Drinking the Bottom Shelf Vol. 3: Gin – Seagram’s, Dover Strait, New Amsterdam

Good liquor can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. This review continues our project of considering bargain bottles by looking at three inexpensive gins. For those on a budget who want to drink well, the results are promising — at least, better than when we looked at whiskey (here and here)! Since gin is minimally aged, it typically is not as labor intensive as many whiskeys, which means producers can spend a little more on higher-quality raw materials.

Here are three bargain bottles we put through the paces.

Seagram’s Extra Dry Gin

Seagram’s is just approachable enough to drink straight, although I don’t really recommend it. Orange rind and pungent alcohol notes figure prominently in the nose and the palate, with juniper (gin’s most common component) appearing only very faintly in the finish. I am surprised by how hot this gin is considering it is only 80 proof. Tonic tames the alcohol, but the flavors don’t really blend well. One might do better to follow Snoop Dogg’s recommendation and use Seagram’s for “gin and juice.” 80 proof. C+ / $11 / seagramsgin.com

Dover Strait American Gin Extra Dry

This is my first experience with Dover Strait, and I’m not encouraged by the nose. Rather than notes of juniper, I detect nail polish remover and a little ginger ale with a touch of lemon rind. On the palate, Dover is less off-putting. The acetone notes are completely absent, and the gin comes across as an inexpensive, but not offensive, vodka. The lemon rind notes appear on the palate, but they are very subtle. Adding tonic makes me think I’m drinking a vodka tonic, which is not such a bad thing, but the smell of nail polish remover lingers. 80 proof. C- / $10

New Amsterdam Gin

The nose and palate of New Amsterdam (see prior review here as well) make it the most palatable of the three gins, and I had no qualms about drinking it straight. We have reviewed this gin before, and on a new tasting, the notes remain the same. Juniper appears on the nose, but orange and orange rind are far and away the dominant notes on the palate. This might annoy gin purists who want juniper to appear front and center, but I happen to like a lemon twist in my martinis, and I found this gin to be smooth enough to appear in one. For bargain hunters who agree, New Amsterdam is an affordable and enjoyable gin. In a gin and tonic, New Amsterdam is a vibrant, citrusy cocktail, ideal for a hot day. 80 proof. B / $12 / newamsterdamspirits.com

Review: Seersucker Southern Style Gin

Seersucker is a new gin from Azar Distilling in San Antonio, and it uses the seersucker pattern as its touchstone because it is “synonymous with the warm and inviting nature of Southern hospitality.”

There’s no detail on the distillation process aside from that it is pot distilled. Botanicals run to six/seven, including some unusual ingredients: citrus peel (lemon and orange), coriander seed, juniper, cardamom, clove honey, and mint.

And, probably like you, I spent some time trying to figure out what “clove honey” is. It’s not a typo for “clover honey.” Rather, per Seersucker: “Clove honey is honey made from bees who get the nectar from clove flowers. Clove has a spice to it and adds some balance to the sweetness of the honey. So it gives us a little sweet and spicy note that other honey just doesn’t offer.”

Let’s give this Southern spin on gin a spin.

While perhaps not particularly “Southern” at first blush, Seersucker comes across as distinctly New World/Western in style, with a juniper-restrained nose of black pepper, orange peel, and a hint of that mint. The cloves are more present on the palate, as is the mint again, which here comes into more focus with a distinctly spearmint character. While initially slightly sweet from the honey element and the mint, the juniper and coriander give the gin a sultry back end, slightly smoldering like fireplace embers. While mint always connotes juleps, it is perhaps this lightly smoky finish that is the most “southern” thing about Seersucker… aside from the label, of course.

84 proof.

B+ / $21 / seersuckergin.com

Tasting: Late 2017 MashBox Club Spirits Samplers

What’s new from MashBox? The last couple of packages we’ve received include these samples. (We also received duplicates of the Black Button products below and Black Button’s Bourbon Cream.)

Oak & Rye Wormwood – Spirit distilled from grain distilled and flavored with herbs. Somewhere in the vein of an aquavit, the nose is lightly licorice-inflected, showing evergreen and mixed herbs atop a base of vanilla and caramel. The palate is on the bitter side, again heavy with herbs and a sizable amount of licorice, with a sharp finish of orange peel and dusky cloves. Intriguing as a sipper, but not exactly a versatile spirit. 90 proof. B

Black Button Distilling Citrus Forward Gin – There’s ample citrus on the nose as promised, but it primarily takes the form of dried orange peel and a touch of grapefruit. Some floral aromas can also be found here — rose petals and some potpourri. The palate is a bit on the rustic side, a grainy character muscling aside the more delicate elements, though there’s a sizable amount of that citrus peel on the finish, which is touched with black pepper and grains of paradise. 84 proof. B

Black Button Distilling Four Grain Bourbon – Made from 60% corn, 20% wheat, 9% rye, and 11% malted barley. Aged at least 18 months in 30 gallon barrels. Young stuff, but it’s getting there. The nose is a mix of popcorn and sweet candy, some orange peel, and salted caramel. A touch of smoke and an herbal kick recalls aquavit. The palate is more straightforward, caramel corn, some vanilla, and a smarter of cloves on the back end. It needs more time in barrel to mellow out, but this isn’t a bad start. 84 proof. B

mashandgrape.com

Review: Twisted Path Vodka, Gins, and Rums

Twisted Path Distillery can be found in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where it’s been making organic spirits “entirely from scratch” since 2014. The company is churning out a growing line of products from what appears to be a hybrid pot still — again, all certified organic.

We tasted five. Thoughts follow.

Twisted Path Vodka – Grainy on the nose, more akin to a white whiskey than a vodka (though Twisted Path is rather proud of its residual character). Aromatic overtones of burlap and hazelnut shells lead to a palate that is largely in line with what’s come before, though a sweetness emerges in time to give the whole affair a finish that isn’t unlike that of peanut butter. Strange, to be sure. 80 proof. Batch #23. B / $35

Twisted Path Gin – Twisted Path’s vodka, at 100 proof, is infused with “11 organic botanicals including honeybush, cinnamon, and vapor-infused hops.” And yet, all of that doesn’t do much to push the character of the underlying vodka base out of the picture — rustic grains and more of those nut husk notes, which percolate through some lighter secondary notes of pink peppercorns, hints of rosemary, a bit of baking spice, and a final punch that hints at coffee bean. Not a traditional gin by any stretch — with, again, more in common with white whiskey than anything else. 92 proof. Batch #19. B / $35

Twisted Path White Rum – This “slow distilled” rum is a curiosity that steps away from Caribbean styles, folding together that classic white rum funk with some subtler and more refined notes of butterscotch, vanilla, and caramel — none of which you typically see in a rum that hasn’t seen any barrel time. At the same time, its rustic underpinnings are tough to ignore. The finish sees ample petrol notes pushing through and lingering on the tongue. 90 proof. Batch #9. B / $35

Twisted Path Barrel Rested Gin – Batch #1 of Twisted Path Barrel Rested Gin was rested in a once-used, 53-gallon charred American Oak Barrel that previously housed TP’s Dark Rum (see below). Says the company: “This barrel was originally intended for a batch of whiskey but every once in a while we will utilize a raw cask for rum aging. That batch of rum sat for a little over a year and once removed, we filled it with our 11 botanical gin at around 112 proof.  We entered the barrel at slightly lower proof to prevent the rum cask from becoming too dominant.  The gin sat for almost 8 months before bottling.” It’s got a light amber color to it that proves it spent a decent amount of time in oak. That said, there’s no getting away from that grainy, white whiskey-like nose, though the palate finds the botanical bill filtered through caramel into a curious blend of licorice, molasses, and cloves. This is a more interesting spirit than the unaged gin, with a lot going on in it, featuring a sultry finish that is surprising and unique in this space. 92 proof. Batch #1. B+ / $NA

Twisted Path Dark Rum – Here the white rum is aged in whiskey barrels, for an indeterminate time. Designed as a sipping rum, this is the most successful spirit in the lineup. The whiskey barrel aging gives the rum a rounded character not present in the white rum, infusing notes of coffee bean, sweet licorice, nutmeg, and a hint of gunpowder. It’s that licorice that endures the longest — a sweet but unique candy character that hangs on to the finish seemingly forever. I find it enchanting. 90 proof. Batch #19. A- / $38

twistedpathdistillery.com

Review: Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Vermouth, Dry Gin, and Quince

Newly available in the U.S. is this collection of products from Germany’s Avadis Dsitllery. Bottled under the Ferdinand’s label, these products all involve a unique ingredient: Riesling wine from the Mosel region, where the distillery is based.

Some additional details from the company:

Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Gin is crafted from grain to bottle at Avadis Distillery located in Germany’s Mosel Region. Only the highest-grade late and select harvest grape wines from the neighboring steep shale slopes of the Saarburger Rausch vineyards are used for the gin’s wine infusion. These semi-sweet Rieslings from the Saar are not just known for their elegance and fruity complexity, but also exhibit the maximum degree of extract density, providing a refinement characteristic to Saar Dry Gin. The raw distillate produced from the grain is distilled several times to form the basis for a selection of 30 hand-picked herbs, spices and fruits, which are carefully macerated to produce an eau-de-vie. The additional use of a steam infusion of freshly harvested herbs adds unique fresh floral notes to this gin, and it is rounded off with a precise measure of Schiefer Riesling to guarantees a high-quality product.

We tasted three products in the Ferdinand’s line. Thoughts follow.

Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Vermouth – Dry vermouth made from the riesling grape. Quite dry, and surprisingly bitter given the riesling base. Notes of oxidation, rosemary, and quinine all mix together a bit unevenly, finishing on a Meyer lemon note. Scattered and off-balance, with too much wormwood in the mix, it has a certain charm but doesn’t add a whole lot in a mixed drink. 18% abv. B- / $23

Ferdinand’s Saar Dry Gin – This is the riesling-infused gin, with 30 (undisclosed) botanicals. The nose is intense with juniper, lemon peel, and thyme — largely traditional, with the riesling not making a major showing. On the palate, the wine character is far more evident, a bittersweet character that offers a lemon syrup note, followed by layers and layers of savory herbs, leading to a surprising, very bitter finish. Daunting on its own, it’s an intensely herbal experience that needs a lot more citrus in the bill to find balance. 88 proof. C+ / $45

Ferdinand’s Saar Quince – This oddity, an homage to traditional sloe gin, is an infusion of Saar Dry Gin (though the label says “vodka”) with estate-grown quinces and 2011 Kabinett class riesling. The exotic nose combines sweet white wine, honey, lemon and grapefruit (or quince-ness), and a smack of herbs to create a truly unusual but not unappealing aroma. The palate is quite sweet, again laced with a rather intense amount of herbs but cut with lots of that lemony citrus character. The finish is bittersweet, a bit sour, and quite herbal, but it all fades out on a sweet lemon sherbet note. Not really a substitute for sloe gin, but you might see what you can do with it in lieu of triple sec — or half-and-half with a regular gin. 60 proof. B / $50 (500ml)

saar-gin.com

Review: The Bitter Truth Pink Gin

Pink gin is a classic blend of gin and bitters, and Bitter Truth’s German expression of the spirit (originated in part as a tonic for seasickness) offers a traditional, maritime-inflected rendition of the pink stuff. Botanicals aren’t fully revealed, but include juniper, lemon, licorice, caraway, and fennel for starts. Presumably TBT’s own bitters are used in the mix — and to give it the telltale pink color.

Let’s give it a whirl.

The nose is familiar, not particularly “pink” but initially coming across like a more typical dry gin — with aromas of juniper, orange peel, some coriander, and a hint of licorice. The palate sees some departure from the norm, however, as it opens up with new flavors, some surprising, of strawberry, black pepper, rhubarb, and a heavier layer of bitter spices. This is all folded into a juniper-rich core that finishes with some more unexpected notes of vanilla and salted caramel — just the lightest lick of sweetness to round out a lightly bitter but flavor-filled experience.

Recommended — both on its own and to give traditional gin cocktails a salmon-hued spin.

80 proof.

B+ / $40 / the-bitter-truth.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: One Eight Distilling Ivy City Gin and Untitled Gin No. 2

As in many cities across the country, craft distilling in Washington, D.C. has taken off in recent years. Since 2011, no fewer than nine distilleries have opened their doors. One of the pioneers of this group is One Eight Distilling. The distillery gets its name from Article One Section Eight of the Constitution, which among other things established the District of Columbia as the nation’s capital. For such a young distillery, One Eight has a wide portfolio including a vodka, a white whiskey, and nine different releases of sourced, finished whiskey. Earlier this year, they also released their own aged rye whiskey with plans to release their own bourbon in the near future. However, one of the areas where One Eight really shines is their gin.

Here’s a look at two of them.

One Eight Distilling Ivy City Gin – Ivy City Gin is a new American dry gin distilled from locally-sourced grains (predominately rye). The botanical program for this gin includes the familiar juniper and lemon peel, among others, but also the somewhat unusual use of local spicebush, a member of the laurel family with aromatic berries. On the nose, the juniper is immediately present but almost smoky and complimented by notes of cracked black pepper and sweet licorice. The palate is light yet honeyed. The juniper is again present, but it’s not the backbone of the spirit, while the malted rye complements the spicebush, delivering a great earthy quality. There’s more licorice, but it’s soft, not biting, as can sometimes be the case. Bright coriander and citrus notes and a little cinnamon round out the palate with a gentle heat on the finish. This is a great cocktail gin and easy to sip, although I’d probably prefer it at a slightly higher proof. 80 proof. B+ / $37

One Eight Distilling Untitled Gin No. 2 – Expanding into the barrel-rested gin category, One Eight now has three versions of their Ivy City that have spent some amount of time in oak. For the second release, One Eight used both ex-bourbon casks and new American oak casks. The nose on this gin is more honey and citrus than the Ivy City with just a little of the familiar peppercorn. On the palate, a caramel sweetness collides with the juniper and spicebush in a wave of initial heat and spice that is remarkably refreshing. The burst of flavor and warmth immediately gives way to softer clementine and vanilla notes with traces of dusty oak. Although some of the botanicals in the original Ivy City are diminished by the barrel influence, what is enhanced makes this a superior spirit. 112 proof. A- / $45

oneeightdistilling.com

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