” button at right for even more ideas.

TequilaJose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia Anejo 2008 - $100 – If you can find and afford it. Alternately try anything from the Cielo line, which is uniformly good from blanco to anejo.

Brandy – Delamain Extra de Grande Champagne - $399 – Didn’t try many brandies this year, but this number from Delamain was easily the best of them, among the top spirits I’ve ever had. Delamain also has a gift box of three of its cognacs in mini-bottles that would be a great gift.

Liqueur – Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur - $32 – Many iffy liqueurs came out this year, but Canton is an exception, by far the most intriguing of the category. You can add a few drops to just about any cocktail recipe and discover something new, and giftees will absolutely adore the packaging even if they never open it. St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur is another winning concoction that everyone totally loves.

Need another custom gift idea? Drop me a line or leave a comment here and I’ll offer my best advice!

Review: Gale Force Gin

One final look at the product line from Triple Eight Distillery — we’ve covered their vodkas and rum already. Surprise: Gale Force Gin may very well be the best thing the company makes. Then again, maybe that’s not such a shock. Nantucket bluebloods consume all the gin in this country already, so they’re probably just swell at making it, too.

If overpowering juniper isn’t your thing, you’ll love Gale Force. Yes, juniper is there. In fact it’s the predominant flavor in the gin. But the citrus notes are lush without being too tart. The finish is quite dry and crisp, but the mouthfeel is creamy and rich. The bite is very mild. Overall it’s a winner, working well in cocktails and even on its own. (At 88.8 proof, I was surprised how easygoing it was, even without water.)

The price may be a bit high for a spirit this simplistic, but there’s all kinds of gin drinkers out there, and those looking for a milder version of the classic would do well to consider it.

A- / $30 to $40 / ciscobrewers.com

gale force gin Review: Gale Force Gin

Event Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2008

It’s official: WhiskyFest is awesome.

Bouncing around the dozens of booths and hundreds of spirits being poured was tons of fun: More intimate than the enormous wine events and studded with wall-to-wall kilts. My final tally: 24 whiskeys tasted (plus a rum and a gin). That’s more than I was expecting to sample, but as I rode home on the train I figured I could have consumed quite a bit more and almost turned around to go back for a couple more glasses. But the day after, I’m certainly glad for my temperance, as I’m no worse for wear following the experience.

I arrived at the event with 10 minutes to spare in the VIP hour and, sadly, managed to find none of the VIP-special whiskeys before the hour expired. I was just too overwhelmed by the myriad choices to be sampled to try to track down who was pouring what spirit at what poorly-marked booth. I went from corner to corner of the tasting room at least four times and, in the end, still never managed to find a couple of the distillery booths that I’d been hoping to sample from. But though numerous whiskeys were absent from the tasting floor that had been supposed to be there, even more were on tap that hadn’t been indicated in advance.

As is my custom, here are ratings and notes on each of the spirits tasted, but, again, bear in mind these are snap judgments based on minuscule samples. It’s much harder to fashion an opinion on a whiskey with just a couple of sips vs. a wine, which generally reveals more about its quality in a shorter amount of time. When I review whiskey for the site I’ll often taste it over the course of several hours, sometimes tasting it multiple times over the course of a few days before writing a review. In a broader tasting, I’d expect some of these ratings to swing considerably up or down. That said, there wasn’t a “bad” spirit I tried last night.

Spirits are in mostly alphabetic order below, not the order tasted. Read on for the highlights!

WhiskyFest 2008 Full Report

  • Ardbeg Uigeadail, B+ / overpowering, heavy on the smoke
  • Arran Bourbon Single Cask, B+ / interesting but out of balance
  • Balvenie 17 year SherryOak, B / now off the market
  • Balvenie 21 year PortWood, A- / much sweeter than the Sherry, very lush
  • Beltrano’s Cask Highland Park 19 year, B+ / a private bottling of Highland Park (you’ll see a number of these throughout the report, some very good)
  • Bruichladdich Links 15 year Torrey Pines, A / great combo of peat and sweetness, with a curious finish
  • Duncan Taylor 1970 Glen Grant 37 year, A / my last whisky of the night, a chocolate brown Scotch perfect as “dessert”
  • Elijah Craig 18 year Bourbon, A- / packs a spicy kick
  • Gabriel Boudier Saffron Gin, B+ / really tough to taste a gin among two dozen whiskeys, not bad though
  • Glenfarclas 21 year, A- / with the 25 year, my favorite Scotches of the night
  • Glenfarclas 25 year, A / great vanilla and Sherry notes
  • Glenfiddich 18 year, A- / smoky sweet, nice balance
  • Glenfiddich 21 year, B+ / less impressive than the 18
  • Glengoyne 17 year, B+ / smoky nose gives way to smokeless flavor, very intriguing
  • The Glenlivet 21 year, A / a creamy vanilla monster
  • Gordon & MacPhail Port Ellen 25 year, B+ / full of phenol
  • Lagavulin 16 year, B+ / disappointing considering the reputation
  • Laphroaig 15 year, B+ / a surprisingly muted expression of Laphroaig, with a watery character compared to the norm
  • The Macallan 18 year Sherry Oak, A- / packed with Sherry flavor, classic Macallan
  • Rhum Clement X.O. Rhum Agricole, A- / sugary sweet and exotic, very interesting after lots of Scotch
  • Suntory Yamazaki 18 year, A- / very complex, really enjoyable
  • Tomintoul 27 year, A-
  • Pappy Van Winkle 20 year, A / best Bourbon of the night, a flavor bomb packed with spice and vanilla
  • Pappy Van Winkle 23 year, B+ / hotter than the 20 year, similar but with less flavor
  • Parker’s Heritage Collection Cask Strength Bourbon, B / a 10-year bourbon poured by Parker himself, amazingly hot
  • Parker’s Heritage Collection 27 year Single Barrel Bourbon, B+ / reportedly the oldest single-barrel bourbon on the market, really smooth

Review: Junipero Gin

Junipero is old school. Sipping it takes you back in time. You can imagine Churchill pulling down this stuff while trying to decide what to do about those friggin’ Nazis.

Junipero makes a really perfect gin martini: The juniper, as you’d imagine from the name, is up front yet not overpowering. But it’s more spicy than evergreen, so you don’t feel like you’re constantly belching up pine cones when you drink it. Of course there’s more to it than that, though, and Junipero, like most other gin makers, keeps its recipe secret. It’s hard to put your finger on much beyond some lightly bitter orange and lemon peel and something that gives it a kick of sweetness, but I can say that whatever Junipero puts in this gin, it works really well in the glass.

At the classic 94.6 proof, I was sure Junipero would be blazingly harsh consumed straight, but it wasn’t. Better, though, was to toss a few rocks in. As the ice melts, the water brings out the fruit peel flavors and mellows the juniper berry further. Win.

A- / $33 / anchorbrewing.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS!]

junipero gin Review: Junipero Gin