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.

Review: Boodles Mulberry Gin

A unique line extension in the gin world, Boodles Mulberry Gin is the first-ever mulberry gin to be sold in America. Clearly inspired by sloe gin, Boodles calls this “a fresh interpretation of a British classic.” Sloe berries and mulberries are fairly distant cousins — same order, speaking scientifically — but the color of Boodles Mulberry is at least a dead ringer for sloe gin.

Turns out this mulberry gin — made with mulberries, Boodles Gin, and “a blend of natural ingredients” — is a close cousin of sloe gin, and can probably be used interchangeably in your favorite cocktail.

Sweet and sour in equal measures, the gin has a strong cranberry aroma, with hints of orange peel, lemon, and some herbal notes. The body is heavily cherry-flavored, a bit cough syrupy in its sweetness, but with enough of a thyme- and rosemary-tinted edge to pull it back from the edge… at least for a time. The finish pours the cranberry cocktail character back on, full force, biting and mouth-puckering — and incredibly lingering on the back of the tongue.

It’s tough to review Boodles Mulberry Gin on its own, as sloe gin is a spirit that’s best enjoyed in quite modest proportions, but which can shine incredibly as a mixer. I sense the same type of fate for this curious and unique product.

60 proof.

B / $30 / boodlesgin.com

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!

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