Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Spirits: Even More Weird Gins

That's right, kids: even more weird-ass gins for your perusal. I'm trying to build a very off-kilter catalog here.


About: From what I can tell, this might be an exclusive import from Total Wine & Spirits, who consistently surprise me by carrying some otherwise hard to find stuff. Information on how it's produced is a bit difficult to come by, but its listing at the retailer notes that it's a modern gin, flavored with cucumber and rose petals, which puts it into direct competition with the long-dominant Hendrick's. I was a little skeptical, but pleasantly surprised to find that it's less aggressively floral than expected. And it retails for maybe 60% of Hendrick's typical price. It's certainly not small-batch in any sense, but I don't let that bother me when I'm buying Tanqueray, so why should it here?

Tasting Notes: Esmé doesn't stray too far from the London Dry formula, and the nose is nothing too distinctive, except for some floral-perfume notes that blow off quickly. The palate is quite soft, with a creamy marshmallow character reminiscent of a decent vodka. The botanicals start creeping in after the sweetness eases, but they don't include much juniper flavor, more an indistinct mix of dried herbs and a bit of citrus peel. Pretty quickly, the bitter-grassy flavor of cucumber takes over, supplemented by a little pepper and capped off by a distinctive wash of rose petal. That combination isn't exactly my favorite, but it's not overwhelming here and there's not much competition from the other botanicals. Fans of Hendrick's or newcomers to gin will probably find this suitable, and I like it with a simple mixer, but it's no substitute for a London Dry.

G'Vine Nouaison

About: This one's a bit of a blast from the past for me; I originally tried this gin back in the very first days of this blog, way before I had a clue what was going on. Unfortunately, I didn't record any tasting notes, so it's impossible to know how much either my taste buds or the gin itself have changed. Regardless: this is another French product, distilled in copper pot stills from the same Ugni Blanc grapes commonly used to produce cognac. That distillate is then macerated with different botanical blends, which notably include the delicate grape flower, to produce both Nouaison and its cousin Floraison. The latter is a fresher, lighter style where the floral character is very prominent; Nouaison skews a little closer to London Dry territory, but still has a lot of distinct grape character.

Tasting Notes: The aroma on this one is distinctively, richly floral, stuffed with violets and fresh grapes; it puts me in mind of young French table wine, a Beaujolais maybe. The floral quality in particular carries on into the palate, which is... complicated. Initially, it's all violets and blueberries, powerfully floral and sweet, until the classic London Dry botanicals take hold. There's (oddly fresh?) juniper, coriander, cinnamon, and peppercorn, balanced and spicy through the finish, the texture dominated by rich essential oils. It's all layered with the rich, warm sweetness of vanilla and more of that fruity, young table-wine character, which lingers on into a perfumed and slightly hot finish. I dig it! It's most definitely unusual, and despite its billing not really anywhere close to a classic London Dry, but the vinous qualities pair nicely with vermouth and other aromatized wines, making it an interesting candidate for your next Negroni or Martinez.

Letherbee Autumnal 2015

About: We've talked about Letherbee's flagship gin before, with a passing reference to the 2014 Vernal edition. Since then, a full year has gone by; the 2014 Autumnal wasn't terribly impressive, and the 2015 Vernal was flavored in a tropical-ish style with papaya and coconut (hard pass, thank you) but these unique variants sometimes hit a real home run. Witness the 2015 Autumnal edition, which is aged in a used Buffalo Trace bourbon barrel and flavored with Vermont maple syrup. I'd feel bad about including this here if it wasn't so damn good; when I started drafting this post I had just bought a third bottle, but now I can't seem to find it anywhere. Perhaps that's not surprising given the limited nature of these releases, but it does make this review somewhat teasing. Let's just say that if you do uncover a bottle of this, you should buy it.

Tasting Notes: Perhaps it's unsurprising that this drinks pretty much exactly as it's described on the label. The nose is relatively restrained, straddling an odd line between the botanical presence of gin and the woody qualities of whiskey. The maple is foremost on the palate, initially sweet but turning to intense wood tannins and a sort of cherry-like warmth. At the same time, the vegetal qualities of Letherbee's flagship gin come in like an aquavit, with strong notes of fennel, cinnamon, and coriander. It's a bit like Linie, a bit like aged genever, not really much like a gin at all; perhaps it's not surprising that I like it given my usual penchant for weird spirits. Regardless, it's such an interesting and complex spirit with such rich botanicals that it does well in simple cocktails, like an old-fashioned made with a little bit of the syrup from a good jar of brandied cherries.

This is getting to be a pretty robust selection of damn weird gins! I don't know when exactly I'll get a chance to expand further, but it'll be detailed here if and when I do.

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