Sunday, September 21, 2014

Spirits: More Weird Gins to Try

Because I can't leave well enough alone, I've continued to grab unusual gins that pique my interest, despite an already-impressive collection of oddities.  Here are a couple more worth recommending!

#6: Hayman's Royal Dock Gin
I'm pretty sure I've talked about my love for navy-strength gin before, but let me reiterate: I love navy-strength gin.  It adds extra punch to gin-based cocktails, it's got a historical pedigree, and the secret of why it's bottled at a specific proof is one of my favorite liquor factoids.  (If you haven't heard: 114 proof is the minimum proof at which spirits-soaked gunpowder will still ignite, and hence this strength is to guard against the clumsiness of drunken sailors.)  Hayman's Old Tom is a great take on another historical style, so I was quite pleased to find their navy-strength product on local shelves too.  Royal Dock stays close to the classic London Dry balance; you almost don't notice the extra proof, which lets it work either in recipes that specifically call for navy strength or when subbing for a standard gin.  You might be able to find a navy-strength that you like more, but this one is a good place to start based on that flexibility alone.  Its very reasonable price point does no harm either.

#7: Letherbee Gin
Chicago-based Letherbee Distillers is an impressive little company, founded and run by bartenders and making a range of unique and truly craft spirits.  Their flagship gin is neat stuff, completely original in style.  It's drier than many American-style gins, with a pronounced core of juniper, but its herbal balance leans towards the savory, almost like an aquavit to my palate.  Caraway isn't included in the advertised list of ingredients, but I'd swear that it's there.  It also louches subtly when diluted with water, which doesn't affect the flavor but sure looks cool (a nice effect in gin-based old-fashioned cocktails).  Aside from those, the savory character plays very well with Chartreuse, yielding one of the best versions of the Bijou that I've had yet.

A brief coda, or maybe a bonus: Letherbee also makes seasonal variants on its standard gin product. The most recent 2014 "Vernal" edition (EDIT: the most recent is now the winter "Autumnal" variety, which isn't nearly as good) adds botanicals found in tonic water to the core spirit, producing a subtly bitter and citrus-focused gin with a unique pink hue.  You can create a passable take on a gin & tonic with just some ice and a generous splash of soda (though a little syrup and citrus juice in addition don't hurt).  It's listed on their website as sold out, so procurement may be an issue, but I've still seen a couple bottles floating around and would encourage keeping your eyes open.

#8: Only Premium Gin
Only is kind of a weird product.  It's made in Spain (where apparently the "gin & tonic" is an entire category of beverages - sounds great to me!) by a company that also makes a huge range of liqueurs, cocktail mixes, and other junk.  Yet it really is a premium spirit as advertised, winner of a couple gold medals at San Francisco's annual spirits competition and quite well-rounded.  It doesn't pretend to be a classic London Dry style; although it's got a core of juniper flavor, the palate is aggressively floral.  I'm reminded of various chamomile- and rosehip-infused gins that I made at home a few years ago, but where those were one-note and overpowering, this is reasonably balanced and complex.  I like this in a lighter take on the Negroni (with Aperol in place of Campari) or in a Tom Collins, where the dilution really lets the floral character bloom.

I'm sure it will come as little surprise that I have no plans to stop collecting weird gins anytime soon.  We'll be up to a solid 20 before you know it.

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