Review: Santa Fe Spirits Wheeler’s Western Dry Gin (2017)

We last looked at Santa Fe Spirits’ Wheeler’s Western Dry Gin in 2014. Let’s take a quick spin again to see if anything has changed.

As a reminder, the gin is made exclusively using only botanicals that are sourced from within 30 miles of the distillery: white desert sage, Cholla cactus blossoms, osha root, Cascade hops, and local juniper.

This time out, those hops dominate the nose straight away, and from a mile off. The sage, fresh and lush, is close behind. While generally quite grassy, notes of orange rind manage to make their way through on the nose, but only modestly.

On the palate, the hops find some balance by a decent amount of citrus, something akin to squeezing an orange into your beer. The finish feels appropriately desert-like, recalling dried grasses and southwestern spices before finishing on those bittersweet hoppy notes.

80 proof.

B / $30 / santafespirits.com

Review: Darnley’s View Gin and Spiced Gin

Darnley’s View is a London Dry style gin made in Scotland by the Wemyss family (of Wemyss Malts fame). Two versions are produced, a relatively standard expression and a “spiced” gin. We’ll discuss the botanicals of each in turn.

Darnley’s View Gin – Aka Darnley’s View Original, this spirit is flavored with just six botanicals: juniper, lemon peel, elderflower, coriander seed, angelica root, and orris root. Only the elderflower is a slight departure from the standard botanical bill of London Dry, though there are a few omissions, namely orange peel. It’s a simple gin, the elderflower making a pretty and lightly fruity impact on the nose, along with a muted juniper kick. The palate is also light and fresh — this is a great gin to use in a tall drink like a gin and tonic — the juniper even more restrained as the lemon peel makes a stronger showing. At just 40% abv, it’s also feathery light on the palate — to the point where it comes off as a bit watery at times — so don’t go overboard with your mixers. 80 proof. B+ / $34

Darnley’s View Spiced Gin – Out with the elderflower, orris root, and lemon peel, in with nutmeg, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, cassia, grains of paradise, and cloves. The impact is immediate, the upshot being, oddly enough, that Darnley’s Spiced Gin, at least on the nose, comes across more like a traditional London Dry than its non-spiced counterpart. The juniper is stronger, and the cinnamon/cassia elements make it more pungent. A bevy of spices do come across clearly in the body, but fresh ginger, cloves, and more juniper are the most immediately visible. Unlike the relatively tepid Original Gin, the Spiced Gin is long on the finish and pungent with peppery notes. While the Original may be a great fit for a tall drink, this is the one to reach for to put in your martini. 85.4 proof. A- / $34

darnleysview.com

Review: Martin Miller’s Gin and Westbourne Strength Gin

Very little about Martin Miller’s Gin is done in an orthodox fashion. First is the where. The company slogan — “Distilled in England, blended in Iceland” — should cue you in to the beginnings of that. Distilled (in a single, ancient pot still) in London, it is shipped via boat to Iceland, where it is proofed down with local water.

Martin Miller’s actually runs two distillations, using real ingredients which are steeped overnight in spirit (akin to steeping tea leaves) rather than using a botanical tray suspended in the vapors of the still.

The first distillation session includes a steeping of juniper, coriander seed, angelica root, liquorice root, cassia bark, Florentine iris, and a small portion of lime peel. The second distillation is where the citrus elements are brought more heavily into the picture, including bitter orange peel, lemon peel, and lime peel. Martin Miller’s is also flavored with a small amount of cucumber, the gin’s so-called secret ingredient.

Two versions are made, an 80 proof standard gin, and a Westbourne Strength expression, which is the same gin but bottled at a higher alcohol content. As you’ll see below, that makes quite a difference in the finished product.

Martin Miller’s Gin – Juniper-forward on the nose, but moderately heavy with citrus notes, too — plus a hint of licorice. On the palate, a gentle sweetness hits the tongue first, followed by notes of citrus and ripe banana. Earthy notes bubble up after that, though none are particularly distinct or identifiable — even the juniper is restrained here. The finish is lasting and grassy, with overtones of fresh rubber. Simple, but versatile. 80 proof. B+ / $32

Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength Gin – Clearly stronger on its aromatic nose, it still keeps the juniper front and center as with the original gin, with a somewhat quieter citrus character. On the palate, juniper is considerably stronger than in the above expression, and the citrus takes on a sharper note that stresses the bitter peel more clearly. The finish keeps the focus on orange and lime with juniper on the side, leaving the somewhat flatter earthy notes well behind. A superior bottling. 90.4 proof.  A / $38

martinmillersgin.com

Review: Gin MG

Spain is in love with gin, and it makes sense that Spanish-produced gin would rise in prominence as part of the “drink local” movement that’s sweeping the globe.

Gin MG (sometimes written as GinMG or GINMG), is produced by Destilerias MG in Barcelona, Spain. While it is flavored with Spanish juniper, little else is revealed about the contents of the London Dry-style gin or its production methods. (The company notes only that an antique still is used to craft it, and that no sugar is added to the final product.)

I’m glad they mention that, because Gin MG has a moderate sweetness to it that sure does seem like a by-product of sugar. On the nose, a powerful and pungent, juniper-driven evergreen note dominates, with a slight lemon peel undertone. On the palate, there’s a rush of cotton candy that is quickly doused by juniper and a stronger lemon component, though here it shows itself more like lemon oil (lemon Pledge, even) than peel or fruit. That feeling is perhaps driven by the overly oily body of this gin, which drives a finish that is rather unctuous and creamy, rather than sharp and biting like a more traditional London Dry.

On the whole, this could work fine in a long drink, but more gin-forward cocktails will be better served by another bottling.

80 proof.

B / $21 / destileriasmg.com

Review: Siegfried Rheinland Dry Gin

Dunno about you, but when I think of Germany, my thoughts immediately run to gin. Gin! Siegfried isn’t the only German gin — in fact, Germany’s Monkey 47 is one of the best you can find — but they are still relatively rare, at least in the U.S.

Here’s a little information about Siegfried, straight from the distiller. I’m leaving all the poor grammar from a bad translation intact because I find it endearing:

Siegfried Rheinland Dry Gin is a regional product from the German area of “Rheinromantik” and a classic Dry Gin: a defined taste, subtle enough to delight with a weighted composition of 18 fine Botanicals, his charm and straight character.

The linden tree has a leading role in the ancient German Nibelung Saga, where a leaf landed on Siegfried’s back, while enjoying his bath in a defeated dragon’s blood. Like in the saga, linden also change the game in Siegfried’s recipe. Linden blooms are the lead botanical, create a unique taste experience and at the same time underline the symbiotic connection between brand and product.

So, of the 18 botanicals in Siegfried, we know just one: linden blooms. I don’t know a lot about linden trees, but Wikipedia has some pretty pictures. The blossoms are said to be quite fragrant (and beloved by bees), but the aroma isn’t described.

As for the gin, it is quite a bit different than a traditional gin, which relies on the distinct flavor and aroma of juniper berries to give it its signature character. Here the overall character is instantly unusual, but appealing on the nose with a more floral character that is reminiscent of lavender and lilac, with just a hint of woodsy evergreen. The palate is equally unorthodox, building on the floral base with heavily aromatic notes of camphor and jasmine, before turning to a lightly earthy, woody, mushroom-like character. This isn’t entirely in balance, as the floral elements overwhelm everything else, and the finish takes the gin into a slightly rubbery territory — particularly evident as it lingers on the tongue.

It’s a unique experience — and often an engaging one — but cocktail mavens will need to experiment heavily to find the right pairing. (I’m thinking elderflower, lime juice, and other sweet-tart mixers.)

82 proof. Batch #049.

B+ / $31 / siegfriedgin.com

Drinkhacker’s 2016 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

Our ninth year is under our belt, and that means our ninth annual installment of the Drinkhacker holiday gift guide — our “best stuff of the year awards” — is here. As always, the list gives you the lowdown on some of the best-rated products we reviewed over the last 12 months, with at least some eye toward availability and affordability. (Though, as you’ll see, some selections can cost a pretty penny…)

As always, the offerings below comprise a small selection of our favorite wines and spirits from the last year, and there are many other worthwhile products on the market worth considering. Feel free to sound off in the comments with suggestions for alternatives or questions about other categories or types of beverages that might be perfect for gifting.

Again, happy holidays to all of you who have helped to make Drinkhacker one of the most popular wine and spirits websites on the Internet! We look forward to providing our guidance on the world of wine, beer, and spirits as we begin our 10th year on the web and approach our 5,000th post! Stay tuned for the appropriate festivities come the big anniversary in September 2017.

And don’t forget, for more top gift ideas check out the archives and read our 2015201420132012201120102009, and 2008 holiday guides.

of-1920-rendering-jpegBourbon – Old Forester Whiskey Row Series – 1920 Prohibition Style Bourbon ($60)  As inventory pressures continue to pound bourbon country, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find solid “giftable” bourbon bottlings on the market. Rarities like the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection sell out before they ever hit shelves. This year I’m naming to my top pick something that you ought to have more luck finding, but which is just as good as anything else out there: Old Forester’s most recent Whiskey Row expression, meant to mimic bourbon made during its “medicinal” Prohibition days. Other top tipples: Col. E.H. Taylor Seasoned Wood ($70 on release, $500+ now), Blood Oath Pact No. 2 ($100), Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Brandy Cask Finish ($100, often available for less), and, for the budget-minded, 1792 High Rye Bourbon ($36).

Scotch – Compass Box The Circus ($300) – You want to wow your loved one this year? Give them The Circus, a blend that comes complete with its own infographic outlining all the whiskies inside. It’s a complex but truly outstanding whisky worth every penny. Other top picks for 2016 aren’t going to come cheap, including Chivas Regal Ultis ($200), The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition Pullman Water Level Route ($350), Chieftain’s Linkwood 1997 17 Years Old Oloroso Sherry Finish ($90), and your best bet for an easier-to-find bottling, Glenmorangie Milsean ($130 on release but easy to find for $100 or less).

Other Whiskey – Booker’s Rye “Big Time Batch” ($300 on release) – You know who nailed it this year? Jim Murray! The crazed whiskey critic is known for his outlandishly goofy “best of the year’ picks, but he hit it perfectly with his pick of the first ever release of Booker’s Rye. The bad news: It was already a cult hit, and whatever’s left on the market is going to cost you at least $600 a bottle. More sensible options include Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 8 Years Old ($90), High West’s latest release of Bourye ($80), and Clyde May’s Alabama Style Whiskey Special Reserve 110 Proof ($70), which is lightly flavored with apples in the “Alabama style.”

oregonbarrelagedginbottleworkGin – Big Bottom Oregon Gin Finished in Oak Whiskey Barrels ($38) – We’ve been drowning in gin this year, which means there’s plenty of solid and unique bottlings to choose from on the market. My top pick is this one from our pals at Big Bottom, which is aged solera-style and is perfect for wintertime sipping thanks to a fun holiday spice character. For unaged expressions, check out Graton Distilling D. George Benham’s Sonoma Dry Gin ($40) or Spain’s Gin Mare ($38).

Vodka  Stolichnaya Elit Vodka ($47)  It’s more than just a fancy bottle; Stoli Elit is very good vodka, too. Beyond that, check out Vikre Lake Superior Vodka ($35) or Hangar 1 Mandarin Blossom Vodka ($35), one of the best citrus vodkas around.

Rum – Angostura Caribbean Rum 1824 12 Years Old ($60)  Great rum needn’t break the bank. Angostura 1824 is a top-notch 12 year old with all kinds of versatility. Plantation Rum Extra Old 20th Anniversary ($43) and Ron Zacapa 23 ($48) both make for awesome alternatives.

martell-blue-swift-largeBrandy – Martell Blue Swift ($50) – Martell wasn’t the first to put brandy into whiskey barrels to develop a more sophisticated, deeper flavor, but it is doing the best at it at the moment. This expression is gorgeous and cheap when it comes to Cognac. Another great, budget option is Gilles Brisson’s VSOP, a steal at $35. For the other direction, consider Hardy Noces d’Albatre “Rosebud” ($2250), one of the most exquisite sips I had this year.

Tequila – Tequila Herradura Seleccion Suprema Extra Anejo ($340) – Tons of great tequila hit this year, but I have to give the nod to Herradura and its extra anejo bottling of Seleccion Suprema, a luscious experience that every tequila lover needs to try. A smattering of top agave alternatives across the price board includes Pasote Reposado ($59), Mezcalero Release #16 Don Valente Angel Mezcal ($96), Milagro Tequila Select Barrel Reserve Anejo ($100), and Asombroso Ultrafino The Collaboration Barrel 1 ($2500).

cynar 70Liqueur – Cynar 70 ($37/1 liter) – Cynar gets a proof upgrade and a flavor boost in this new edition, which I think is an even better rendition of this classic amaro. I also can’t stop raving about Grand Poppy ($30), another amaro. Iichiko Bar Fruits Yuzu Liqueur ($11/375ml) is also highly worth picking up, as is Few Spirits Anguish & Regret Liqueur ($30), a unique spiced liqueur.

Wine  A smattering of giftable picks for the wine-lover in your life, with California showing incredibly strongly in 2016.

Need another custom gift idea (or have a different budget)? Drop me a line or leave a comment here and I’ll offer my best advice!

Looking to buy any of the above? Give Caskers and Master of Malt a try!

Review: Cotswolds Dry Gin

cotswolds-large

England has no shortage of gin distilleries, but southern England-based Cotswolds wants to be at the top of your list. Cotswolds is one of the “smallest but prettiest” distilleries in Britain, and if the pictures do it any justice, they’re not wrong on the beauty claim.

Some details:

The expression of the traditional London Dry style comes from the maceration into our pure wheat spirit of juniper, coriander and angelica root, which have been left for 12 hours to allow their flavour characteristics to fully infuse. We then add our unique botanical mix of Cotswolds lavender and bay leaf, grapefruit, lime, black pepper, and cardamom seed into our bespoke Holstein pot still for distillation before finishing with naturally refined Cotswolds water.

As the production notes indicate, this is predominantly a London Dry style gin, heady with juniper up front, but with clear bay leaf notes also showing on the nose. The lavender is quite present on the supple and silky body, which folds in lime zest and a bit of pepper, plus an earthiness (driven by coriander and angelica) that lingers for quite a while on the finish. Other than the lime, there’s not a lot of citrus to find here, which may come as a disappointment to those who prefer more fruit in their gin, but the focus on less common herbs and aromatics in the mix — particularly the fragrant lavender, which manages to avoid coming across like something you put in your bathwater — makes for a unique and engaging experience. The gentle body — despite the relatively high alcohol level — only adds to the appeal.

92 proof. Batch #02/2015. 4800 bottles made.

A- / $35 / cotswoldsdistillery.com

-->