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

Review: No. 209 Barrel Reserve Gin – Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay Finished

No. 209, based in San Francisco, is going on a tear with its gin. Not only is it still producing standard and Kosher versions of its straight gin, it’s also out with three barrel-finished expressions, each spending time in a different type of California wine barrel. Today we look at two of those — gin finished in sauvignon blanc barrels and gin finished in chardonnay casks. Thoughts follow.

Both are bottled at 92 proof.

No. 209 Barrel Reserve Gin Finished in Sauvignon Blanc Barrels – Immediately a little curious, because sauvignon blanc is uncommonly barreled in the U.S. — but this spends 134 days in barrel nonetheless. Powerfully aromatic, with a nose that’s hard to place — eucalyptus, menthol, and a sweet citrus I usually associate with moscato wine. The palate initially packs less of a punch, offering quick citrus, grapefruit, and lemon peel notes — then sharpens up quickly with a reprise of menthol, camphor, and some slightly smoky and deeply earthy herbal character lingering on the finish. There’s a lot going on in this gin, but it works quite well on the whole, evoking some even more exotic notes, like violets and rhubarb, as you explore it in greater depth. None of that really has anything in common with sauvignon blanc, but hey, that’s the magic of the barrel. Reviewed: Batch #4. A- / $60

No. 209 Barrel Reserve Gin Finished in Chardonnay Barrels – 119 days in barrel. This is a radically different gin than the sauvignon blanc bottling, and a less assured one. The nose is greener, with a malty underpinning and moderately oaky — as you’d expect from a chardonnay. The palate is considerably more creamy and rounded than the sauvignon blanc bottling, with initial notes of Indian spices, more malt, and some funkier mushroom notes. The finish is where it starts to fall apart, those mushroom characteristics picking up steam and dominating the rest of the experience, taking the finish to an overwhelmingly earthy (and oak-driven) place that is devoid of fruit or spice. Offhand, chardonnay doesn’t sound like a bad match for gin, but in this release it just seems like they may have spent too long together. Reviewed: Batch #1. B- / $60

distillery209.com

Review: Death’s Door Gin

Death’s Door Distillery, in Middleton, Wisconsin, is one of the most venerable of American craft distilling operations, having been founded way back in 2005. On the eve of the company revamping its labels and brand ID — the gin (new bottle pictured) is now in a “lighter bottle with better grab points and greater balance” — we figured it was time to give the spirit a full review.

Death’s Door is a surprisingly simple gin, which starts with a base of Washington Island wheat and malted barley from Chilton, Wisconsin. The white spirit is then infused with just three botanicals: juniper berries, coriander, and fennel seeds.

That’s a simple composition, but Death’s Door has more to offer beyond those basic beginnings. For sure, you can taste its trio of botanical components quite clearly — modest juniper, a dusky citrus coriander, and a licorice whip of fennel on the back end. After that simple beginning, a surprising conclusion awaits. Pie crust notes linger on the finish, along with notes of graham crackers, mint, and tobacco, adding complexity to a spirit where one wouldn’t expect to find it.

94 proof.

B+ / $25 / deathsdoorspirits.com

Review: The Revivalist Botanical Gin Solstice Expression

The Revivalist is a gin brand that launched in 2016, produced in Elverson, Pennsylvania. Solstice is its “winter inspired expression” (apologies for the lateness of this review), the fourth gin in the company’s lineup. Like all its former expressions (none of which we’ve seen), it is available in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Michigan.

The gin includes some unusual botanicals, including dried cherry, anise, and ginger, which are loaded atop more classic botanicals like orange peel “just enough juniper to invoke the season without overpowering the spirit’s balance.” After distillation, the gin is rested in Hungarian Oak Barrels previously used for aging Zinfandel wine — and giving it a distinct pink color.

The results are distinct and unique.

The nose is enigmatic, peppery, lightly winey, and rather floral, with a rush of aromas that include cloves, licorice, honeysuckle-dusted perfume, and maple syrup. The palate takes things in a rather different direction, pouring on the anise notes to the point where the gin comes across a bit like an absinthe. There’s a significant amount of fruit beneath that — strawberry and orange peel and a little grapefruit, plus notes of rose water. The finish is all anise and cloves, with some lingering perfume notes.

This is truly exotic stuff, and it’s bound to dominate anything in a cocktail, so use it with a careful hand… or, for kicks, consider it in lieu of an absinthe rinse in a Sazerac or another absinthe-light concoction.

93 proof.

B+ / $48 / revivalistspirits.com

What Botanicals Are Used to Make Gin (and Why)?

Our recent martini taste test has lit a juniper-scented fire under us here at Drinkhacker HQ, so we’ve decided to once again explore gin, the most aromatic of spirits. Today we’ll be giving an overview of the different botanicals that go into your favorite gin; unlike wine, which can have aromas and flavors of a variety of different fruits and minerals but only really contains grapes, gin can contain essences of potentially dozens of different botanicals added in during production. While you’ve no doubt heard of some of these, others can be pretty obscure, as distillers search for the perfect blend to make their product stand out from the pack. This won’t be an exhaustive overview of the botanicals used in gin, because you could fill a book with that information. Instead, let’s explore some of the more common seeds, oils, and berries found in gin.

Juniper Berries

We have to start somewhere, and no botanical is more deserving than juniper berries; without them, you’re really not making gin but rather just flavoring vodka. The word “gin” is actually derived from the Dutch jenever and the French genièvre, both of which come from the Latin juniperus, which means juniper, and when most people think of gin they think of the flavor of juniper. Commonly found in Tuscany in Italy, as well as Macedonia near Greece, the juniper plant is actually a relative of the spruce or fir trees that people use as Christmas trees, a relationship that’s borne out by the scents and flavors of pine, lavender, and camphor. The true value in juniper isn’t actually in the flesh of the fruit themselves (which aren’t even really berries, but little fleshy pine cones), but in the essential oils found in the seeds, which give gin its most recognizable flavors and aromas.

Coriander Seeds

The second most important botanical used in gin are coriander seeds. Found in regions as disparate as Morocco and Bulgaria, coriander seeds come from a plant that fans of Indian food might recognize better as cilantro, and in gin coriander imparts a similar profile of tastes and aromas to those found in Indian cuisine: notes of citrus peel, ginger, and sage are all found within the essential oils of the seed, as well as notes of pine and camphor similar to juniper berries. If you’re a fan of curry, keep those in the back of your mind next time you have some gin, and see all of the flavor connections you can make!

Angelica Root

The Angelica plant is grown throughout Northern Europe, and its root compliments the flavors found in the previous two botanicals: like those, it gives the gin a piney character. Being a root, angelica also imparts a bitter, herbal, musky scent, like sitting among the fallen leaves in a vast forest. Angelica is also used in vermouth, which explains why gin and vermouth complement each other so well in martinis. Juniper, angelica, and coriander are probably the most essential botanicals used to make gin, and the tastes and scents of all three blending together make gin what we know it.

Orris Root

Coming from Florence in Italy, the root of the iris flower, known as orris root, is outside of gin mostly used in perfumes. One whiff will tell you why: the root is very bitter and very floral, and serves mostly to fix and enhance the scents of the other botanicals in the gin. The root itself mostly imparts aromas of flowers, but it is ground into such a dense powder that within the context of gin it mostly holds on to the notes and flavors of the other botanicals, and keeps your drink rich and fragrant for longer.

Cardamom Seeds

The last botanical we’ll examine in detail today are the seeds of the cardamom plant. Native to India, cardamom seeds are similar to coriander seeds in their aromatic capacity: citrusy lemon peel and medicinal eucalyptus come to the fore from the oils found in the seeds. Like coriander, cardamom is used to add rich aromas to food from India and Southeast Asia, and its musky tang will be recognizable to fans of those cuisines.

Citrus Peel

As you’ve no doubt noticed, the two main aromas and flavors that you get from a typical gin are evergreen pine and tart citrus. As you can probably guess, the final botanical we’ll cover today gives a big boost to the latter. Grated peel from lemons and/or oranges enhance the bitter citrus bite of the coriander and cardamom seeds, and helps to prevent the gin from just tasting like you’re drinking a pine tree.

This is far from an exhaustive list of the botanicals used in gin: the combinations can be almost endless, and many more herbs, fruits, roots, or peels are used to try and find that perfect balance. In some gins you can also find almonds, licorice, ginger, nutmeg, and many, many others. Nearly anything that can impart a strong aroma can be used to enhance the blend that these essential botanicals offer.

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