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: Tequila Corralejo Blanco and Reposado

Corralejo’s striking bottles — the reposado is blue, the anejo is red — stand out on any back bar. At the liquor store, something else is likely to stand out even more: The price, which frequently comes in at under $20 for the blanco, $25 for the reposado.

We tasted both the “white” and “blue” bottlings — the anejo was not available — to see what some bright colors and low, low prices could do for our enjoyment of the spirit.

Both are 80 proof.

Tequila Corralejo Blanco – Tons of agave up front on the nose, alongside black pepper, lemon, and a hint of roasted meat. On the palate, it’s racy, with lots of alcohol weighing heavily on the tongue, the black pepper dulling the agave the way a somewhat dusty old can of McCormick spices might mar your otherwise well-crafted dish. A little bright citrus pops back into focus toward the end of the experience, but it’s too little, too late. The overall impression here is on the muddy side, a spirit designed wholly for mixing. B- / $20

Tequila Corralejo Reposado – Rested for four months in three types of oak — French, American and Encino (a type of California-sourced oak). Wood aging usually mellows out any spirit — especially tequila — but with Corralejo, an off-putting, funky/weedy character lingers, difficult to shake despite a filter of vanilla on top of it. The palate’s not much better, a melange of old wood, pepper, weedy agave, and a finish that offers just a touch of cinnamon and vanilla syrup. There may be some charms buried deep in the bottle (and this reposado has its share of fans), but I find said charms difficult to access. C- / $25

tequilacorralejo.mx

Review: Rock N Roll Tequila – Platinum and Mango

Tequila has no shortage of novelty bottlings. In a world of tequila bottled in decanters shaped like human skulls and machine guns, why, a series of tequilas in bottles that look like electric guitars is almost boring.

Rock N Roll is a new line of triple-distilled tequila that hails from the Jalisco Highlands, made from 100% blue agave. Three versions are sold, but not what you’d expect: These include a standard silver (Platinum) expression, a mango-flavored expression, and Cristalino, an anejo tequila filtered back to clear. Our Cristalino bottle broke in shipping, and we never received a replacement. The Platinum and Mango expressions are reviewed here.

Fun fact: Dan Marino is one of the brand partners!

Rock N Roll Platinum Tequila – A clean blanco, the nose is peppery and rich, with racy agave notes and hints of cinnamon. On the palate, more of that cinnamon comes to the fore, melding nicely with a rather buttery body that leads to notes of fresh-baked pastries, lemon pepper, and mixed baking spices. The finish is short but expressive — far more interesting and enlightening than you’d expect from something bottled in a giant “Flying V” guitar. 80 proof. A- / $37

Rock N Roll Mango Licor de Tequila – The press release says this is made with natural mango flavoring, but the bottle says that “artificial flavor” is used. Either way, the mango is out of place here, coming across as phony and off-putting in the way that cherry flavoring is used in cough syrup. This melds unsatisfyingly with notes of thyme, bitter lemon, and milk chocolate. None of this ever comes together in a meaningful way, but it’s not completely offensive in the end, at least. 64 proof. C- / $33

rocknrolltequila.com

Review: Wines of Mt. Beautiful, 2017 Releases

Mt. Beautiful is a major New Zealand wine operation, sourcing fruit from the North Canterbury region. Its 2017 releases are just now hitting. Thoughts follow.

2016 Mt. Beautiful Rose North Canterbury – A rose of pinot noir, this wine tastes off — dirty and earthy, with mushroom notes where none should be. A watermelon-strawberry character eventually endures underneath, but the dusty funkiness mars the experience from the start too much to overcome. C- / $15

2015 Mt. Beautiful Pinot Gris North Canterbury – Slightly musty, its fruit dulled by an earthy perfume note that lingers a bit too long and too strenuously. The finish is modestly herbal, with a slightly meaty edge to it. On the whole, I like pinot gris to showcase fruit more clearly. B / $17

2016 Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc North Canterbury – Mt. Beautiful always makes classic New Zealand style sauv blanc, and this one is no exception to the rule. While it’s dialed back a bit, the overall impact of orange blossoms, lime, pineapple, mango, and bright acidity add up to a crowd-pleasing, fruit-forward wine with lots of freshness to it. Mt. Beautiful can often be overblown, but this expression is firing beautifully (no pun intended). A- / $13

2015 Mt. Beautiful Pinot Noir North Canterbury – Somewhat unctuous with notes of cherries in syrup, this wine eventually settles down to reveal notes of tea leaf, gingerbread, and a touch of balsamic on the back end. A workable pinot that works its best with food. B+ / $20

mtbeautiful.co.nz

Review: Ezra Brooks Straight Rye

Jumping on the rye bandwagon, Luxco’s Ezra Brooks has expanded to offer a rye — 95% rye, 5% barley, sourced from Indiana’s MGP and bottled at just two years old — er, “24 months” according to the back label. It’s bottled just a tad overproof at 45% abv.

The nose doesn’t give too many hints about the whiskey on the whole. Dialed back and stripped down a bit, it shows the expected aromas of baking spice, but also some oddball notes, including licorice candy, overly heavy barrel char, and some sweetish campfire smoke. It’s interesting enough aromatically, though quite demure.

The palate immediately shifts gears and quickly belies the youth of the underlying whiskey, offering notes of green wood, raw alcohol, and simple cereals that claw at the tongue. There’s a bit of caramel and vanilla here, but it’s undercooked and overwhelmed by those raw notes, coming across as simply having been bottled much too soon.

This rye doesn’t represent what Luxco can do — and in reality, it’s not much more than a way to make a quick buck by capitalizing on the current rush to rye whiskey. Better rye is out there for not much more money.

90 proof.

C- / $20 / ezrabrooks.com

Review: Cooper River Petty’s Island Rums and Cooper & Vine Brandy

Cooper River Distillers is the first legal distillery in Camden, NJ — ever! This outfit produced its first product, a rum, in 2014, and since then it’s been adding more rum expressions, brandy, and whiskey. We received a variety pack from the company — three rums and its brandy — and put them all to the test in the writeups that follow.

Cooper River Petty’s Island Rum – Pot-distilled white rum (unaged) made from a “custom blend of molasses.” Funky and pungent, but with a distinct sweetness underneath the initial notes of leather and burlap. It’s not the usual tropical fruit character but rather a floral-driven note that evokes notes of hibiscus, grapefruit peel, and cinnamon-scented tapioca. Lots going on, with a somewhat muddy direction. 90 proof. B- / $25

Cooper River Petty’s Island Driftwood Dream Spiced Rum – Take the Petty’s Island white rum base, “then we age it on toasted applewood for a month, add all-natural cinnamon, vanilla, cloves, ginger, coffee, and allspice before finally sweetening Driftwood Dream just a tad with the same molasses we use as the base for all of our rums.” Incredibly dark color, and the molasses added comes through immediately. This, and some ginger notes, overwhelm all the other flavors, though a hint of coffee on the finish is both fun and quite unique spiced rum. Gingersnap in a bottle — that’s the gist — with a boozy edge. The more I sip on this, the more I fall in love with it. 80 proof. A / $32

Cooper River Petty’s Island Rum Rye Oak Reserve – Here’s the white rum aged for 13 to 16 months in charred, white oak barrels previously used for Cooper’s rye whiskey. Though amber in color, it’s still quite brash. Butterscotch notes hit the nose, along with hints of coconut and plenty of ethanol heat. On the palate, the raw alcohol notes tend to dominate, incompletely covering up the funky underpinnings of the white rum, thick with raw forest floor notes, pungent tobacco, and just a hint of spice — the only real indication of the rye whiskey barrel. 90 proof. B- / $39

Cooper River Cooper & Vine Garden State Brandy – Lastly, this is a brandy (made from New Jersey-sourced pinot grigio wine) that is aged for about 18 months in 15 gallon barrels — some new oak, some previously used for Cooper’s rum and rye — all blended together in the end. This is a rustic, very young brandy that is loaded with simplistic granary notes, raw alcohol, and blunt fruit notes, the finish offering heat and plenty of vegetal overtones. Nothing much to see at this young age. 85 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1. C- / $37

cooperriverdistillers.com

Review: New Amsterdam Vodka (2017) and Apple Vodka

New Amsterdam’s latest flavor joins seven existing flavored vodkas, plus of course the straight original expression. We covered the original, Modesto-based New Amsterdam Vodka back in 2012, and given that five years have passed since then, we thought it was time to look at it with fresh eyes (and mouths). As well, we’ve giving New Amsterdam Apple Vodka a go.

Thoughts follow.

New Amsterdam Vodka (2017) – Quite sweet on the nose, with heavy marshmallow notes atop notes of vanilla syrup. The palate fortunately plays the sweetness down, at least at first, with a brisk and acidic attack that brings out a strong, old world, medicinal character, before it becomes awash with candylike sweetness again, lingering on the sticky finish. Ultimately this is mixer material at best. 80 proof. C+

New Amsterdam Apple Vodka – A nose of candied apple is countered by a curious almond and marzipan character, which is enchanting enough from an aromatic perspective. The palate is a different story, though, with notes of cheap applejack and bulk white wine making for a rough-hewn and mouth-puckering experience. Medicinal on the back end, and rather harsh, though some appletini fans may not mind such flavors. 70 proof. C-

both $12 / newamsterdamspirits.com

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