Review: Lockhouse Barreled Gin, Single Hop Spirit, Ibisco Bitter, and Revolution Coffee Liqueur

Lockhouse Distillery is a craft operation, the first distillery to open in Buffalo, New York, since Prohibition. While the company offers some garden-variety stuff (like this grape-distilled vodka we previously reviewed), the company also offers a collection of spirits (many of which are limited editions), many of which fall fairly far off the beaten path. Today we look at a collection of four such offerings, all decidedly unique.

Lockhouse Barreled Gin – Distilled from grapes and grain, then barreled in an unspecified cask for an unspecified amount of time. Quite dark in color compared to most barrel-aged gins, with an appearance close to a lighter whiskey. Initial notes of traditional juniper and citrus peel quickly give way to aromas of hops, and hints of apple cider. The palate is big, forward with juniper and more of those hop notes, plus notes of cloves, cinnamon,, and dark chocolate. There’s a pungency here, though, which develops in time to reveal notes of eucalyptus, motor oil, and plenty of barrel char. The finish is bold and somewhat astringent, pushy with both acidity and less exciting notes of young, raw wood. 90 proof. Reviewed: Batch #17. B / $45

Lockhouse Single Hop Spirit (Cascade – Big Ditch) – Distilled from grain with hops added. This is a hop-flavored neutral spirit, made in collaboration with local breweries. The catch? It’s a single hop spirit, so only one hop varietal from one brewery is used in each of six batches that were produced. This sample includes Cascade hops from Big Ditch Brewing Co. Hoppy on the nose, but surprisingly not immediately bitter, it offers ample notes of red berries, grapefruit, brown sugar, and mushy banana. All of this is overlaid by notes of mushroom and some earth. The palate takes things in a different direction. There’s quite a bit of sweetness here, fruity and sugary with notes of lemon-lime and toasty cereal before changing gears and building to an amaro-like bitterness, a bit funky with some herbal hops notes. The finish is just the lightest bit medicinal, an the way that a glass of Campari can be, though the distinct earthiness of the hops give it a curious and unique spin. This one’s a lot of fun, and it really grew on me. Give it some time. 80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. A- / $NA

Lockhouse Ibisco Bitter Liqueur – Campari-red in color, but sweeter on the nose, with a distinct orange peel overtone to go along with an ample sugar character. On the palate, the sweetness hits first, a simple honey/syrup character, before the bitterness grips your palate like a vise. Bitter orange peel, traditional bitter roots, and some sour cherry notes. As the finish emerges, notes of rhubarb and grapefruit start to emerge, ending things on a lingering note that’s more bitter than sweet. 50 proof. Nice balance in an amaro. Reviewed: Batch #3. A- / $30

Lockhouse Revolution Coffee Liqueur – Made in conjunction with Public Espresso and Coffee, this is a cold-infused coffee liqueur that sure smells like the real thing right from the get-go. Heavy duty coffee bean notes, tempered with some sugar, kick off the experience, and the palate keeps it going with more of the above — intense, lightly bittersweet coffee that endures for days. You can almost feel the roasted coffee grounds scratching your tongue, it’s so powerful with the essence of pure, dark roasted coffee. Secondary notes (aside from basic sweetness) are elusive. The bottle label claims “dark chocolate,” but I get none of that. Instead, just pure diner drip that, for better or worse, turns increasingly bitter as the lengthy, enduring finish comes to a head. Designed, to be sure, for coffee purists. 60 proof. Reviewed: Batch #12. B+ / $30

lockhousedistillery.com

Shaken or Stirred: Which Makes the Best Martini?

“A dry martini,” he said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”

“Oui, monsieur.”

“Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon-peel. Got it?”

-Ian Fleming, Casino Royale

Like a manhattan or an old fashioned, a martini is on its surface a simple drink to make: dry vermouth, gin (traditionally) or vodka (modern), and an olive as garnish. But a martini is something special; it’s lodged in the popular imagination, through no small fault of the man quoted above, Ian Fleming’s super spy James Bond. Whether through Fleming’s novels or film adaptations featuring Sean Connery, Daniel Craig, or countless others, if there’s one thing the average person knows about James Bond, it’s his preference of martini: shaken, not stirred.

The question is: Why? Does shaking vs. stirring change the taste of the martini? And if so, which is better? Naturally for this question we decided to hold a tasting to see how a martini fares when shaken or when stirred. For this tasting, we went with two gin martinis, made with Bombay, one shaken and one stirred.

Stirred Martini

Nose: The nose of a martini is a lovely thing, subtle and herbal and bitter. The stirred martini had notes of pine, bitter orange peel, and juniper — not too overpowering. The aroma of the vermouth was almost indistinct, and served mostly to highlight the aromas of the gin.

Palate: The initial taste of the stirred martini was briny, lightly acidic sea salt from the vermouth. Then came the gin, with the promise of the nose being borne out by juniper, bitter citrus peel, and a light Christmas-tree pine. Gin can be a tough thing for an alcohol novice to wrap their heads around, but a martini is a good, aromatic, interesting way to try something new.

Shaken Martini

Nose: The nose of the shaken martini was similar to the stirred martini, if perhaps a bit more piney. The decision of shaking or stirring didn’t seem to factor much into the nose.

Palate: Here’s where things get radically different. To start, the shaken martini was much colder, as a result of the gin being shaken up with the ice. (Many shaken martinis will even have ice chips in the drink, which some drinkers consider offensive.) The chill of the drink translated over to the taste, which was light and very, very subtle, almost to the point of not tasting like much of anything at all. There were slight notes of juniper and peel and pine, but they were buried beneath a watery simplicity. As the martini warmed up, the flavor became a bit stronger, but it was still more jumbled and indistinct than the stirred martini was.

Conclusions

So why did the drinks turn out this way? A lot of it has to do with the cold: Like a glass of white wine, it’s easy to over-chill a martini by shaking it, and the primary result of a too-cold martini is that it becomes much more thin and tasteless. This is compounded by the fact that shaking introduces more water into the drink via melted ice; a stirred martini will be a bit stronger, and thus more flavorful. As well, gin is a sensitive spirit and vigorous shaking has the result of muddling its taste. (There’s much talk of “bruising the vermouth” if you shake a martini, but it’s the gin that has the bigger problem.) All in all: A stirred martini is indeed more interesting and flavorful than a shaken one.

If there’s not much to recommend a shaken martini over a stirred one, then why does James Bond order them? The answer is twofold: first of all, Bond is the ultimate bad boy, and that extends to his choice in drinks. He doesn’t follow our rules, and from his first appearance in Casino Royale back in 1953, he was a man that blazed his own path. If society tells us to stir our martinis, of course Bond is going to be the type of guy who drinks them shaken. The other reason is more mundane. Look at his recipe again. In addition to the gin and vermouth, Bond requests a measure of vodka, making it a drink that he named The Vesper, after that book’s femme fatale. Vodka is a much heartier spirit than gin is, and if you’re drinking a vodka martini, shaking might actually be good for it, since vodka is best when it’s ice cold. Of course, given that Bond is drinking a martini with both gin and vodka in it, perhaps he just prefers a weaker drink with some water in the mix.

So that’s another taste test done, and another curious corner of the history of spirits explored. If you feel like trying this experiment yourself, let us know in the comments which style you prefer, and why!

Re-Review: Vikre Boreal Juniper Gin (2017)

So this is a new one. Following our 2016 review, Vikre, a distillery based in Duluth, Minnesota, apparently didn’t wholly disagree with our assessment of its Boreal Juniper Gin, and the company sent me a letter. Vikre is making incremental changes and wanted more juniper in the product it calls a “juniper gin,” and would I be amenable to reviewing the gin made from new recipe?

Why not, I said. What of these changes?

We changed how we were distilling it. We are also using fresh, organic citrus in the distillation now instead of dried organic. We started steeping some of the botanicals directly, including the juniper and coriander, before distilling, instead of vapor infusing all the botanicals. But we keep the more delicate botanicals in the gin basket still. We wanted it to be more juniper forward and have the spice of the pink peppercorns on the finish and not the nose.

And so, let’s give the New Boreal Juniper Gin a whirl, shall we?

The nose is clearly much different than before. Juniper first, citrus second. Very few of the perfumy/floral notes of the previous version are detectable; aromatically, this smells a lot like a traditional London dry. Give it time and a smoky element emerges, along with some notes of dried herbs. Even later, some sweeter, marshmallow-heavy notes. The palate is quite similar to all of the above, with evergreen notes leading into gentle fruit (both citrus and red), followed by a dusty, almost dirty funkiness. The finish recalls white pepper, with a bitter edge to it.

All told, this is a capable — if still somewhat plain — gin, though it’s clearly a remarkable improvement over the fascinating oddity that Vikre released last year.

90 proof.

B / $35 / vikredistillery.com

Review: Mulholland Distilling Vodka, Gin, and American Whiskey

Mulholland Distilling is a new operation that bills itself as “The Spirit of L.A.,” though nothing is actually originated in Los Angeles — the white spirits are distilled on contract in Missouri, then proofed down in Downey, California, which is indeed part of Los Angeles County. The whiskey is from Indiana (presumably MGP), with Califorinia water added. In a nutshell, these are contract spirits.

Mulholland at least has some celebrity cred behind it, in the form of Tarantino regular Walton Goggins, the gangly, wide-mouthed star of The Hateful Eight and other flicks. Sure, he doesn’t personally distill the three products reviewed below, but hey, neither does Mulholland.

Mulholland Distilling Vodka – Sweet and marshmallowy on the nose, this is a new world vodka with lots of vanilla, some gingerbread, and caramel corn notes on the palate. The finish sees lingering vanilla sugar notes, sweet and straightforward, though not entirely complex. This vodka is nothing special, but at least it’s priced appropriately. 86 proof. B- / $20

Mulholland Distilling New World Gin – They call it a New World gin, but describe it as a “blend of New World and Old World flavors.” Those flavors include juniper, coriander, angelica, plus French lavender, Japanese cucumber and Persian lime, though the full recipe is not disclosed. Distilled six times, from corn (presumably the same bulk spirit used in the vodka), it is bottled overproof, a smart decision. The gin has a very fruity nose — red berries plus tons of lime, touched with mint and cucumber. The palate is lightly sweet — though not to the degree that the vodka is — and juniper is such an afterthought that the spirit comes across more like a flavored vodka than a gin. Lightly floral but dominated by the lime and cucumber, the finish finds vanilla and a hint of black pepper that catches on the back of the throat. Not a bad companion with tonic. 96 proof. B / $27

Mulholland Distilling American Whiskey – Made from a mash of 94% corn, 4% rye, and 2% malted barley — but not a bourbon, for reasons unstated (likely age, in part). In keeping with the theme, the whiskey is sweet on the nose, with ample corn character, some cinnamon-dusted raisins, and a bit of prune. This is youthful whiskey, and on the palate, the caramel corn notes are quite prominent, lightly spiced with ginger and touched a bit with camphor. The finish is rustic but well-sweetened with maple syrup notes to avoid any medicinal quality from seeping through, approachable even at a full 100 proof. Uncomplicated, it could be worthwhile in cocktails. 100 proof (though the photo indicated 86 proof). B- / $30

mulhollanddistilling.com

Review: Dry Town Vodka and Gin

So the guys that made your cell phone case started their own distillery! Curt and Nancy Richardson were the innovators behind the OtterBox. Recently they started a microdistillery in Fort Collins, Colorado. The distillery is called Old Elk Distillery, and their first products out the door are a vodka and gin, both released under the Dry Town label. (Bourbons and a bourbon cream are coming soon.) Greg Metze, formerly of MGP, is consulting with the company.

We tasted both releases. Thoughts follow.

Dry Town Vodka – This is distilled on site from a four-grain mash of corn, rye, wheat, and malted barley. Heavily vanilla and marshmallow notes invade the nose, almost chocolaty at time. The palate isn’t much more nuanced, offering more heavily sweetened flavors on the tongue, plus notes of mashed banana, before a rather harsh finish abruptly arrives. 80 proof. C+ / $28

Dry Town Gin – This gin is made with a base of Dry Town Vodka, re-distilled “with 10 fresh botanicals through an 18-hour soak and vapor extraction: Juniper, orris root, orange, lime, angelica root, black pepper, ginger, lemongrass, French verveine [lemon verbena], and sage.” That’s a lot of citrus-focused botanicals, and all of that fruit pairs well with the sweet core provided by the vodka, giving it a nose that mixes fresh lemon and herbs. The higher abv of the gin is also a boon on the palate, which is much more brisk than the vodka, and offers a blend of juniper, lemon, and a smattering of herbal sage and rosemary notes. The balance leans toward the sweet side, but on the whole, this is a much more fully realized — and somewhat unique — expression of gin. 92 proof. B+ / $30

drytown.com

Review: S.D. Strong Distilling Pillar 136 Gin

S.D. Strong Distilling, founded in 2012, can be found in Parkville, Missouri, where its spirits are produced in a cave 65 feet underground. The gin — named for the pillar that holds up the distillery — is vapor-infused with juniper and hand-zested lemon, lime, and orange peel, plus angelica root, cassia, orris root, ginger, and licorice root.

This is a somewhat strange gin — particularly so, since the botanical bill isn’t too off the wall. From the start, the nose is lightly smoky, earthy, and offers an aroma I can only describe as akin to that of new carpet. Juniper is evident, but so are notes of dark chocolate, an unusual twist.

The palate is equally odd — more citrus than the nose would let on, with overtones of brown sugar, allspice, lime peel, raisins, and licorice. Interesting stuff, but it’s all filtered through a muddy collection of wet leaves and dishwater, giving it a dullness that battles directly against the fruit and spice notes that come before. Ultimately, it feels like the gin’s balance is simply off, with lingering notes of burnt evergreen bark rather than juniper and evergreen needles.

90 proof.

C+ / $30 / sdstrongdistilling.com

Review: Cadee Distillery Complete Lineup – Vodka, Gin, Bourbon, Rye, Deceptivus, and Cascadia

Based on the Isle of Whidbey, north of Seattle, Cadee (Gaelic for “pure”) is operated by a family of Scottish ex-pats with a passion for distilling. The distillery offers a wide range of spirits, from vodka to gin to a selection of whiskeys — clearly the focus here, considering the pride it takes in its oak barrel program.

We tasted, well, everything that Cadee makes. Thoughts on the complete lineup follow.

All bottles are individually numbered.

Cadee Distillery No. 4 Vodka – Distilled four times (hence the name) from unspecified grain. This is a prototypical modern vodka, a little mushroomy on the nose but balanced out with marshmallow-like sweetness that is particularly present on the creamy, versatile body. Hints of lemon and milk chocolate give the vodka some nuance, but otherwise it’s a straightforward and simply sweet vodka with mixing on its mind. 80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. B+ / $29

Cadee Distillery Gin – Juniper-focused, but botanicals are not disclosed. Reportedly made from an 18th century recipe. This London dry style gin is indeed heavily perfumed with evergreen notes and a touch of forest floor funkiness, but the body offers more interest, with those juniper notes slowly fading to reveal a complex array of flavors that include marzipan, lemongrass, and mandarin oranges. It’s those distinct mandarins that linger on the finish for the long haul, giving this gin a particular uniqueness that merits exploration. 88 proof. Reviewed: Batch #6. A- / $36

Cadee Distillery Intrigue Gin – This is a distinct and separate gin expression, “full of character and botanicals, with a subtle citrus focus.” The mandarin notes from the standard gin are stronger here, particularly on the nose, which ride along with grapefruit and banana notes, plus some lime. That lime paints the way to the palate, which continues the heavily citrus (not at all “subtle”) theme, with more grapefruit and lemon notes, along with a healthy grind of black pepper and a touch of mint. For fans of fruit-forward vodka, this is a pretty and aromatic gin worth picking up. 88 proof. Reviewed: Batch #6. A / $36

Cadee Distillery Bourbon Whiskey – Aged in new, charred American oak barrels for a minimum of just eight months, but you could’ve fooled me. This is young whiskey, but it has a depth and maturity that I never see in craft bourbons. While the up-front speaks of buttered popcorn and salted caramel, what follows is a character that would indicate much more seriousness: ample vanilla, chocolate malt, some match-head barrel char, and hints of roasted meats, cloves, and a soothing, rye-like baking spice character on the finish. The up-front, grain-heavy character makes a subtle showing on said finish, alongside some notes of hemp rope and, at the very end, hints of sweet Sauternes wine. Kooky fun. 84 proof. Reviewed: Batch #4. B+ / $43

Cadee Distillery Rye Whiskey – Same aging regimen as the bourbon, but with a rye mash. This one’s not as successful as the bourbon, with much less maturity — which is understandable given that, well, it’s not terribly mature. Sugary cereal plays with some weedy and mushroomy notes on the nose, with a slight undercurrent of lemon peel. On the palate, it’s quite sweet but otherwise similar, with a continued focus on grain and earthier elements. The finish is on the tough side, though a lot of brown sugar sweetness hangs on well after the granary notes fade. 84 proof. Reviewed: Batch #3. C+ / $39

Cadee Distillery Deceptivus – This is essentially Cadee’s bourbon, finished (for an unstated amount of time) in first-fill Port barrels. (Real Port from Portugal, not some weird Washington “Port.”) The nose has that telltale winey fruitiness, all plums, prunes, and raisins, with a smattering of Christmas spices behind it, plus a hint of caramel corn. The palate is sweetish without being overblown, fruity without tasting like jam. It’s hard to go wrong with Port finishing, and here the wine and whiskey notes come together to create a dessert-like spirit that balance one another with notes of brown sugar, rum raisin ice cream, cinnamon sticks, roasted almonds, cocoa nibs, and lingering dark chocolate notes. One to pick up, for sure. 85 proof. Reviewed: Batch #6. A- / $49

Cadee Distillery Cascadia – The Port-finished version of the standard rye. The whiskey has a lovely, pinkish hue to it. Even the Port can’t tamp down the grain here, which is just as cereal-focused as the unfinished version, a bit leaden with notes of hemp and wet earth, plus overtones of menthol. The palate is more of a success, layering in fruit atop the cereal, here showcasing lighter notes of strawberry and grape jelly, some orange oil, and a slightly sour rhubarb edge. Again, the finish is boldly sweet, though not so overpowering as to make one grimace. 87 proof. Reviewed: Batch #3. B / $50

cadeedistillery.com

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