Review: The Botanist Islay Dry Gin (2017)

In 2012 we looked at The Botanist, a gin produced at Bruichladdich distillery on the Scottish island of Islay, where peaty Scotch is the order of the day. It remains the only gin produced on this island, though the brand has seen some changes, namely with a striking new bottle design, meant to turn away imitators and prevent consumer confusion. The recipe remains the same, however, with 22 ingredients, many of which are grown on the island, making up the bill.

For history’s sake, here’s the complete botanical list again: Angelica root *, Apple Mint, Birch leaves, Bog Myrtle leaves, Cassia bark *, Chamomile (sweet), Cinnamon bark *, Coriander seed *, Creeping Thistle flowers, Elder flowers, Gorse flowers, Heather flowers, Hawthorn flowers, Juniper (prostrate) berries, Juniper berries *, Lady’s Bedstraw flowers, Lemon Balm, Lemon peel *, Liquorice root *, Meadow Sweet, Orange peel *, Orris root *, Peppermint leaves, Mugwort leaves, Red Clover flowers, Sweet Cicely leaves, Tansy, Thyme leaves, Water Mint leaves, White Clover, Wood Sage leaves. (* = Non Islay Botanical)

Tasting the gin again from a fresh bottle in 2017, it’s clear that The Botanist is one of the top gins on the market, a versatile gin that is highly worth seeking out no matter what your favorite gin tipple is. The nose remains lively and enticing, a melange of juniper, sage, forest floor, and scorched orange peel. On the palate, the gin really shines, a modest juniper slug tempered by slightly sweet notes of citrus, savory herbs, cinnamon sticks, and a bit of licorice. Mint is particularly evident on the finish. Best of all, the gin’s balance is utterly perfect, the various components melding into a cohesive whole that is better than the some of its parts, and which, again, drinks beautifully despite the relatively high alcohol level.

Still exceptional!

92 proof.

A / $46 / bruichladdich.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Check out these Botanist original recipes, all of which are worthwhile additions to your cocktail repertoire.

Pine for Islay
1.5 oz The Botanist Gin
.75 oz Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice
.75 oz Small Hands Pineapple Syrup

In a cocktail shaker, add The Botanist Gin, fresh squeezed lime juice and pineapple syrup. Add ice and shake. Strain into rocks glass filled with large ice cube. Garnish with cilantro leaves in the center of the glass.

Fino Fix
1.5 oz Pink Peppercorn-Infused Botanist Gin
.75 oz Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
.75 oz Tio Pepe Fino Sherry
.5 oz Simple Syrup
1 Strawberry

In cocktail shaker, muddle 1 strawberry. Add The Botanist Gin, fresh squeezed lemon juice and Sherry. Shake and strain into Coupe Glass. Garnish with halved strawberry on side of glass.

Wisemen’s Negroni
1.5 oz The Botanist Gin
.75 oz Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth
.25 oz Suze
2 Sage Leaves

In a mixing glass, add all ingredients. Fill with ice and stir for 15-20 seconds. Strain into rocks glass filled with large ice cubes. Garnish with 2 sage leaves resting on top of ice.

Bitter Fizz
1.5 oz The Botanist Gin
.5 oz Cappelliti Vino Aperitivo
.5 oz Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth
.5 oz Small Hands Orgeat
2 drops Housemade Fig Bitters
3 oz Soda Water

In highball, build all ingredients and add ice. Top with soda water. Garnish with a quartered fresh fig.

A Visit to Copper Fox Distillery

While only an hour and a half outside of Washington, D.C., Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville, Virginia seems worlds away from any city. Many new distilleries today are taking up shop in suburban business parks or urban warehouse spaces, which makes this location, in an old 1930s apple warehouse and cider mill at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, all the more unique. Rick Wasmund, the founder of Copper Fox, likes to point out that his distillery is still in the apple juice business, using applewood (along with cherrywood and, more recently, peachwood) to smoke the malted barley that goes into their whisky.

You’ll notice that’s whisky with a “y” only. Virginia is most definitely not in Scotland, but Rick learned the art of whisky-making on Islay studying under the legendary Jim McEwan at Bowmore Distillery. Copper Fox was also the first distillery in North America to install a malt floor and kiln since Prohibition, so if any American distiller has earned the right to drop the “e,” it’s probably Rick. It was his desire to understand the potential for fruitwood-smoked malt (vs. more traditional peat) that took Rick to Scotland. After returning stateside in 2000, Rick searched for the perfect location, recruited investors, and opened Copper Fox in 2005 (with only his mother and another partner) and set to work perfecting the malting process that has made him famous in the craft distilling and brewing community.

Our tour began in the malt house, where Copper Fox uses traditional floor maltings to germinate their grain, all of which is sourced from farms across Virginia. Next was a peak inside the malt kiln, an unassuming space behind a large chalkboard door that bears a list of nearly three dozen breweries from around the country brewing with Copper Fox malt. Inside, an old pot-bellied stove and Weber charcoal grill are used to dry and flavor batches of malted barley resting on the perforated floor above. Copper Fox uses a unique system of pot stills: one large pot still, a secondhand Vendome, feeds a smaller custom-designed all copper pot still with a curiously wide and squat reflux chamber. The tour ends with a look inside the barrelhouse, where all of Copper Fox’s whisky is aged in used cooperage, typically for under two years, with toasted fruitwood added — although how much and how often remain trade secrets. In keeping with the refreshingly quirky aesthetic of the distillery, a large painting of two cherubs hangs high on a wall in the barrelhouse, a nod to the angel’s share of spirit lost to evaporation.

After my informative and entertaining tour, I had my pick of drinking options and settings. In addition to their traditional tasting bar, Copper Fox just recently opened an on-site cocktail bar that has a riverside patio with great mountain views. While many distilleries have started offering cocktails, Copper Fox is raising the bar with homemade shrubs and even a line of custom bitters that will soon be for sale.

I saddled up to the tasting bar and sampled Copper Fox’s core range, as well as a couple of limited edition offerings only available at the distillery gift shop. Thoughts follow.

Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky – The flagship 100% malt product. This single malt really showcases the applewood and cherrywood smoke. It’s cereal-forward and earthy, typical of a younger single malt, but plentiful fruit notes round the edges nicely and give it a surprising balance. 96 proof.

Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky (“Green Top”) – This is a distillery exclusive release of the standard single malt extra aged in an apple brandy barrel. The brandy really compliments the applewood smoke in the malt and sweetens the overall experience with spearmint and honey notes. 96 proof.

Copper Fox Rye Whisky – While the mashbill is a robust two-thirds rye, the one-third malted barley still contributes a lot to the flavor. There are great pepper and cinnamon notes on the palate, but the lingering fruit quality and subtle smokiness make this a truly unique rye. 90 proof.

Copper Fox Port Finished Rye Whisky (“Blue Top”) – Another bottling only available at the distillery, “Blue Top” takes the standard Copper Fox Rye and ages it in used port style wine casks from a local Virginia winery. The wine-finish amplifies the fruit component in the rye, ripening the cherry notes and producing a wonderfully syrupy mouthfeel. 90 proof.

Vir Gin – The only product in the current line-up that is not a whisky, this is nevertheless a single malt gin made from 100% malted barley with a special emphasis on anise hyssop. Other botanicals used in production include Mediterranean juniper and citrus, as well as seasonal offerings from the distillery’s garden, making each batch unique. My sample was full of licorice on the nose and palate with a rich, malty body and peppery finish. 90 proof.

copperfox.biz

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

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