Book Review: The Spirit of Gin

The Spirit of GinJesus, Matt Teacher really likes gin. His new hardcover, The Spirit of Gin: A Stirring Miscellany of of the New Gin Revival, crams nothing but juniper-scented spirits into its 350-plus pages.

Rest assured, there’s not really 350 pages of material to be revealed in the giniverse. The Spirit of Gin is breezy and light, with lots of white space and plenty of pictures.

The book begins with the dutiful history of gin and some discussion of various gin distillation methods. Cocktail recipes old and new are interspersed with profiles of gin-focused bars around the world (but priumarily in the U.S.) — good old-fashioned “gin joints,” all of ’em. A full third of the book is devoted to an “incomplete” catalog of modern gins, a simple, alphabetical guide to some of the noteworthy craft gin brands out there. If your tastes run more to Caorunn than Tanqueray, it’s a section you’ll enjoy perusing to pick up a few new suggested bottles.

The “Miscellany” in the subtitle is right. The Spirit of Gin is built like an encyclopedia but reads more like a coffee table book. Incredibly scattered but interesting, it’s the kind of book that is more fun when you simply open it to a random page than when you try to read it from front to back. Hey, who wants a Tom Collins?

B / $20 / [BUY IT HERE]

Review: Spirit Works Gin, Barrel Gin, and Sloe Gin

spirit works aged gin

Sebastapol, California is in the heart of Northern California’s winemaking operations, and it’s here where Spirit Works can be found, cranking out a variety of gin, vodka, and white whiskey products. They even make an authentic sloe gin here — and we were lucky enough to try it, along with the company’s standard gin and a barrel-aged variety. All are made with California botanicals and hand-labeled with batch information. Thoughts on the gin, barrel-aged gin, and sloe gin all follow.

Spirit Works Gin – Distilled from red winter wheat grown in California, infused with juniper berries, orris root, angelica root, cardamom, coriander, orange and lemon zest, and hibiscus. The nose is hefty with grain, initially coming across almost like a white whiskey. Heavy on earth tones, the body is surprisingly un-gin-like. Juniper is present, but just barely. Instead you’ll find it dense with notes of mushroom, Eastern spices, and eucalyptus. The finish is touched just a bit with some citrus peel, but all told it could really use more of a punch to push it more squarely into gin territory rather than this curious middle ground it currently occupies. 86 proof. Reviewed: Batch #010. B / $35

Spirit Works Barrel Gin – The above gin, aged for several months in new American oak barrels. This is a far different animal, the nose coming across like — you guessed it — a young whiskey. Racy lumberyard notes meld with aromas of incense, roasted meats, and aftershave. The body sticks along these lines, folding in vanilla notes to a palate that features light evergreen, bitter lemon, and ground cardamom. The finish is a blessed release of sweet butterscotch pudding, ultimately making for one of the most decidedly weird gins ever. 90.1 proof. Reviewed: Batch #001. B / $38

Spirit Works Sloe Gin – A traditionally-made spirit infused with whole sloe berries, giving this crimson-hued sloe gin the sweet-and-sour flavor of liquefied cranberry sauce. Good sloe gin is hard to come by — and rarely used these days in cocktails — but the hints of mint, orange peel, rhubarb, and eucalyptus oil make this a standout in a truly niche industry. 54 proof. Reviewed: Batch #008. A / $40  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

spiritworksdistillery.com

Review: Starr Hill Shakedown Imperial Chocolate Cherry Stout

Starr Hill Shakedown Chocolate Cherry StoutStarr Hill flies a bit too close to cute with this Imperial Stout that has cherries and dark chocolate mixed in during the fermentation. The chocolate is far more noteworthy — there’s just a hint of sourness driven by the cherry component, and mostly that comes through on the finish. In the meantime, it’s a rich, coffee-laced stout that dusts cocoa powder and some bitter root notes atop a creamy body that balances malt and hops reasonably well. I’d simplify things next time out, though, and let the more traditional ingredients do more of the talking.

8% abv.

B / $NA (22oz. bottle) / starrhill.com

Book Review: The 12 Bottle Bar

The 12 Bottle Bar is founded on a great idea: Build a home bar not by amassing hundreds of obscurities like Chartreuse and Punt e Mes (guilty!), but rather by focusing on the bare essentials. With just 12BottleBar_CVR_MechOut 03.indd12 bottles, authors David and Lesley Jacobs Solmonson say you can make hundreds of cocktails without breaking the bank or having to devote a spare room to your hooch (also guilty!).

I won’t belabor the mystery. Here are the 12 bottles:

brandy
dry gin
genever
amber rum
white rum
rye whiskey
vodka
orange liqueur
dry vermouth
sweet vermouth
aromatic bitters
orange bitters

OK. So, yes, that’s one way to do it. That’s a fine first draft. But… two kinds of rum? Genever? Humbly, I submit my own curated list of 12 most essential bottles:

brandy
dry gin
amber rum
rye whiskey
vodka
orange liqueur
sweet vermouth
aromatic bitters
reposado tequila
bourbon
absinthe
maraschino liqueur

Now that’s a starter bar. And arguably you could replace the rye with a single malt scotch, letting a good, rye-heavy bourbon sub in for straight rye in any number of cocktails. I don’t think you need two kinds of rum; just use amber and live with darker (and more flavorful) Daiquiris and Mojitos. Absinthe may not sound like a big deal, but it does open up the Sazerac and Death in the Afternoon, and works wonders as a rinse in any number of avant garde concoctions. Even the book notes that the lack of tequila in their list is a tough one, but life with Margaritas may not be worth living. Maraschino — in lieu of seldomly used orange bitters and basically-used-in-martinis-only dry vermouth — is, I think, one of my little linchpins here. Try it with rum or in a Manhattan.

But I digress.

Let’s look at The 12 Bottle Bar on its merits, not my own conjecture and my own wild bar ideas.

This is a really thick tome — 412 pages — for a book that is about making do with less. That’s a testament to how far 12 bottles will get you… but bear in mind you will still need fruits, juices, syrups, sodas, mint, cream, eggs, and more to make nearly anything in the book. With few exceptions, you can’t make any of the cocktails in the book with just these bottles. The Mai Tai, for example, has 6 ingredients, only 2 of which are in the above list. The curious Green Snapper has 7, but you’ll need to source 6 on your own time.

What emerges after spending time with the book is not instructions on getting by with a small bar, but rather a primer on using a handful of base spirits in numerous classic and avant garde cocktails. There’s plenty here to choose from, including some delightful-sounding concoctions, but the little black-and-white icons don’t do much to cue you in to what the final product is going to be like. Every cocktail has a story attached — typically far longer than the recipe itself. Given that design, I would have put each cocktail on its own page (the typical length of a recipe, anyway) instead of running free form, which makes the book much harder to scan.

So, fun idea, but the second edition could use a little better presentation. If anyone out there ever makes a genever cocktail at home, do let me know.

B / $10 / [BUY IT HERE]

Review: Baileys Chocolate Cherry

Baileys Cherry

A chocolate-cherry cordial in liquid form sure sounds nice, but Baileys’ latest flavor doesn’t quite hit the mark. The idea is self-explanatory, but the execution isn’t totally there.

The nose is alive with sweet cherry notes, but it’s the chocolate that — surprisingly — is lacking throughout in this liqueur. Instead Baileys Chocolate Cherry is muddled with that inimitable Irish Cream pungency, just a whiff of whiskey and a bit of vanilla to remind you not to try drinking the entire bottle. The body is chewy and sweet like a maraschino plucked straight from the jar, but it also offers a modest slug of woody notes and some hospital character. Some mint notes emerge over time, as well.

As the finish builds, Baileys Chocolate Cherry begins to suffer from a malady so common in cherry-flavored spirits — the Cough Syrup Flavor conundrum, a problem that sends the reveler’s mind reaching not back to thoughts of cherry-filled confections but to days in bed sucking on Sucrets. But hey, maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all.

34 proof.

B / $19 / baileys.com

Review: Crown Royal Regal Apple Canadian Whisky

CR_REGAL_APPLE_BOTTLE_CMYK

Apple is the cinnamon of 2015, showing up in all kinds of spirits but, particularly, whiskey. This familiar, nostalgic flavor seems to be a big crowd-pleaser, offering tartness, sweetness, and Americana all in a single package.

Now it’s Crown Royal’s turn, with its latest expression: Regal Apple. Regal on account of the crown, I guess. The spirit is specifically flavored with natural Gala apple flavor.

The good news is that this is a better product than Crown’s prior flavored whisky, Maple Finished. The bad news is that Maple Finished was so lackluster that that isn’t saying very much.

Here, the nose is distinctly apple-fueled, but almost bitter to the nostrils to the point of astringency. Some vague vanilla and baking spice character picks up the slack, but the apple notes are more central to what’s going on here. On the tongue, it’s fruity as expected. Not just tart apple notes — more authentic here than the nose would indicate — but also hints of pineapple, some lemon, and ample vanilla notes. For a bright, shining moment, Crown Royal Regal Apple is apple pie in a glass… but it doesn’t last. The finish takes a sour, mouth-puckering turn that has some unfortunate hospital character to it, marring what is actually a fairly decent start.

The world is probably not expecting much from Crown Royal Regal Apple, but in a world soon to be overrun by apple-flavored hooch, it’s probably as good as can be expected.

70 proof.

B / $25 / crownroyal.com

Review: Ed Hardy “Most Wanted” Spiced Rum

edhardyrumbottle

Tattoo artist Don Ed Hardy was mentored by Sailor Jerry Collins… and some claim that Hardy has flown a bit too close to the sun, imitating Sailor Jerry’s style a bit too closely. Well, the detractors will have more to talk about with Ed Hardy rum, a spiced rum that looks on the surface, well, a whole lot like the rising star Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum, which was released in 2008.

Rest assured that, uncannily similar label appearance aside, Ed Hardy Spiced Rum is not a mere repackaging of Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum. For starters, Hardy — which does not indicate where it is made, how long it is aged, or what it is spiced with — is bottled at 70 proof vs. Jerry’s 92. That alone distinguishes these two rums, but the flavor profile is quite different, as well.

The spice feels drawn from orange peel, cloves, and cinnamon, but it’s a bit underdone and not really racy enough to stand out against a mixer. The rum is sweet enough — not on the scale of the densely caramel-focused Sailor Jerry — but the lower alcohol level makes it come off as a little watery on the finish.

Ed Hardy does have one thing on its side, though, and it’s that the low alcohol level means it’s relatively easy to sip on straight. Not that you’re likely to ever encounter this outside of a conjoining with a healthy slug of Coke and, probably, a red Solo cup, but in case you want the option…

70 proof.

B / $16 / edhardyrum.com

Review: Infuse Vodka Peach and Orange Clove

infuse vodka Orange_Clove_sm

We encountered Infuse Vodkas about a year ago, reviewing four members of this unique flavored vodka lineup, each featuring solid botanicals suspended inside the bottle. Today we check out the remaining two vodkas in the lineup — though, unfortunately, they are not my overwhelming favorites of the bunch.

Again, all Infuse Vodkas are flavored not with mystery essences but with dried fruits and spices. Both are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Infuse Peach Vodka – The big slices of dried peaches look enticing, but this spirit is just way too medicinal. Suffering from much the same problem as Southern Comfort, Infuse Peach has a raw alcohol overtone to it that the peach notes only serve to enhance, not detract from. Even the peach notes are indistinct and a bit off-putting, more like a vaguely-flavored cough syrup than anything that came from the orchard. C-

Infuse Orange Clove Vodka – Gentle on the nose, almost lemonade-like, with just a hint of baking spice. The body is equally restrained, a layering of easy citrus fruit with clove and some evergreen notes, lending this vodka a quality on the palate that approaches that of many modern gins. The flavor isn’t altogether intense, and the finish is short. It’s pleasant enough as a simple mixer, but it doesn’t really push its component flavors far enough to replace either a solid, citrus-flavored vodka or a fruity gin. B

each $28 / infusevodkas.com

Review: Hush Spiced Apple Moonshine

Hush Spiced Apple Moonshine1Hush is a new brand that now encompasses a half dozen flavors of moonshine, hailing from the realm of North Charleston, South Carolina. These are corn-based products (grain neutral spirits) that undergo a secret, “patented refining process called TerraPURE” before bottling. (Technically it can’t be both secret and patented, but this is flavored moonshine, so who’s counting?)

Anyhoo, Hush sent us one of its many flavors — spiced apple — for us to put to the test. Which we did.

Pure apple cider attacks the nose. That unmistakable cinnamon/clove/baked apple mix permeates the room and, soon enough, your palate as it takes hold once you begin sipping. Well-sugared but not quite over the top, Hush rumbles along, content to hold forth its autumnal agenda until, eventually, some of the more bitter elements start to hit more squarely on the finish. Things start to gum up at the back of the palate at this point, but that isn’t much of a surprise. This is a simple spirit with modest goals, and by and large it achieves them.

80 proof.

B / $19 / hushmoonshine.com

Review: 2013 Terlato Family Vineyards Pinot Grigio Russian River Valley

Terlato Pinot GrigioFragrant on the nose with peach and apricot notes lead to a buttery body more reminiscent of Chardonnay than Pinot Grigio. The palate is long, lush, and loaded with vanilla and caramel flan, before exiting on a crisper, baked-apple finish. This isn’t a complicated wine, but guests at your next dinner party aren’t likely to mind it one bit as an aperitif.

B / $19 / terlatowines.com